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Andrew Nagy

An Olfactory Cannon For Your Next IPA

Posted: Mar 1, 2013 12:00am ET

It’s no secret that the hop-forward taste of India Pale Ales, better known as IPAs, are a big hit with American craft beer lovers. IPA, perfect for showing off the intense flavors and aromas of American-grown hops, is not only now the best-selling craft beer style in the country, according to the Brewers Association, but also the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival, the nation’s premier beer festival and competition. In other words, craft beer drinkers love IPAs and brewers enjoy brewing them.

So with all this IPA floating around, it makes sense that Bavarian glassmaker Spiegelau, which has been blowing glass since the 16th century and was bought out by acclaimed wine glass and decanter maker Riedel in 2004, has added an IPA glass to its lauded Beer Classics collection. In short, the thinness and superior materials of the glass, along with its odd shape, enhance an IPA beer drinker’s experience because it maintains the proper temperature, head and carbonation of an IPA for longer.

To aid in the design of the IPA glass, Spiegelau tapped the minds of Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, two of the country’s most influential beer men known for concocting stellar IPAs. Adding some punch to the launch, Grossman and Calagione also collaborated on a new IPA called Rhizing Bines, the two’s first joint effort since their celebrated Life & Limb brew in 2009. (More on this, including tasting notes and cigar pairings, in a future blog.)

Spiegelau IPA glass.

But first, the glass. Spiegelau unveiled the new IPA glass at a colloquium-style event moderated by company vice president Matt Rutkowski and held in New York City’s NoMad Hotel. On hand was Grossman and Calagione. Rutkowski, who cut his teeth in the restaurant industry as a wine director, caught the craft beer bug in the mid-1990s and studied to become a certified beer sommelier. He’s worked at Spiegelau since 2007. Shortly after he joined the company, it debuted its Beer Classics collection in the form of three vessels: a lager, tulip and wheat beer glass. Essentially, it’s the goal of Rutkowski and Spiegelau to launch a series of glasses that enhance the drinking experience for craft beer lovers, much like what Riedel was able to accomplish in the wine world years ago.

Partially based on the now discontinued Riedel O Series Red+White glass, Spiegelau’s 19-ounce IPA glass, which is made of raw quartz silica, appears unconventional, but that’s because there is a lot of science backing its shape. The slender base, which is ribbed with wavy ridges, balloons out into a bowl that then curves slightly back to offer a wide mouth. As the drinker sips, the ribs create more resistance in the liquid, which in turn pushes carbon dioxide and aromatics up into the larger bowl. This aeration means more flavor and aroma is delivered to the nose and palate.

“It’s an olfactory cannon,” said Calagione, with a nod of approval from Grossman and Rutkowski. Calagione went on to say that he and Grossman went through a series of design and tasting sessions in which they chose from twelve Spiegelau glass prototypes. Rutkowski added that he first got the idea for an IPA-centric glass in 2011.

To showcase how well the IPA glass performs, Spiegelau set up a side-by-side taste test, pitting its IPA glass against the common shaker pint glass, the one ubiquitous with bars all across America. No doubt you’ve seen the shaker glass before and probably drank a beer out of one. You may have one in your glass cabinet at home. While good for branding and stacking, the glass is not good for beer tasting, as its thick walls and shape cause a beer to warm up quickly and lose carbonation.

Rutkowski asked audience members to pour Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, two of the most popular IPAs in the country, into both a Spiegelau glass and shaker pint glass. We observed how the hop aromas from the beers in the Spiegelau glasses seemed to jump out of the wide mouth and into the nose, whereas the liquids in the shaker pints were not as powerful. Additionally, the flavor of the IPAs in the Spiegelau glasses were much brighter and more nuanced compared to the shaker.

I first saw this side-by-side test at a Spiegelau event in 2008. I fondly remember walking into that event, held at Blaue Gans in New York City, a skeptic, only to leave as a glassware zealot. Call it my “a-ha” moment. What I like about the side-by-side presentation is it’s not marketing doublespeak or PR mumbo-jumbo, but good old fashioned salesmanship in the form of “My product is better than yours.” Bottom line, the beer glasses Spiegelau create actually work.

As Rutkowski explained in an email: “A head will stay on the beer all the way to your last sip with this [IPA] glass. The inward bowl curvature as well as the hollow base contribute to this. The curved walls and narrower diameter of the bowl itself keep the foam more tightly packed thanks to less surface area on the beer itself. The rippled, hollow base continually ‘recharges’ the beer, releasing more foam, hence more concentrated aroma. Many people falsely assume that a thick glass will keep a beer colder. In fact, the opposite is true. Glass absorbs temperature until it hits equilibrium. This thermodynamic effect means the beer will warm as the thick glass cools. Warmer beer loses its carbonation faster, too (this is a chemical reaction). Therefore, thick glass equals warmer, flatter beer. Thin Spiegelau glass does not degrade beer in this way."

The IPA glass marks the fifth addition in the Beer Classics series (Spiegelau launched a pilsner glass last year). Right now, Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head are selling branded versions of the glass in their breweries and online stores for $9. In April, Spiegelau will begin to roll out two-packs of the glasses to retailers that will sell for $25 as well as their online store. It’s important to note that Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head are not making any money off of this joint venture, as all licensing fees and profits the breweries collect will go straight to the Hop Research Council, a non-profit organization that funds and directs hop research to benefit the U.S. hop industry.

Comments   2 comment(s)

joe melfi — gladstone, oregon, america,  —  March 5, 2013 5:23pm ET

in portland oregon, we practically started the craft brewing trend back in the early 80's. we have the wllamette valley, growers of some of the best hops. this is pretty objective, but not entirely. I remember when sierra nevada first came out -they were only ok compared to what we were doing. same with dogfish!! but if they want to promote hops research good for them. but to call them the best......d'know 'bout that! :)


Robert Meakins — Hermiston, Or, USA,  —  June 13, 2013 8:01pm ET

I'll second this as we travel around the Northwest, and there are lots of small brewpubs and they all have good beers that are their own take on what they want to make. In our travels these are the people that make it enjoyable to sit down and have a good beer with and understand their passion. And these are the places that have outdoor seating so one can enjoy that favorite cigar.



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