For me, one of the most interesting sessions at EBBC so far has been the beer tasting with glass comparison, hosted by Spiegelau. Our hosts clearly know their stuff when it comes to glassmaking, but they've only been at it for 500 years or so, deep in the heart of Bavaria.
My time working behind bars made me well aware of the fact that a certain type of beer needs a certain type of glass. This was especially true of my time at The Masons Arms, where our range of 60 different beers tested the knowledge of our bar team daily.
However, as much as I have always stressed to people how much the shape of the glass matters, I was completely bowled over by Spiegelau's presentation. Taking as an example Camden Brewery's excellent Wheat beer, a sample was poured into each of Spielgelau's tall wheat beer glass, their tall but slender pilsner glass and finally the joker glass, a tulip pint such as those found in nearly any pub in the UK.
The wheat beer glass really accentuated the nose of the beer, the subtle notes that define a good Hefeweiss drifted gently from the glass. A good, soft head was well retained in this glass.
The pilsner glass, while not dissimilar in shape to the wheat beer glass, is a more narrow, slender affair. The aroma was present, but much more concentrated. It was a sudden burst of atonal noise, rather than all the notes playing out their gentle melody in turn. Again, this glass gave good head, but the mouthfeel was more aggressive, the carbonation was fuller and tighter.
The joker glass, with it's rolled lip, thicker walls and slight discolouration, gave very little - if any - aroma. The head disappeared almost immediately and the taste was metallic and ever so slightly sulphurous. I wondered if the glass I had was in need of renovating, the difference was that marked.
It's worth noting that the joker glass would retail ordinarily for between £1-2, where the Spiegelau glasses would retail for at the very least £7 each (the glass set we were very kindly given would normally retail for £30). The ordinary tulips, while thickness is part of the problem in tasting beers, is obviously more hard-wearing. Spiegelau's technique of blowing the glass, rather than moulding, results in a thinner, clearer glass, which is cut with a laser for a finer finish. The official line is that these glasses are built to withstand 1500 dishwasher cycles - 4 years if used everyday - however I would be surprised if they weren't broken before then, even by the most careful of beer geeks.