If the Germans build the “ultimate driving machine,” they may have just built the ultimate drinking glass. For stout beer.
Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont, Colo., Rogue Ales in Newport, Ore., and Spiegelau, a German glassware company with 500 years of experience, partnered up and created the world’s first stout-specific beer glass. After a year of going through prototypes, meetings, and tasting tests, the end result is what Spiegelau’s VP Matt Rutkowski and Left Hand Brewing Co. President, Eric Wallace, have described as “the most perfect vessel for the stout.”
“We don’t have a desire to make it pretentious at all, we want to be relentless,” said Rutkowski, whose excitement over the glass is infectious. “This is not meant to be ‘phoo-phoo’ or fancy, this is the best glass for stout beer, hands down.”
With proven success after designing an IPA glass last year with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Dogfish Head Brewery, Spiegelau recognized the growing success of stouts and took on the challenge of creating a glass that did the same for the darker brews.
When drinking any beer, the relationship between aroma and flavor is very important. Most beer aficionados would agree that you drink what you smell – that’s why you’re supposed to take a big whiff of any brew before you take a swig. The aroma preps your taste buds and the result is an explosion of awesomeness in your mouth (that’s the goal).
For Wallace, whose Left Hand’s Milk Stout is arguably one of the most successful and widely recognized stouts, the interest in the project began when the IPA-specific glass was released with rave reviews. But even he admitted that he went into the first few meetings with Spiegelau a skeptic.
“I saw the IPA glass and I was interested to work with shapes and a glass that paired better with the range of brew styles we make,” Wallace said. “I really started out as a skeptic, but the comparison between a regular pint glass and a stout glass is like night and day.”
The pint glass, with its thick walls and wide-open mouth, is a “beer killer,” according to Rutkowski. Any degree of aroma needs a glass with curvature to capture the aroma, he explained, and pint glasses don’t do that. The pint glass may dominate, but it’s not remotely equipped.
In case you’re wondering: yes, I did the taste test at home. I poured one Milk Stout in a pint glass, and another in a stout glass. The result was surprising not because I hadn’t been told I would notice the difference, but because it was so obvious.
What really does the trick is the shape of the glass, with a voluminous open bottom base that drives the aroma from the beer and foam to the main bowl, so every time you go for a drink, the aroma is just as fresh and strong as when you first poured. The wider mouth and cone-shaped bowl not only amplify the aroma, but also improve the flow of the beer to the middle of your palate, improving the taste, mouth feel, and finish.
Plus, it looks very cool when you pour the stout. The glass is made of ultra-pure quartz and the angular shape of the open base creates a cascading effect as the beer is poured. A beer and a show.
“The shape of the of the bowl, the little recharge shelf in the bottom, and the stem piece keep the taste alive and the aroma pouring out of the glass,” Wallace said.
Spiegelau has a vast library with thousands of glassware prototypes and designs for wine and spirits, a collection they’ve amassed since 1521 when the company was first founded. Making the jump to beer glasses was a natural transition, said Rutkowski, and it helped that there are lots of beer lovers working at Spiegelau. The way he explained it, glass crafters are really making amplifiers, tweaking their device so whenever something goes in it, it comes out louder and clearer.
“We approach it this way: we know how to make glass, they know how to make beer,” Rutkowski said. “We got together and worked through shapes, sizes, volumes and eliminated things that didn’t work, made positive notes of things that did and narrowed the field until our brewing partners were satisfied that we had achieved the ultimate way to enjoy the beer.”
The best part about the stout glass is not just the fact that it made a believer out of me, but that it has done the same all around the world. Rutkowski has been to Finland, Norway, Japan, Italy, South Africa, and Australia, to name a few, to promote the glass, with great acclaim. His enthusiasm is obvious and slightly infectious when he talks about the glass; he really believes in what it can do for stout beer.
“We all took this very, very seriously. We did this because we all have a deep love affair with craft beer,” Rutkowski said. “This is so closely representative of what’s happening all over the world. Everyone knows someone who’s totally into craft beer and we’re just excited to be a part of it.”