Sunday 1 February 2009

Beer: In a Glass of its Own

There is a lot of bantering going around currently about beer and wine and how it fits at the dinner table. I like to think that I have a polygamous palate and that I’ll drink whatever is best with whatever I am eating, whether it is juice, beer, wine or a spirit. However, I do honestly believe that beer matches - or betters - wine against any and every dish you can think up. Yet there is a blind willingness to open a bottle of red or white at the meal table, as if it belongs there by right.

There are many disparities between the reception of wine and beer, and I think a lot of this comes down to one thing, which unfortunately defines beer to those who do not drink it: the pint glass. Beer has an almost inseparable link with the pint, which carries with it connotations of pub drinking, drunkenness, loutish behaviour and just general drinking-to-get-drunk, rather than drinking to appreciate. Wine on the other hand, served in the delicately rounded glass, looks altogether more elegant and refined. A pint glass allows a certain amount of roughness - it can handle a tight grip and almost asks for it; a wine glass needs a little more tenderness.

So the issue, I think, falls onto the large shoulders of the pint glass. A pint is the perfect shape for the hand. It feels right when we hold it. It’s also the perfect amount to drink in the pub. It takes 20 minutes-or-so to finish; it’s designed for quaffing not swirling and sniffing. The kind of behaviour which is synonymous with the pint is not allowed at the dinner table. It’s bad form. Taking a pint to the table says we’re not having a serious meal; it says we’re having a curry, we’re in the pub, we’re having a casual meal at home. A wine glass says that this is a nice dinner; it’s civilised, grown-up.

Some breweries have started filling 750ml bottles with their beer, presumably to make them look at home on the dinner table. A 750ml bottle suggests sharing. A 330ml or 500ml bottle is a single portion – it’s made for one. If you share a 330ml bottle of beer then you don’t get a large amount right? Well, technically no, but it’s the perfect amount for a main course. You get 165ml and that’s the same as a small-ish glass of wine. If you pour this into a pint glass then it looks like a tiny amount. The solution: use a wine glass or a smaller beer glass. Each beer is best suited to its own specific shape of glass, just like wine is, so this is the perfect answer. And I don’t know many women who like to drink from pint glasses, break that wall down and serve it in a wine glass and all of a sudden it’s a different drink altogether.

Sharing food and beer is fun, especially if you make a nice meal and then serve a couple of glasses of beer to compliment it. That’s what eating and drinking is all about. In the pub I want a pint but at the table, or at home, I want smaller glasses, something more refined. The pint glass is a large barrier that needs to be overcome before beer can achieve the same standing as wine at the dinner table. But is it possible to overcome the negative connotations? And will the beer glass find its place on dining tables in the home and in restaurants?


  1. In my experience, there is nothing - NOTHING! - that gets a "beer person" more worked than seeing someone drink beer from oversized wine glasses. Why is that?

  2. Maybe it's the same thing that makes a wine person mad to see someone drink wine from a pint glass?!

    I don't have an issue with drinking beer from a wine glass, after all there's little difference between a big bowl-shaped wine glass and a brandy snifter. And sometimes wine glasses are just the perfect shape to enjoy beer from.

  3. You should have a look at the comments on my Youtube channel - it drives everyone nuts.

  4. It's strange, isn't it? Why do you think there is this issue? Is it a defense against wine snobbery perhaps?

  5. I think this is an issue that the bigger regional breweries have recognised. Moves towards gentrifcation of the pint are evident with Fullers stemmed ESB glasses (which landlords generally only entrust to their most trusted regulars - with good reason) and also with Badger's half ballon Pickled Partridge lined pint glass. I happen to have been given both of these glasses by the bar manager of my local and really like pulling them out when others move onto wine. If they made similar glasses in half measures it would be even better. CAMRA had some nice thirds at the GBBF last year, so there is an emerging trend.

  6. Small stemmed beer glasses are probably preferable to wine glasses, but if they're not available, I'm happy to drink from wine glasses. They make beer feel a bit more special.

    The problem beer geeks have with wine glasses is unquestioning dogma: some are clearly on the autistic spectrum and like clear, simple rules. Cask=good, anything else=bad. Beer comes in a pint glass. Piped music=bad. Pint glasses must be filled to the brim. And so on.

    Blimey. That hit a nerve.

  7. I'm finding myself reaching for my stemmed beer goblet more often lately (the nice shaped one provided for sampling at beerexposed, despite the Greene King branding).

    A couple of years ago I'd have been among the hairy knuckled wideboys sniggering at the guy who had his ale served in a ladies stemmed glass. How times change!

    (p.s. I've just been asked to enter "ALEDIE" in the word verification box - what's that about?)

  8. Tim - I picked up a third glass on the way out of the GBBF (I swapped my pint for the smaller one) but haven't used it because I find it oo small! It is good that more breweries are making stemmed glasses - I like that - but how many non beer geek use them? I have very few mates my age who have a selection of beer glasses that extends beyond the pint. Hence the call of arms to use the wine glass!

    Bailey - it is dogma, that's true. 'Beer is beer is beer'. It probably comes down to a stubborn narrow-mindedness. Beer in a pint glass, wine in a wine glass.

    Dubbel - ALEDIE?! How funny! They are randomly generated!