Brews Blues

No Frozen Mugs: Craft Isn't Always Better Cold

The case against frozen glassware and other craft beer crimes

By Wendy Cawthon December 1, 2014

Let's all agree the icy, frosted beer mug isn't ideal in every application.

Once, while working as a bartender in college, I had a patron ask me to serve her a Michelob Ultra in a large wine glass. I wasn’t sure if I should pour the beer like I normally would, holding the glass at an angle and slowly bringing it upright. I probably could have just turned the bottle upside down and let it glug away, scraping away the head with one of those skimmers like in the Stella Artois commercials. Either way, I like to think she would have appreciated the pageantry.

I’m sure she just wanted to look classy while swirling her golden low-carb beer around in her stemmed glass like a fine Napa Chardonnay. Or maybe she genuinely thought it improved the taste. Could a bowled glass capture the fragrance from the palest of ales? Could she detect the notes of grass?

While this woman has clearly made mistakes in her choices of drinks and glassware, it is true that the proper glass can make all the difference in the taste of a beer. But outside of having your own personal stash of glassware, the choice of how we’re served our favorite brews is not always ours to make.

That being said, listed below are a few of Houston’s worst offenders when it comes to improperly serving beer. Because after all, if you’re going to pay $7 for a craft beer, it better be the best that it can be.

Twin Peaks

Offense: Frozen beer glasses

Admittedly, Twin Peaks is not the only bar to use frozen glasses for beer, but their large signs marketing their “man-sized” 29-degree beer makes them a prime target. And I know it’s more of a sports bar that a place to go for craft beer, but did you know they have a brewery up in Irving? It’s true. It’s where they brew their “Knotty Brunette” and “Dirty Blonde.” Why go with Knotty over Naughty, though? Knotty just makes me think of gnarled wood. Ugh. But let’s try and focus on the sin of serving frozen beer before getting all puffed up over their misuse of subtlety.

Plenty of Houston bars use frozen or frosted glasses. We get it: Texas is hot, cold beer is necessary for survival. But it’s time to stop tasting the Rockies and start actually tasting beer. Frozen glasses add nothing to the beer except for condensation, which can ultimately water down the drink and affect the taste.

Additionally, colder temperatures can mask certain flavors in beer. Even light (or Lite) beers should be served at above freezing temperatures for optimal taste, while darker brews and beers with higher alcohol content should be served somewhere around 50 degrees. Craft beers will often have their ideal serving temperature listed on the bottle label, but if you’re unsure, skip the chilled glass altogether. Beer stored in a refrigerated keg or bottle will be cold enough. If you’re parched, get an ice water. (Ed. note: Mia's is also guilty of serving its beer far too cold, advertising that its drafts are 33 degrees.)

Beer Market Company

Offense: Serves beer without glass

Beer Market Company has an expansive and impressive range of bottled beers in their refrigerated “Beer Vault.” But in many cases the customer is expected to drink their beer out of the bottle, which cuts outs some of the best aspects of the craft beer drinking experience.

Drinking out of a glass over a bottle is widely encouraged among craft beer brewers and drinkers. You may worry that pouring a beer into a glass can cause the beer to lose its carbonation and turn flat, like a soda. But unless you plan on nursing that beer for an hour or two, this isn’t really a concern. Pouring a beer in to a separate glass allows you to inspect the color and head retention. Impress your friends by pointing these things out; you’ll be the Frasier of craft beer! But more importantly, drinking from a glass allows you to smell your beer as you drink it, which plays a big role in how you’ll perceive the taste. 

Mongoose vs. Cobra, The Gingerman, Petrol Station

Offense: Incorrect glassware

Beyond using clean, room temperature glassware, nothing affects taste more than using the wrong glass for the wrong variety of beer. Many bars, like the ones listed above, will choose their glassware based on the price of the beer and not the style. For example, a small snifter glass is a popular choice for serving more expensive beers because they hold less and look fancy. And though we love all three of these bars—going so far as to recently name Mongoose and Petrol Station as two of the best bars in Houston—there's always room for improvement.

Snifters were made to trap complex flavors from high-alcohol beer but they don’t allow much room for carbonation. So serving a high-alcohol saison with lots of carbonation wouldn’t leave room for the head, leaving you with half beer/half foam in your glass. You’d be better off drinking it out of a tulip-shaped glass, or a big wine glass, which is easier to find in a bar.

Now that you know the difference a glass can make, you can try it at home. Using the glass recommended by the brewer—or the handy guide listed below—you can try your favorite beer the way it was meant to taste. Real Ale’s Devil’s Backbone Belgium Tripel tastes a lot better out of a goblet than a Solo cup.   

A. Tulip Glass: Biere de garde, Lambics, Wee Heavys, Saisons, Scotish Ales

B. Snifter Glass: Barleywine, Double IPAs, American Strong Ales, Imperial Stouts, Russian Imperial Stouts,

C. Flute Glass: Lambic, Bock, Czech Pilsner, Weizenbock, Helles Bock,

D. Goblet: Belgian IPAs, Belgian Strong Ales, Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels.

E. Pint Glass: Ales (Amber, Blonde, Cream, Red, Black, Brown) IPAs, Pale Ales, Stouts (Oatmeal, Milk, Irish Dry) Witbier, Rauchbier, Ocktoberfest

F. Weizen: Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Wheat Beers, Weizenbock, Kristalweizen,

G. Pilsner Glass: American Pale Lager, Bock, Czech Pilsner, Dopplebocks, German Pilsner,

H. Stange Glass: Altbier, Czech Pilsner, Rauchbier, Rye Beer, Kölsch

I. Mug: Most beers that can be stored in a pint glass can also be served in a mug. Mugs are just easier to grip and hold up better when used in overly enthusiastic glass clinking.

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