Glass Act

by Lauren Mote

Original story can be found in The Publican Magazine www.ablebc.ca/publican/download/fall_2009/06glassact.pdf

Which chalice should you choose?

This is another one of those restaurant industry gospels, glassware. The current trend promotes that each beer, wine or cocktail should be served in an appropriately shaped glass – but is there definable truth to this trend? Beverage connoisseurs of all kinds firmly stand behind their belief that the shape and size of a glass does matter.

Glassware dates as far back as 1500 BC, and the Egyptians are credited with this monumental discovery which has since evolved over the last 3500 years. How does glassware go from a glob of goo to that gorgeous stemware? Liquid receptacles like the “beer glass” are made from “bottle glass” – a blend of sand, soda and limestone, none of which are going extinct anytime soon, so don’t fret when that $7 glass shatters, you can always replace it (it just becomes costly after the tenth time). The mixture is heated in a furnace, followed by glass blowing, shaping and cooling. Sounds easy, but glasses are hand made, one by one, without machines – I suppose this helps us to appreciate those expensive pieces on the top shelf of our dusty dining-room hutch. But how does each glass type differ from one another? What’s the point of producing hundreds of different shapes, types and sizes?

Flip to the back of a Belgian trappist beer bottle, there’s valuable information listed apart from the ingredients, and the 5¢ recycling jackpot – there is usually a picture of a glass – more than just a suggestion, it’s really beer consumption instructions. For those that believe this is hog-wash, I urge you to experiment. Chester Carey, Canada’s only Certified Cicerone – the equivalent of a Master Sommelier in the beer world – lends some great advice. Carey explains that most of what we taste in a beer comes directly from the aroma, centrally found in its foamy head. Although perfect beer pours often occur, beers still have different levels of carbonation and proteins, which affects the head on your beer once settled inside the glass. Ideal glassware, Carey explains, should be ultra-cleaned, dried, polished, and most importantly the top should be tapered back to keep the head in place for as long as possible. Beers that have a higher alcohol by volume should be poured in small amounts to maintain the head does not dissipate. Carey concludes that each beer style must therefore have its own glass shape it’s best suited to, and that he much prefers the correct glass than a frosty glass – in the end, like tasting wines, aromas and tasting notes are best detected when the liquids are slightly warmer.

Of course, we are not suggesting that every bar owner in Vancouver race out to grab a case of each beer glass, we’re just providing the awareness that the basic glass shape does matter. What does this mean for the hospitality industry/consumer? Another fact – the more education one has, the more likely an industry worker is to persuade a guest to try something outside-the-box – a different style of beer, or a different region (this includes the rep selling the beer products with accompanying glassware in the first place). The best example I recall is a popular Belgian beer called Duvel. In 1960, the official Duvel glass hit the market. Its unique tapered-tulip shape made it ideal to house the beer’s super foamy head for an extended period of time – this made each sip equally as flavourful and aromatic as the previous one. Use Carey’s advice as a guideline and try your own experiments based on the recommendations of other connoisseurs and brewmasters. In the end, it’s still personal preference.

If proper glassware principles apply to the beer world so vividly, we can only imagine how intense the world of wine is. Likely the most popular household name in crystal stemware is Riedel, whether we have the money to splurge on their unique lines of glassware or not. I use them as the primary example for wine receptacles because they have taken this different glass for a different wine to an entirely new level. The caption on their website says it all, “for the last 50 years Riedel has been the leader in grape specific, wine friendly glassware”. Why is this so important? Just as Carey described the aromas in beer are showcased through its foamy head, there is something quite similar about wine. For those who have never taken an instructional “how-to” on wine tasting, you really wouldn’t know how important the glassware issue is. You’re in luck, because all we really require are 2-4 different glasses just for wine, rather then stocking your cupboards with numerous 4 packs of over 22 glass types from Riedel’s Sommelier Series, from Champagne flutes to Burgundy balloons to Whisky tumblers. An aromatic wine, like a pinot noir or a white Burgundy gets a wider glass – when you swirl the contents, the fragrance opens up in the wine, and each sip becomes a sensory adventure. A tighter wine, like a cabernet sauvignon or a syrah gets a thinner glass – rounder at the bottom, and slightly tapered at the top – when the contents are swirled, the aromas are released to your nose, while trapped in the glass for prolonged periods of time. I should make mention that most white wines are served in shorter, thinner glasses to prevent a rapid transfer of heat from the sippers hand to the wine, but very few white wines are meant to be consumed at 12℃. Companies like Riedel have capitalized on catering to the senses, and we applaud them, but for the modern bar owner, having a couple of versatile glass selections is a good idea, but it is unnecessary to carry an entire line of products if your restaurant or bar concept isn’t indicative of an intense wine program.

The exciting thing about today’s technology is that tempered glasses are available for high volume bar concepts. Tempered glass uses slightly different compounds to create the glassware itself, followed by heating up and quickly cooling down the glassware while its being manufactured. This can happen up to 5 times per glass. Basically, the heating/cooling allows the glass to create multi-layers resulting in a higher resistance to breakage, scratches and discoloration over time. Although they are only slightly cheaper in price to crystal, Arcoroc based out of France is an admirable choice for durable long lasting tempered glassware – they just look a little “thick” compared to crystal.

Lastly, the phenomenon that has taken the modern world by storm – the elusive cocktail. Although cocktails have been created and constructed for over 100 years, a different kind of glassware line seems to have been created specifically for different types of cocktails – blending, shaken, stirred and built. Now we as bar and restaurant owners/managers are faced with another question – how far are we willing to go with our beverage program. An alcohol forward establishment, who’s sole generation of income relies on the sale of alcoholic beverages, may be able to justify an entire fleet of glasses to satisfy every facet of their cocktail program. Individual prices can also be adjusted to reflect the cost of the glass used, labour involved in ultra-cleaning and polishing, and finally proper storage. These days, cocktail bars all over Vancouver are stocking their shelves a little differently – but how does one know what glassware to stock? Do we choose crystal or tempered? This is undoubtedly a choice made based on finances, concept, and demographic. There is a necessity to stock the back bar with old fashioned glasses (short, chubby glasses, usually between 6 – 16 oz, depending on whether it’s the single or the double version), collins glasses (tall 10 – 14 oz glasses), highball glasses (taller and thinner than the old fashioned, holding 8 – 12 oz), martini/cocktail glasses, and shot glasses. However these are all a matter of preference. I have effectively visited and worked in bars that have 2 types of glasses, large and small – and it works.

As our city becomes more and more cultured within beverage preference and expectation, it is our job as bar and restaurant representatives to give the public something distinctive. Perhaps your establishment is resourceful enough to carry 5-6 different glasses that have proven versatile within the day-to-day operations of the business, but as I said before the selection of glassware made, from beer to wine to cocktail are completely indicative to the type of concept you wish to present.

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About Lauren Mote

Lauren has been an intricate part of the food industry for many years. Whether it’s behind the bar, in the kitchen, tasting and learning about wine, or sitting with her laptop writing food stories and reviews at the local coffee house, it was clear at an early age that Lauren’s professional and personal life would be completely consumed by the joy and passion of edibles.
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