Saturday, November 28, 2009

Beer #2: Signature Glasses

Pairing glass to beer is simply not done in the US. I've considered the bartender's serving of my Yuengling in a Yuengling glass to be a kitschy novelty. The pint glass is pro forma, and logo alone accounts for all perceivable differences, with most of them involving whether or not the Bud Light label has a backdrop of the Nascar checkered flag.

In Belgium, there are as many glass shapes as there are beers. And I'm beginning to see why.

There are some physical qualities to the glass which influence both the objective and subjective perception of the drinker. For instance, a curled lip delivers more beer to the tip of the tongue where bitterness is perceived, while a flat lip bridges the beer to the sweetness detectors on the back of the tongue. Round chalices collect aromas, while flatter walls offer a more uniform foaming.

As I think about it, I believe there is much more to it. Beers like Chimay, Westmalle, and Duvel have been around for ages, and are almost universally served from bottle, ensuring that a fixed amount is poured each time. The glass, then, is designed with the understanding of the amount being poured (as well as the shape of the vessel pouring), and seems to perfectly account for this in delivering color and foam to the glass. The images of Duvel-in-chalice for the ads, with the top half covered in heavenly foam, are in no way doctored to enhance the appearance. Duvel, poured into its signature glass, will appear that way every time, even from a bad pour. This experience has been carefully choreographed. For a pre-estimated time (which is nearly invariable among pours) the beer remains undrinkable as the foam hesitates to subside. It is a calculated delay that beckons the drinker to pause, inhale, and reflect upon the drink they will soon enjoy. The Westmalle Tripel pour, on the other hand, seems to absorb and accumulate the various strands of light within the room, reflecting them back to the drinker as a divine, ambient glow.

It is a part of an overarching philosophy. Beer is not the liquid that was poured into the glass before you. It is a work of art, being presented to you in the way the artist conceived it.

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