Monthly Archives: July 2014

Ritual Without Sacrifice

There is a brewer who stops by, uses us as an oasis on his trip back home to Oakland from Portland, where he drops off his beer. Sometimes we talk shop, occasionally the conversation meanders into beer ephemera.

To use the phrase “the joy of drinking” may sound strange, but our discussion turned to just that. Somehow we got into a small argument about how glass shape affects beer aroma. He very staunchly explained that it’s a myth, and cited an actual experiment in which somebody is blindfolded and different glasses of the same beer are wafted under his nose and he can’t tell the shaker glass from the tulip from that newfangled, hard-to-wash Sierra Nevada glass. OK, I guess I concede (and would like to try this myself). But it leads into further examination of how those glasses DO work. Because they do; it’s just not about the physics.

It’s all in the mind, you know and the mind loves a good ritual. I first heard about “ritualling” from my uncle, who seems to have invented a term called “qualiadelia,” which represents the practice of conscious ritualling as a way to learn about yourself and enjoy life. So of course I’d apply this to beer.

Hopefully you have a beer at hand. Think of how you opened the bottle, or pulled the tap; which hand do you use to lift the glass, and what is the first thing you do when it reaches your face? How do you hold different drinking vessels? Now, do you grip or sip differently in different contexts? Do you take more time to analyze your beer when you’re alone, at the bar, or at a party?

Whenever I see a picture of myself with a pint, my pinky is wedged across the bottom of the glass; they get slippery, and I’ve been distracted and accidentally let go before, so the pinky is security. As soon as there’s enough room, I start swirling to drive off carbonation (most beers are just a tad too bubbly for me) and send the aroma skyward. These rituals would probably happen whether or not I was aware; the fact that I am helps me enjoy the experience that much more.

Thinking hard about this one...
Thinking hard about this one…

Most beer lovers have a cupboard full of glasses, and can probably recount the acquisition of each (with varying degrees of detail). The act of drinking beer from a new or different glass changes the way we think about its contents. This is why the standard shaker glass has become a one-trick vessel; it’s so ubiquitous it’s no longer special, though you might drink saison from one in Belgium.

Of course, the shape of the glass affects the way a beer acts; long, tall glasses show off a beer’s head and rising bubbles, while wide chalices and goblets allow for more swirling to release aromas; all that adds to the ritual of drinking beer.

My brewer friend followed up his point with the fact that most beer judging is done out of small, thin plastic cups. Now I wonder whether or not beer would be scored better (and if judges would be happier) if it was all served in glass tulips.