Beer Delivery Systems and the Enjoyment of Homebrew

collage of beer pictures

You have probably seen the large variety of drinking glasses designed for beer. First impressions might be that every brewery is trying to look different and all the fancy shapes and sizes are nothing more than marketing. While marketing and presentation is a factor, it is not the reason for so many drinking vessel choices. To understand the beer glass we must understand glass and its influence on beer.

Drinking beer requires the delivery of beer to the mouth. Who would think that something so simple would need to be engineered, that’s right engineered! God gave us cups, cupped hands that is, and they work fine for gulps of water, but they’re not very practical for beer. Hollowed out gourds work a little better but they are not durable. Clay pots hold up better but if you have ever had three or four clay pots of beer you know that all that lifting can wear you down. To avoid such unpleasant exercise during an activity whose purpose is not to exercise, the ancient Egyptian’s designed a beer delivery system which allowed multiple individuals to suck beer directly from the fermenter. An invention that later became the hookah and thus the phrase ‘sucking down a few beers’; maybe.

The stone jug eventually gave way to the wooden bowl, light and durable but requiring two hands. At this point in history beer drinking became a ceremonial function as well as a good time. The need to use two hands to drink left the drinker defenseless in a time when life was cheap. With both hands full and all vision obstructed by the bowl, the offering of a drink to someone’s health was actual a show of trust. Ceremony and protocol lead to embellishment. The wooden bowl became as important as the drink itself. The rim of this bowl was inlaid with gold and the vessel was called a mazer. For the convenience of the drinker, the mazer was fitted with two handles at opposite sides of the bowl. This was great for protocol but the problem of two fisted drinking while trying to enjoy a roasted boar and watch your back, all at the same time remained. A stem and foot were added and mazer began to look like a chalice. Witness the birth of stemware.

At this point it must be noted that this is not a world history of the invention of drink ware. Different cultures certainly developed different solutions to this common need of delivering beer to the mouth. I tend to get lost in history and lore. Home brew will do that to you. Let’s get back to the glass.

Until the Industrial Revolution, when the mass production of glass came about, beer was served in clay, wood or metal vessels and it was a good thing. Beer was not an attractive beverage and the vessels concealed the hazy, murky liquid within and then came glass. The advent of glass put the beer on display. Suddenly the beer drinker was forced to look at what was being consumed and it wasn’t pretty. The brewing industry was about to change.

All beer is brewed by the consumer. If the consumer likes it there will be more. If not, there will be less. Brewer’s had to respond to the demands of drinkers with cleaner, brighter beer. This resulted in new technology such as secondary fermentation, laagering, cold conditioning, and filtration and improved mashing methods. It is obvious that the brewers did their part and a lot more. Glass is a flexible medium for the artist, any shape, size or design. Beer is a flexible medium for the brewer, aroma, flavor, texture, alcohol and body. Why not match the design of the glass to the character of the beer? Why not let the glasses punctuate the brew, accent the colors, highlight the high points and accommodate the flaws.

There are two reasons to drink beer and neither of them is drunkenness. The first is because you like it. The second is the sensations it gives you during the drinking. Think of the beer glass as a turbo charger on these sensations. Technically the beer glass is far more than a delivery system to the mouth. The sensations and enjoyment of beer are far more complex than the tongue and taste alone. They start with the eyes. The glass made appearance important and brewers made appearance impressive. Taste starts with smell. The nose prepares the taste buds.

Over time the matching of beer styles and drinking glass has been refined to the extent of being nationalistic and even trademarked. The word Pilsner automatically recalls the images of tall slender glasses designed to demonstrate the beers carbonation with rising bubbles and concentrate the delicate aroma of Nobel hops without overpowering the malty sweetness of a refreshing beer.

Belgium has been called the ‘Disneyland of Beer’ and the Abbey Ale brewers accent that image by drinking from bowls, giant snifters and large chalices. The brewer monks who live on beer alone during fasting don't want to miss a thing. Their glassware is designed to put your whole face in the beer. Belgian Ales are actually felt with the eyes, nose and mouth.

Glassware is not without controversy. In England the traditional dimpled mug with handle is now near its end. Pub owners concerned more about space than beer are using the mixer or top hat instead. This glass is the one used in most American brewpubs too. With its wide mouth, slanted sides and narrow foot the mixer does offer the drinker access to the hop and ale yeast characteristics made famous by English Ales. But then their purpose is storage. When stacked upside down and right side up next to each other they take up little space compared with the dimpled mug but the mug is still better for enjoying English ales.

homebrewed beer with malted grains and hop flowers

Home Beer Brewing

Brewing beer is an American Tradition.