Glassholes: Marginal Improvement Calculus in Beer Evaluation and Enjoyment

Overheard in a beer group on social media recently: "I'm bringing beer to a friend's house, and he doesn't usually drink craft beer.  Is it OK to bring glassware for my beer, too?"

Oof.  OK, where to begin here...

I know it's come up before, but I ran into this one again recently.  There's really two questions here: is it socially OK for me to show up with my own beer and my own glassware, and does glassware matter that much?

First Things First

For the first question, in this particular inquiry, the answer has to be "no."  It's not OK for you to show up with glassware.  I don't know you, and I don't know your friend, and I don't know what kind of beer we're talking about, but I can still answer this question, logically:

If your friend took beer seriously enough to not potentially be a little put off by this, he'd probably have a decent stock of glassware on hand already.  Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive, but I think you're running a risk of looking like a snob rather than a geek in this case.

Look, I shudder a bit, too, when I see someone pull out a frozen mug for me when they see I have "good" beer, but I think the more neighborly thing to do is just stall for a minute while the glass warms up a bit and then pour.  No one's going to thank you for educating them on glassware - except for people who wouldn't likely need that education.

So, on to the second part of the question: just how much does it matter?

Glassware Matters...and Doesn't

Short answer?  It matters, and more than a lot of people think.  Volume, shape, curvature and size of the bell, stemmed or not, wall thickness, even glass type make a difference, and if I was at home I'd always reach for a stange for my Kolsch, a snifter for my Barleywine, a tulip for my IPAs, and a dimpled mug for my Mild.  I've done side-by-sides, and you do find a noticeable difference.

You've probably heard this before, but the shaker pint glass isn't really a great vessel for beer.  Tuning your glass choice to your beer style is a good call, assuming you're in a position to do so without suggesting your friend is a hick for not having an 18-karat gold-lipped chalice on hand.  

But at the same time, it doesn't matter so much that you should be losing sleep, friends, or tolerability over it.  Blind Pig is an excellent beer, whether served in a tulip glass or a conch shell, and would still be pretty good even if you drank it from a lightly-used dip spit can.  On the other hand, that low-carb macro lager I had at the finish line of the Delaware Marathon last week was disgusting, and would have been even if it had been served out of a platinum chalice crusted in jewels in a mosaic of Emma Stone's stunning vampire-person face.  

So, if you have the option, fit your beverage to your glassware.  But if it's not practical, or polite, or reasonable, then enjoy your beer anyway.  I suppose I could see an exception for some rare and expensive beers where I'm only going to get one shot at it, but if it's just a question of "will I enjoy it," glassware alone is going to matter a lot less than the beer's quality, how it's been treated since it left the brewery, its temperature, and a bunch of other factors.  Drink up.

The marginal improvement is worth it, but not at the expense of just about anything else.  Factor the non-beer-enjoyment-related stuff into your calculus.

The Go-To Glass

Is there a brewer in the world that doesn't end up with too many damned pint glasses?  I swear, I could smash every one I drink from into the fireplace, Greek-wedding-style, from now until Rapture and I'd still have a cabinet full of shakers on hand for the next round with my fellow-denizens of the post-Apocalyptic hellscape.  Here's to you, Scarlet Woman - and Scarlet Beast, for that matter.

But if you're looking to stock up on good go-to glassware, I have a humble recommendation: the water goblet.

Glassware-water-goblet-11.5-oz-.49cents.png

There's a nice little bell, you can usually swirl your beer neatly, there's a stem so you can keep your hand from warming the beer if you want, and it should keep you from getting the weird looks that sometimes come from pouring your beer into a wine glass (thank you, BYO-restaurant waitstaff, but I'm fine with my wine-glass beer...).

Also, since they're a common purchase you can usually score them for a decent price from any number of online retailers, and if you host a bunch of beer parties you can get a couple of dozen or more for about $2/glass.  

Just...don't bring them with you to parties.  Trust me.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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You Need Help: Advice for Brewers in the Style of the Brownlow Committee

 The Brownlow Committee: Merriam, Brownlow, and Gulick

The Brownlow Committee: Merriam, Brownlow, and Gulick

"No man is an island entire of itself," Donne tells us.  He certainly got that one right: we all need help, brewers especially, and no matter how long they've been brewing.  

