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Do we really want to see beer gain the same “status” as wine & spirits?

Posted February 3, 2012 | 10:00 am, by Mirella

Stephen Beaumont tweeted out an interesting blog entry last week. Written by a gentleman named Ben McFarland in the UK, this article is about beer glassware and how the nonic pint (see image on the left) needs to be eliminated and replaced with smaller glasses that better enhance beer’s flavours and aromas.

The beginning of the article is quite interesting, listing some of the other shapes of glasses that were used in the UK before the nonic pint came along. Then, McFarland goes on a bit of a rant about the nonic pint, calling it a “weapon of mass consumption that shows little love for the liquid inside” and saying it “demoralises the drinking experience.”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up with them, but I don’t find nonic pints particularly ugly. Just because it was designed with the publican in mind, doesn’t make it a bad glass. McFarland explains: “the (no nick) glass didn’t chip like its predecessors, was cheap, sturdy, stacked well and was easy to clean” Let’s review that list:

    •    “didn’t chip” – don’t see the problem there. I’m not into ingesting glass shards
    •    “cheap” – again, no problem. It’s likely that more expensive glassware = more expensive pints
    •    “easy to clean” – I don’t think I need to add anything here

Pubs get busy and I’m happy to use a glass that’s more practical for the wait-staff. Especially since the nonic highlights beer flavours and aromas just as well (if not better) than any other pint-size glass. So now we get the the part of the article that prompted me to write this entry:

McFarland’s second strike against the nonic pint is its size. He writes: “The pint is too much. Lovingly crafted beer should not be classified as a commodity…it’s a quality artisan product deserving of reverence equal to wine and spirits.” He later adds: “Whisky and wine drinkers never say “it’s nice but I couldn’t drink a pint of it,” and nor should beer drinkers.” and this raised alarm bells for me.

I agree these beers will benefit from the use of proper glassware and did write an article on beer glassware theory outlining why. But I don’t feel that 20oz is too much beer. It’s true that, as McFarland points out, beer on the whole is stronger in alcohol than it used to be. There are many delicious 7-9%abv beers out there and they should absolutely be consumed in smaller glasses. Having said this, the fact that beer is proportionally lower in alcohol and can be consumed in larger quantities is one of its charms. Let’s not lose sight of that.

I, for one, do not want to see beer “revered” as McFarland writes, or “raised to the status of wine” as brewer Sam Calagione is fond of saying. I want to see it enjoyed, I want to see its flavours appreciated, but I also want to see it celebrated for its specific attributes, I want to see it bought in rounds and sessioned. I very much enjoy wine and spirits but when I’m on a patio on a hot day or catching up with old friends at the pub, I want a full pint or two of 4.5-6% abv beer. The way that flavours in a beer will evolve as you make your way through a pint (especially with cask-conditioned ale) is one of my favourite things.

Of course, I am grateful to have the option of drinking a half-pint on occasion and I prefer to drink higher alcohol beers in smaller glasses. But while these bold higher-alcohol beers are delicious they are not the future of beer, they are simply one of the many facets of beer.  In all of this excitement with hops and barrel-aging and imperializing beer, let’s not lose sight of beer as a social beverage. Beer is not wine or spirits. Yes, beer should be appreciated. Yes we should be more adventurous with it. Yes, we should bring it to the table and pair it with food. But please, let’s not lift it up, and out of the simple, every-day places where it is so very much enjoyed: the patio, the pub, the sports bar and the outdoors.

Let’s embrace the pint as proper glassware for certain styles, moods, times and places. Let’s appreciate the flavours, qualities, craftsmanship and character in a pint of 3%abv cask-conditioned bitter or 4.5%abv pilsner in the same way that we appreciate these traits in a snifter of Barleywine.


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