Monday, April 23, 2007

Throwing your beer a curve, Part 2

The taste-test results are in.

That new, curvy Samuel Adams pint glass won’t make your favorite Jersey-brewed beer taste like champaign.

It will, however, help the beer taste more like what it was intended to, complementing the flavors and aromas of malt and hops. But a word of warning to you fans of big beers: The glass seems to wreck their flavor profile. More about that later.

A quick recap:

Boston Beer Company created this tulip-meets-shaker pint glass for its flagship Boston Lager after some R&D by some topnotch beer palates and technical minds. Folks at Samuels Adams stick to their proviso that the glass is intended for their lager’s malt profile and Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops.

Fair enough -- their glass and their beer. (Their marketing, too.) But we suspected what’s good for their lager could be good for our bitters.

So we put the glass through the paces, pitting it against the sturdy and bar-ubiquitous shaker pint glass, enlisting the sensory help of Flying Fish head brewer Casey Hughes and two of his crew -- brewer Tim Kelly and cellarman Frank Winslow. The Fish’s brewing operations chief, John Berardino, also popped in with some observations.

(Note: Both John and Casey were skeptics. John: Looks too much like a vase and its undulations rob the beer of a uniform appearance when held up to light; also looks tough for bars to clean quickly and slip back in their rotation. Casey: Chatter about the glass sounded like a lot of hype; wonder how it stacks against a Chimay glass …)

For the test bench, the Jersey brews sampled were: Cricket Hill’s East Coast Lager, Climax Brewing’s Extra Special Bitter and Flying Fish’s HopFish India Pale Ale.

Carrying things out a few more decimal places, so to speak, we also tasted a great, 8% ABV whiskey barrel-aged version of the Fish’s Belgian Abbey Dubbel. (And we can't wait to leisurely sip this baby again.)

The findings

Generally speaking, the Sam Adams glass topped the shaker pint, providing:

Cleaner malt and hop aromas
Readily noticeable malt flavors (unlike an initial bitterness you got drinking from the shaker pint)
An overall support for the delicate flavors of the beers

Yes, these are the pretty much the same claims Boston Beer makes about the glass. But it’s what we tasted and what we found to be the case.

Another observation: Your palate won’t tire with the Sam Adams glass. For that, you can credit a laser-etched ring on the bottom. It triggers a constant stream of CO2 bubbles over the life of the pint to produce aromatics. (Chimay’s Belgian beer glasses have similar etching to create the same effect.)

Now, about those high-gravity beers ... The shaker glass and its wide V-shape proved friendlier to the Fish’s dubbel, holding the alcohol-warmed malt flavors and fruity aromatics in a tighter integration of pleasing sensations.

Not so with the Sam Adams glass.

It slammed the nose and palate with the booze, a jet stream of alcohol heat that shut out the vanilla notes that should have come from the oak barrel aging. The alcohol in that dubbel is a flavor that should do more weaving and less sensory cleaving. (For comparison sake, we also sipped an Old Ale from Sam Adams’ LongShot sixpack and got pretty much the same impression from that 10% ABV beer.)

Overall, says Casey: "For what the glass was made for, it does very well and complements a variety of beers ... styles that are hoppy and malty but don't have the extreme alcohol."

And, just for kicks …

On our own, we put the Sam Adams glass through a separate test, using River Horse Brewing’s ESB, Flying Fish’s Farmhouse Summer Ale and a black and tan made from Guinness and the Fish’s summer seasonal.

The results were largely the same as with the first round of sampling. But the black and tan was really interesting, a blend of Guinness tang swirling with Summer Ale tang and a tinge of its malt sweetness, all up front but nicely giving way to some slightly muted hop flavor in the Summer Ale. (The head was kind of cool, too, a tan-against-white froth. And by the by, the Summer Ale was excellent by itself in the Sam Adams glass.)

So why all the fuss over a pint glass?

Because beer has such a range of flavors that it deserves some an attention toward capturing and enriching those flavors. Plus, matching the proper glass to a beer is a common practice in Europe.

As it should be here, too.

NOTE: We're not going to offer a buying recommendation. But we will point out the glass is priced at $30 for a set of four, with shipping to New Jersey and tax boosting the grand total to nearly 41 bucks.

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