Why?  Because brewing rewards consistent repetition, and repetition is arguably the enemy of progress.  "Practice makes perfect" - sure, but what is the thing it's perfecting the right thing?  Or just the good-enough thing?  If you have a process, routine, mindset, recipe, and/or approach to brewing that yields beer that's good, then you may end up in a real brewing rut.  It's like evolution.  The human eye isn't the finest visual organ that anyone could design: it was just the first one that worked to give us a survival advantage, and so it got passed down and refined over time.  It doesn't mean it can't be obviously improved.

But "obvious" isn't always easy.  Consider the American presidency - it may be the most challenging job in the world.  All the more so when, like in the late 1930s, you're a president looking down the barrel of a global depression, fascism on the march (literally), and an impending world war (again?).  And yet, at the time, the office of the president consisted of a few clerks/secretaries, the president, and...that's about it.  So, the Brownlow Commission is formed because - and I swear this is the quote - "The President Needs Help."  Duh.

So, today, as an homage to Louis Brownlow and Co., Beer Simple presents a five-point plan (just like theirs) to help us brewers get not just help - but the right help.

The Five Point Program

First, increase the amount of good feedback you get.  Luckily, we've already jumped into this topic, but it bears repeating: not all feedback is worth your time.  Some of it is overly-harsh, but much more commonly it's far too friendly and optimistic.  Join a homebrew club with structured tastings.  Enter every beer you brew in several competitions (maybe not forever, but just for a short while) to get trained, anonymous feedback.  Taste your beer against highly-rated commercial examples in the same style to see how you stack up.  But get more - and better - feedback.

Second, identify the best brewers in your area and ask if you can join them for a brew day.  This isn't so you can steal their entire process - it's to see what they do and don't do that you might consider to be essential brewing practice.  There's no better way to break out of your own stale brewing dogma than to watch people (whose quality as brewers you personally attest to) flout the "rules" that you've subscribed to and still create great beer.  By all means, hit these people up for tips, too, but more important is to expand your horizons.  It's like Mr. Clemens said: travel is fatal to prejudice.

Third, read.  And read old and new.  Revisit some classics of brewing literature (How to Brew, Jean de Clerk's A Textbook of Brewing, if you have access to it) and read some of the great modern texts on brewing science and practice.  Books like this are vetted (usually) by several technical experts and brewers, which doesn't guarantee that they're right, but it limits the probability that they're flatly wrong.  Unlike, say, a beer blog which gets vetted by...I don't know, does Biscuit the Brewdog count?

Fourth, and this might sound counterintuitive, but stop brewing for a while.  Not long - but take a couple of months off.  Clear your brewing head.  This happened to me as a natural experiment last year when I had overcommitted by a borderline-irresponsible degree to teaching.  I had minimal free time, and when I did I was occupied with staying organized.  The result, though, was that when finals were done and the smoke cleared and I got back into my brewery, I was looking at it with fresh eyes.  It wasn't that I'd been looking at brewing as an obligation or a slog (though that can happen, for certain) - it was just that I'd gotten used to doing things a certain way.  Now that I was essentially re-familiarizing myself with my system and process (due to my long absence) I was more than willing to make changes in process, equipment, method, and more - which I did, with some very nice results.  

Last, help yourself.  Look for your own flaws, subtle though they might be.  Don't rush through a brew day - if you're doing that, you're not making good beer, so start looking for ways to shave time off of your process.  Check out your ingredient procurement process - is everything fresh?  When was the last time you refined and updated your recipes?  Have you been trying out new ingredients?  Maybe don't drink while brewing (I know that's controversial).   There's an almost-infinite list of things you can do to help your own brewing if you conscientiously and actively decide to do so.

Aaaand....repeat

After you do these things, you'll feel confident, rejuvenated, and happy with your brewing, like a brewer who just got the latest software update downloaded into his/her brain.  The trick is not to re-dig your rut.  Once every year or two, repeat this program to keep yourself fresh.

We all need help.  The sheer, stupid obviousness of that statement doesn't undermine its truth or value.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).