Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Tulip Pint

Not as prevalent in England as the nonic, the tulip is nevertheless a common shape in the imperial pint glass family. It's also, as you can see, popular among brewers looking to create special logo glassware.

The tulip glass -- so named because of its resemblance to the flower, as you might have guessed -- is easily identifiable by the way it flares above the center before gently tapering near the mouth. As such, it does a better job of capturing a beer's aromas than does a straight-sided glass or one that flares outward at the top. Plus, the tulip's graceful curves enhance the overall aesthetics of the well-poured pint resting inside.

In the U.K., a pint measures 568 mL or 19.2 ounces. This is known as the imperial pint, and imperial pint glasses, such as this Murphy's glass (right), are typically large enough to accommodate the prescribed volume of liquid plus sufficient head. In Britain, particularly, beer lovers take their drinking so seriously it is expressly illegal to short a bar patron on his pint of beer. Officially calibrated glassware and even calibrated pumps for draught beer are employed to keep unscrupulous tavern owners from ripping off thirsty Britons.

Certainly, not all tulip glasses need measure an imperial pint, and nor do they. Versions such as this Bass tulip (right) measure one standard U.S. pint (16 ounces). Such promotional glassware is doubtless produced with American bar owners, who don't want to introduce an extra pricing scheme, in mind.

In addition, it should be noted that in the case of this 16-ounce tulip, that measurement -- unlike in U.K. versions -- will go right up to the lip of the glass, meaning a pour with the proper head will in fact be less than one pint. Lest this shock you, consider that the standard tumbler pint glass is actually designed the same way. Ever wonder why a 12-ounce bottle of beer appears to nearly fill up a pint glass when poured with a couple fingers' head? Keep that in mind next time you think you've bought 16 ounces of beer down at the local taproom.

The tulip, by virtue of its heritage, is a natural choice for just about any English ale. American ales do well in the tulip also, and thanks to its slightly tapered mouth, it's not a terrible idea to use the tulip for some of your more aromatic beers, such as Pale Ale and IPA. Really, the tulip is versatile enough to accommodate a wide range of styles, including many lagers. Generally speaking, Barleywine, Eisbock and other high-octane beers should find their way into a more globular vessel, such as a snifter.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Nonic

Give the English credit -- although they may often be accused of being plain and boring (and their session beers, with names like "Mild" and "Ordinary Bitter," don't always blow this perception out of the water), their standard drinking vessels do tend to show at least a little more creative flair that their straight-sided, chunky American counterpart.

OK, so the operative phrase here is "a little." Enter the nonic, the U.K.'s most popular style of glassware. It is distinguished by its obvious bulge near the top of the glass, which is either meant to improve the drinker's grip or prevent stacked glasses from sticking together -- or perhaps both. Your typical nonic, as found in the U.K., will check in at 568 mL or 19.2 ounces (an imperial pint, in other words), and will be diligently and consistently filled to its proper capacity, under penalty of law.

Not surprisingly, given its popularity across the pond, the nonic looks best when filled to the brim with an authentic English-style ale -- anything from Bitter to London Porter would be a natural choice. (Although, at least in this writer's opinion, Porters and Stouts look best in the nonic.) What matters most, however, is that whatever ale you chose to dispatch into the nonic, it had best be plentiful enough in supply to furnish an entire evening's worth of serious pub-style session drinking.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The No-Frills Tumbler

For many (or, probably, most) beer drinkers, this is their first introduction to beer glassware. Commonly called, simply, the pint glass, it's also referred to as a tumbler and makes up one half of the Boston Shaker, used to mix cocktails.

In the U.S., these glasses are just about always 16 fl. oz. and are easily the most common glasses found in bars. Part of the tumbler's ubiquity owes to practical concerns -- it's rugged, stackable, easily washable, and cheap.

Tumblers do a good job of holding beer, and that's about all most people ask of them. They don't contain aromas particularly well, at least not compared to many other styles of glassware, and their simple design offers little in the way of added visual flair.

Yet, the tumbler's easy acquirability and popularity among bar owners makes it the favorite glass for slapping a on brewery logo, at least here in America. Try to think of a brewing company that has not made up its own logo pint glasses. There may be one or two, but they would constitute a minuscule proportion. In this regard, bar owners can stock a "selection" of glasses (which they could have very well gotten for free) from different breweries without having to deal with physical incompatibility. In return, the brewery gains the (real or perceived) value of cheap advertising to bar patrons and, depending on how much the bartender is paying attention, customers get the pleasure of drinking a particular beer out of its own glass.

Breweries aren't the only ones to routinely decorate the tumbler. Bars, universities, even TV shows have their own pint glasses. So common is the screen-printed pint glass that sheer variety can, in plenty of respects, make up for the glass' structural simplicity. The dedicated beer glass collector could spend a lifetime hunting down attractively embellished tumblers.

Pint glasses can have entertainment value, as well. Some have drinking games printed on them. Others are adorned with witticisms. And surely there must exist a market, likely satisfied, for pint glasses emblazoned with naked women -- although this blogger is only now speculating.

