On Tap: You May Be Drinking From the Wrong Glass

A shaker pint glass.  Valley News e_SEmD Dan Mackie

A shaker pint glass. Valley News e_SEmD Dan Mackie Purchase photo reprints »

Here’s a sad thought: The glass most often used for serving beer is the worst possible vessel for appreciating it.

By this, I’m talking about the ubiquitous “shaker pint,” that inverted traffic cone that is the hands-down favorite of pubs and restaurants, and the most despised among craft beer aficionados.

It’s used for serving water. It’s used for soda, lemonade and disgusting boozy shakes at TGI Fridays. Alas, it is also used for beer.

Now, of all the things to worry about, why fret over glassware? Here’s why: because I love beer, and if I’m going to pay $5 or more per pint, I want to taste and smell everything it has to offer.

The shape of the shaker pint just kills the aroma. It is the worst possible design for stabilizing the foam and the wide opening dissipates, rather than concentrates, the aromatic compounds within the beer.

Plus, when tasting beer, temperature matters. And the shaker glass does little to help hold a constant temperature. To pick it up, you have to grasp the glass — as opposed to a stem or handle — and your 98-degree Fahrenheit hand does a lot to move the beer beyond its optimal temperature of between 40 and 60 degrees.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Dr. Michael Lewis, a professor of brewing science at UC Davis, has been a leading voice decrying the shaker pint, and others have followed him. David Broderick, co-owner of Worthy Burger in South Royalton, is among them.

“When the shaker pint glass became popular, all American beer was tasteless yellow fizz, so it didn’t matter what you served in it,” Broderick told me in an email. “With its host of complex flavors worth savoring, American craft beer has changed all that, and we need to spend a lot more time thinking about our glassware as a result.”

You won’t find a shaker pint at Worthy Burger, not even for soda. Broderick told me that he’s been on his own crusade against the shaker pint, and so, when choosing the official “worthy glass” for his restaurant, he avoided it like a warm PBR.

The Worthy owners searched for months to find something that would support the fine beers they would be serving. I don’t believe there’s a perfect universal glass for all styles, but the bulbous and squat shape that Broderick chose is my favorite.

Similar to a wine glass, it tapers at the top, which concentrates the aromas and aids head retention. Plus, there’s a short stem to hold if you want to avoid warming the beer with your hand.

“We immediately stamped it the ‘Worthy Glass’ and our customers seem to love it, judging by how many we’ve sold,” he said.

To be fair, I’ve heard reasoned defenses of the shaker pint. Some have pointed out that it is more practical for bar owners, because glasses can be stacked six high, and easily stored and cleaned. Also, its unpretentiousness is refreshing when all you want to do is have a beer and watch football.

None of the rationales, however, have anything to do with enhancing the beer.

If you think this is all a bit silly, that too much is being made of a glass, then you may have a point.

But consider this — how would you react if you went to a restaurant and ordered a bottle of pinot noir, and the waiter spilled the delicate wine into a funnel-shaped pint glass for you to swirl and taste?

My guess is you’d be appalled, and rightfully so.

When brewers have taken the time to craft a beer that is complex and flavorful and that you have chosen above all other options to drink, I think we need to show them the respect they deserve. Drink the beer in a way that allows you to appreciate what they’ve achieved.

And make sure the glass is clean.

Valley News staff writer Chris Fleisher is a beer judge and the founder of the website BrewsReporter.com. He can be reached at 603-272-3229 or cfleisher@vnews.com.