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The craft beer fascination has sparked new discussions around glassware and which beverage vessels best suit specific brews.

How Glassware Augments Beer Service

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By Ken Weaver June 2015

Craft beer continues to change beer service for restaurants. According to the Brewers Association, the craft brewing industry reached double-digit volume share for the first time in 2014, hitting 11 percent of the total.

Restaurant operators are responding to this growing fascination with craft beer not only at the taps but also at the table—embracing new style-specific and multi-purpose glassware.

Form and Function

At Michelin-starred The NoMad restaurant, bar, and hotel in New York City, the servers take advantage of multi-purpose and style-specific glassware to showcase the expansive beer list. The NoMad’s 120 bottled beers, which include some cellared examples dating as far back as 1998, are rounded out by two dozen draft offerings. To serve its beers, the restaurant uses a half-dozen glass styles.

“For the most part we use pilsner glasses from Spiegelau,” says Alex Pfaffenbach, the dining room manager at The NoMad. “They’re really elegant, thin glass—tall and skinny—and they put the perfect head on a pilsner, leaving a little room in the top for aromatics.”

The restaurant uses a Spiegelau Belgian tulip glass as its all-purpose glass; Spiegelau weisse glasses for large bottles of Schneider Weisse; Zalto beer flutes for old, effervescent lambics; and highball or fizz glasses for lambics and Kölsch beers.

The NoMad Bar, the company’s bar and restaurant that opened next door in 2014, swaps out the Spiegelau tulip in favor of a heartier Libbey Pub Glass as its all-purpose glass. This choice fits better with the higher-volume traffic.

Thin glassware, like the pilsner, presents some challenges for a restaurant operation, including cost, greater chance of breakage, and inventory management. Additionally, the staff must be trained on proper pour sizes and on how to explain to guests the methodology for choosing a particular glass for a particular beer.

To this last point, Pfaffenbach emphasizes the importance of hitting the right balance with beer glass selections. “Not only does [glassware] need to be functional—it needs to make the beer taste good, and it needs to look and feel good in your hand,” Pfaffenbach says.

One for All vs. Options for Each

A one-glass-serves-all strategy may work, depending on the culture of the restaurant, while others veer to a glass for every beer. Sayre Piotrkowski, the beverage director of Hog’s Apothecary in Oakland, California, previously worked as the beer director at St. Vincent Tavern in San Francisco, and as the assistant beer director at Monk’s Kettle. The glassware for the beer in each of those spaces represents varied service philosophies.

Monk’s Kettle, an established beer destination, fell on one side of the glassware spectrum. “We had probably 100 different glasses—as much of the branded, brewery-specific glassware as we could possibly use,” Piotrkowski reflects.

Conversely, St. Vincent had a more utilitarian approach for both its wine and beer glassware. Only two or three wine glasses were used, and beer was served in either a footed pilsner or a 12-ounce becker glass.

Hog’s Apothecary takes more of a middle-ground approach: Footed pilsners are the go-to choice for all of the lagers; a 16-ounce hefeweizen glass is used solely for its namesake style; and an 11.5-ounce tulip is used to serve higher-alcohol beer, those over 8 percent ABV. For the most potent beers, those over 10 percent ABV, basic brandy snifters are the glass of choice, and these are also used for serving split bottles and beer flights. An 11.7-ounce highball is designated for sour beers, because this style does not over-amplify the beer’s aroma.

Piotrkowski believes most restaurants should err on the simpler side. For the most part, he says restaurants could serve almost every beer in the tulip glass, and even wine glasses can be used to serve certain beers.

Brewery-Specific Glassware

As glassware has become more complex, selections have been developed in partnership with breweries. For instance, Spiegelau’s Craft Beer Glasses use a thin-crystal design. “When you use a thinner glass, the temperature of the beer is preserved longer,” explains Spiegelau vice president Matthew Rutkowski.

Similarly, Libbey Foodservice has expanded its glassware. The company’s Belgian Beer shape comes in four sizes and accommodates porters, stouts, and many of the higher-alcohol styles. The company’s taller and narrower lines, like the Altitude and Pinnacle, offer flexibility for paler beers. A new shape that Libbey’s glassware product manager Jerry Moore refers to as the Craft Beer Glass, “will accommodate most beer styles. ... It can do a pilsner, a stout, a pale ale, and an IPA.”

At 16 ounces, the Craft Beer Glass is ideally suited for foodservice. The design also has extra glass added to the base for stability, plus a round shape and tapered top to capture aromatics. Although the glass isn’t stackable—a potential drawback in restaurant operations—it’s a design purposefully created to enable charging higher price points.

It’s all about creating a glass that’s going to differentiate craft beers,” Moore explains, “because that’s where the restaurants are making more of their money.”