The tumbler is an all-purpose glass, and as such most styles of beer find their way into it. But frankly, it's best to chose a style that is impacted the least from the tumbler's physical limitations. Light lagers are the most obvious choice -- they tend to have little in the way of aroma and head retention, anyway. Other average-strength ales and lagers can go in the tumbler, but as gravity and aromatics increase, so too does the advantage of reaching for a snifter or similar glass.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This Would Never, NEVER Happen in the U.S.

Europe can be so whacky some times.

In 2001, the Guardian (U.K.) reported on a new program being instituted in Belgian schools under which children were given low-alcohol beer at lunch in lieu of sugary soft drinks.

The beers were no stronger than 2.5 percent ABV, but then they were also "for children between the ages of three and 15."

Two thoughts spring to mind:

First, why didn't I get to go to grade school in Belgium?

And second, can you imagine the outrage if anyone dared float this idea in America? Even if we were to study such a program for decades and found it to pose zero risk to kids either at the time or later in life, the great American Puritanical spirit would squash such a proposal in a heartbeat.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sales up at A-B

Profits and revenues rose for Anheuser-Busch in the fourth quarter, though this growth was spurred by overseas sales and sales of import beers that A-B distributes domestically, while the stateside performance of core brands Budweiser and Bud Light continued to lag.

Industry folks say this shows consumer preferences are leaning toward craft beers and imports.

In the face of this, A-B's answer will be to ramp up their marketing efforts on behalf of their struggling flagship brands.

So much for giving the consumers what they want.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Berliner Weisse

So what happens if you just love sour beers but aren't ready to let a bunch of wild microorganisms loose in your brewery?

Why, you cheat, of course.

And so it was with my first attempt at a Berliner Weisse (see also this great page), which also marked my first attempt at (intentionally) producing a sour beer at home. I know the purists will squawk, but without a dedicated set of plastic equipment (bucket, hoses, autosiphon ...), I wasn't about to expose the regular stuff to the potentially invasive lactobacillus bacterium.

What I did, instead, was ferment the beer with a fairly clean yeast (in this case, Wyeast 2565 "Kölsch") and then hit it with some food-grade lactic acid at kegging time. I'd read about this technique (and its efficaciousness) in Daniels' "Designing Great Beers" and elsewhere.

Here's the full skinny:

OG 1.036 FG 1.005
AA 86% ABV 4.1%
IBU 8 SRM 4?

64% German Pilsner
36% German Wheat

8 IBU Tettnang 45 min.

Wyeast 2565 "Kölsch"

74 mL (2.5 oz.) food-grade lactic acid at kegging

Brewed Dec. 16
Crash-cooled Jan. 7
Kegged Jan. 8
Tapped Jan. 16-17-18?

I tried to perform a two-step infusion mash with rests at 140 and 151 but I had a hell of a time hitting my temps so I ended up having more intermediate steps than planned. This could have something to do with the incredibly fermentable wort that resulted. That's OK -- this beer is supposed to be dry.

I used 2565 because a) I had it on hand, b) Wyeast's Web site endorses this use for the yeast, and c) in the Kölsch I found it to be mostly clean with a little fruitiness -- just right for this application.

I'll say again that my procedure was far from traditional. Basically I took the idea of the final product -- a light, refreshing wheat beer with a strong sourness -- and then figured a way to do it. Plenty of people go the other way: Follow the "traditional" procedures to the letter and hope you like what you get. The theory, of course, is that you will.

I know someone who brewed a best-in-show Berliner Weisse by tossing a handful of grains into a bucket of wort. No yeast pitched. This is one method. You can also buy lacto cultures from the major yeast vendors. You can also perform a sour mash. Some procedures call for no boil. Etc.

Also, traditionalists will tell you Berliner Weisse should be bottle conditioned so as to achieve the "required" level of high carbonation. This, they'll say, contributes to the dryness and refreshing nature of the beer.

There are reasons to avoid such a dogmatic approach, at least in my case. One, I don't like very highly carbonated beers, no matter how much "to style" that is. Also, I don't like bottling. Finally, I prefer having my beers on tap so I can pour as much or as little as I want and not have to commit myself to exactly 12 oz. Especially with a sour beer, one might not always be in the mood for that size serving. (But who am I kidding -- why wouldn't I be?)

The beer itself did indeed turn out light, crisp, dry, refreshing and sour. The sourness is mostly evident on the finish with some mild puckering. It's a very clean, acidic sourness, not entirely unlike what you get from a Granny Smith apple. (I wonder if this has anything to do with Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus' ability to produce acetaldehyde.)

If anything, though, I'd say the beer didn't turn out sour enough. I like my beers really sour, and to me, this one is just moderate. Next time, I'll add more lactic acid to the keg -- maybe 1-2 ounces more.

I've only tried a real Berliner Weisse twice before so I can't say exactly how this compares. I remember the real deal being pretty intensely sour and quite good.

Too bad I can't cheat my way to a wonderful Gueuze!
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