When the City Paper's annual Beer Issue hit the racks with a photo of a full, frosty, glass stein on the cover, local craft beer enthusiasts were not happy. Our passion for craft beer begets passion for its presentation. Chilled glassware is a beer-drinking sin.
Why does room temperature glassware matter? Allow me to explain. Brandon Plyler, manager of The Charleston Beer Exchange, beer educator at Edmund's Oast, and certified cicerone (beer's answer to the sommelier program), notes two distinct problems with frozen glassware. "Ideally when pouring a beer into a glass you get a little bit of gas release that contributes to a nice healthy head and proper aroma release. Super-cold temps numb the palate and suppress aroma," Plyer says. Problem No. 2? Food odor. "Arm & Hammer has made a ton of money selling odor-absorbing devices for freezers and refrigerators. Food odor is a problem and will certainly stick to a glass, tainting the beer with off-flavors and aromas," Plyler explains. "A glass kept cold in a freezer will not only give off flavors, but also ice crystals that ensure a super foamy pour."
The second point reveals something that isn't necessarily evident: frozen glassware is, by definition, not "beer clean." Glasses can be dirty whether they're frozen or not, but all frozen glasses are, by definition, dirty due to the off-flavors they pick up in the freezer. Why would anyone want unclean glassware for their beer? Beyond the odor issue with freezing, "off flavors, soaps, oils, [and] food remnants could taint or obscure the beer," Plyler says. This is a pretty simple argument to make, since it's the same reason you want your food served on a clean plate. Done and done.
So, craft beer deserves a clean, non-frozen glass, but why the uproar over a simple cover image with a frozen mug? The sad fact is, lots of people, and lots of businesses, either don't know the importance of clean glassware or don't care. At the risk of stating the obvious, when it comes to frozen glassware, it doesn't freeze itself. You have to "devote valuable and expensive cooler space to a practice that in no way enhances the beer drinking experience," says Plyler. "It's an unnecessary step that doesn't help the beer at all."
It's easy to take the growth in craft beer culture and availability over the last few years for granted, say "we've made it," and move on to the next Craft Fad X. In reality, big/macro beer still dominates the market, craft beer is still the underdog, and its passionate fans are still fighting the good fight. Mind you, we're not fighting for "every single establishment selling beer to have a super-eclectic or ultra-rare imperial stout aged in reclaimed pirate ship cannons," as Plyler eloquently puts it. But we are fighting for the basics. Until everyone understands that frozen glassware is bad, we'll continue to root out bad examples. Case in point: the local, anonymously run and community-driven "Is Your Beer Glass Clean?" Facebook page.
Now, can "beer geeks" be jerks about this sometimes? Absolutely. Like any niche group, we sometimes get a bad rap. In the eyes of many, "beer geek" is a dismissive term, reserved for bearded lardos huddled in their parents' basement, sniffing quintuple-barrel-aged imperial something-or-other and scoffing at the outside world. There's some truth to that rap, and beer certainly helps it all go down more smoothly.
At the end of the day, facial hair and waist-size aside, the craft beer dedicated are just that — dedicated. Crafts brewers work hard to produce something, and they like to see it served at its best. To serve it any other way degrades the drinking experience and can unfairly degrade the impression it makes on the drinker. Forgetting the myriad shapes and sizes of glasses out there, it comes down to putting beer in a clean, room-temperature glass. Is there a nice, polite way to go about pointing out a poorly poured beer? Sure, but it's hard for us bearded lardos to learn social skills in our parents' basements.
Timmons Pettigrew is the author of Charleston Beer: A High-Gravity History of Lowcountry Brewing and co-founder/editor of CHSBeer.org. Follow him on Twitter @CHSBeer.