Words - Matthew Curtis | Photos - Dianne Tanner
These days I spend a lot of time at home working my way through an ever increasing collection of stouts, pale ales and sour beers potent enough to clean an engine with. Despite having a sizeable stash of great bottles I don't really have the glassware to back it up. It's a hotchpotch collection of freebies, festival glasses and the occasional pint glass which somehow found its way into my home after a particularly heavy evening.
I decided it was time to bring my collection of glassware to the same level as my beer so set about doing a little research to find out what are the best quality beer glasses out there. I was already well aware of Spiegelau and their parent company Riedel, not only for their distinctive and easily identifiable glasses but because in the wine trade they're pretty much the de facto brand for professionals. After deciding that these probably were the best glasses I could find I got in touch with the folks at Spiegelau and they kindly sent me their IPA, lager, wheat beer and brand new stout glass to try out. I've spent the last few weeks sampling various beers in each of the glasses and comparing them to a plethora of other options and over the next couple of weeks I'll be putting each of the four glasses I was sent up for review.
I've decided to start with Spiegelau's most recognisable glass as it's designed to enhance the drinking experience of my favourite kind of beer, India Pale Ale. Designed in collaboration with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada Brewing the IPA glass was the winner out of several designs that were chosen via secret vote after trials held by both breweries. It combines an unusual ridged stem which helps promote carbonation with a more conventional 'tulip' shaped bowl which should help enhance aroma, a crucial part of the modern IPA experience. I was sent an unbranded glass but in the USA you can buy them with the branding of either Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head emblazoned on the side. It's interesting to note that the branded versions also have laser etchings on the base of the glass in order to promote carbonation but the unbranded versions don't.
Let's be perfectly honest here, it's not the most attractive of receptacles. In my opinion it looks like a deviant sex toy from outer space. Still if you can get past that then there are definitely some benefits to using this glass over a conventional one. Like all Spiegelau glassware it's super thin, despite it being reinforced it feels like an over-zealous squeeze would result in it being crushed in your bloody fist. It's much stronger than you think although I'd be a bit cautious offering one to heavy handed houseguests. They are thin for a reason though, this should help maintain a consistent temperature although a negative is that your hand is always in contact with a part of the glass that contains beer and this warms it up faster. This is one advantage of using a stemmed glass for beer that tastes better when it's a bit colder.
I tried several beers in the glass but for this review I chose a beer I know inside out, a relatively fresh bottle of Thornbridge's exquisite Halcyon imperial IPA. When I first reviewed Halcyon almost two years ago I described it as a 'fruity, zingy, bitter beer' and the aroma as 'gigantic with notes of grapefruit, pine and lemon zest.' This was once again most certainly true but the IPA glass literally throws the aroma at you like a Jimmy Anderson in-ducker, you simply can't avoid it and you have to play.
In comparison with other glasses I found the aroma to be more pronounced in the IPA glass every time. Ultimately the taste of the beer should be the same in every glass but when drinking a world class IPA such as Halcyon taking in a big whiff of that booming aroma really enhances the drinking experience and it's for this reason I'm convinced. They're not cheap though, the best price seemingly about £17.50 for a pair on Amazon although that might be a small price to pay if you're as mad about your IPA as I am. If you can get over the appearance and the thin build then I recommend giving this a go.