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Glassware: Clearly Critical

No matter the quality of the glass or how carefully you handle them, glasses break and need to be replaced.

Plus, as a beverage program evolves, you’ll need to add new pieces of glassware to accommodate the changes.

“Glassware has to match the style of the restaurant,” says Nancy Kamphausen, glassware product manager for Cardinal International. “A thick, heavy tumbler wouldn’t fit in with the elegant linens, china and flatware in a fine restaurant. In a diner, you’d think something was wrong if you got a thin, stemmed glass.”

The least expensive glassware is machine-pressed, where molten glass is pressed into a mold. Machine-blown glass has a finer look. The most expensive glassware is handcrafted. Durability comes from “annealing,” a cooling process that reduces internal stresses and strains, and “tempering,” a cooling process that toughens glass.

Tempered glass, says Kamphausen, is more durable than annealed, and lasts longer. To reduce breakage, don’t use glasses as an ice scoop; do use mats on the dishroom floor and bar to cushion falls. And don’t buy a new glass unless you have the correct dish racks for washing and storage.

Also consider your serving sizes. Even a generous drink can look small in an oversized glass; too large a glass can lead to over-pouring. Some glassware is marked with plimsoll lines to help servers pour to the correct level; a logo can serve the same purpose.

Versatility keeps inventory costs down. Use a single type of glass to serve white or red wines; a martini glass can be used for desserts. But if you specialize in signature cocktails, wine flights or craft beers, specialty glassware can pay dividends.

Taste and tradition

We pay a lot of attention to which glass goes with which beer,” says Greg Engert, beer director for Rustico Restaurant and Bar. That’s no mean feat, as the Alexandria, Virginia, restaurant boasts 300 different bottles of beer, 30 different drafts and a cask-conditioned ale. Behind Rustico’s bar are 16 different glasses.

“Oftentimes the choice has as much to do with tradition as to how that glass affects the aromatics and flavors of the beer,” says Engert. “The cool thing about that is it shows there is more to the enjoyment of beer than simply the pretense of the glassware you put it in.” Take the 20-ounce nonic pints he stocks. These are a traditional English pub glass, easy to stack and store thanks to a bulge near the top of the otherwise straight-sided glass. But the nonic’s inturned lip also offers better head retention. “So it’s a utilitarian thing for the publican, but it works better for the beer as well.”

In a break with tradition, Engert serves rich and complex beers in 22-ounce Bordeaux glasses because they allow drinkers to swirl the beer, releasing volatile aromas. “You can really get your nose into the glass, too,” he says. And big ales like barleywines are served in brandy snifters because they are “cognac-y beers with port or sherry notes to them.” Engert serves a new style, brut beer, in champagne flutes, because the glasses show the fine bubbles created by the method champenoise.

Subtler lagers are served in classic pilsner glasses. These were designed to be gripped in only one spot to prevent the hands from warming up the lager, which tastes best at about 45 to 50°F, Engert says. Another traditional glass is the hefeweizen—oversized because wheat beers are lower in alcohol and “the Germans would pour plenty of it.” 

Rustico stocks about 10 different glasses to serve its Belgian ales, from a chalice for Chimay to a tulip for Duvel. Unlike most brands, Belgian brewers don’t advertise with labels or tap handles but with logos on specialized glassware. American brewers of Belgian styles like Allagash are also getting into the logoed beer act.

In many states, you can get free or low-cost branded glassware from distributors or the brewery. In Virginia, Rustico has to pay for the glasses, but Engert vows they are worth every penny. “They make for a totally more attractive presentation that customers appreciate,” he insists. “And they show off the authenticity of the beers.” 

Beyond the mug

This glassware starter kit will raise the bar on beer service. The descriptions below match up with glass styles above, going from left to right:

Belgian tulip. Designed for Belgian brews with creamy heads, such as Duvel—the shape focuses the head.

Belgian chalice. This glass is perfect for “less effervescent, less carbonated, more complex nosey beers,” says Engert, who offers Chimay as an example.

Pilsner. This tall, tapered glass is the one for serving most cold lagers.

Bordeaux. The glasses you use for red wine are perfect for many aromatic beers.

Hefeweizen. Serve any nationality of wheat beer in this traditional German glass.

Tumbler. The 14-ounce size can be the standard for many beers.

Snifter. Old and complex ales taste best in a classic brandy snifter.

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