Proper Glassware Post II: The Hefeweizen Glass

Hefeweizen in a vase

It's the middle of summer and many beer drinkers are turning to lighter more refreshing beers to beat the heat.  One summertime favorite of many is the Hefeweizen, a light refreshing ale style that is a great thirst quencher on a summer day. 

Modern Hefeweizens have their origins in Bavaria, the region surrounding Munich in the southeast corner of Germany.  Hefeweizen literally means "yeast wheat" and they are characterized by their cloudiness from still suspended yeast and their tartness from a large proportion of wheat used in the mash.  Traditional German styles require at least 50% of the grain used in the beer to be wheat to be labelled a Hefeweizen, though American brewers aren't as restricted.

Much darker Dunkelweizen also displayed in a vase

Colorwise, Hefeweizens are typically a deep golden color with some showing light shades of orange.  A separate beer style, the Dunkelweizen or "dark wheat," will range from deep copper to a muddy brown depending on the example.    

The aromas of Hefeweizens are reminiscent of banana and clove, though neither is used in the brewing process.  Those characteristic aromas are natural byproducts of the yeast chosen by the brewery during fermentation.   

With respect to flavor, Hefeweizens are light on the palate, slightly tart from the use of wheat and can often carry the banana and clove aromas into the taste experience.  They are often highly carbonated and leave the drinker refreshed and wanting more. 

Hefeweizen vase

The traditional glassware for serving a Hefeweizen is called a vase and it very much looks like one.  Personally, I've been known to use Hefeweizen vases to hold flowers on occasion and they do a fine job.   

The first noticeable trait of the glass is its size.  It is considerably larger than a standard 16 oz pint and the reason for this is to allow for a beautiful layer of foam, or head, to rest on top of the beer.  In the US, consumers often operate under a fear of being taken advantage of and expect a beer to be filled to the brim,  When ordering a Hefeweizen it should be expected that at least two to three inches of foam will sit on top of your beer.  I assure you that your bartender is not trying to pull one over on you. 

Next, you will notice the curvature of the glass.  Hefeweizen glasses typically have narrow bases that open to larger bowls before tapering back in near the rim.  The reason for the narrow base is to limit the transfer of heat from the drinker's hand to the beer.  The wider bowl and slightly narrower rim allow aromas to be trapped in a way similar to a wine glass and also allow for great head retention.  Without this inward taper, that beautiful layer of foam would quickly dissipate. 

So, the next time you're looking for a summer refresher, check out an authentic German Hefeweizen, and if you really want the full experience pour it into a vase. 

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Proper Glassware Post 1: The Pilsner Flute

I often get asked if glassware is important for beer and, if so, which beers should go in which glasses.  The glassware series will attempt to clear up some of the mystery involving glassware.  I will start the series with the pilsner flute.  

History of the Pilsner

No other beer style has had such a profound effect on the beer world as the pilsner.  First created in 1842 in the town of Plzen in the modern day Czech Republic, the pilsner revolutionized the way consumers drank and what brewers produced.  Czech pilsners are known for their light golden straw color and brilliant clarity.  These two characteristics are taken for granted today, but in 1842 most beers were brownish in color and likely very cloudy due to quick fermentation times and a lack of filtration.  Even more interesting is that not many people knew what their beer really looked like.  In those days, beer was poured from wooden casks into tin, pewter, earthenware or wooden mugs.  Glass was a novelty of the rich and very few common folks could afford to own glass drinking vessels. 

This all changed right around the same time that the pilsner was introduced.  It is believed that this had a huge impact on the immediate success of this new beer style.  New technology in glass making finally made clear glasses affordable to the masses.  What better way to show off your new toy than to put a crystal clear, brilliantly golden beer in it?  Of course, the rest is history.  The pilsner swept through Europe with everyone either ordering it from the source or attempting to replicate it on the local level.   

In the US, this wave of pilsner-mania happened to coincide with a large number of German immigrants coming to the US and setting up shop as brewers.  Of course they brought the beer trends with them, and so the pilsner became the ubiquitous beer of big American brewing.  Pabst, Schlitz, Miller, Blatz, Anheuser and Busch all brewed pilsners right from the start.  Of course the versions we have today from those companies have very little in common with the original recipes due to a variety of issues to be covered in a later blog entry.   

On to the glass and why it matters

The shape of the pilsner glass is best suited to any light beer that you want to keep cold.  Pilsner glasses, or "flutes" as they are often called, have a firm base of significant width to prevent spills.  Above the base you will find a stem, sometimes integrated as shown in the picture to the right,  sometimes separate as in the example below it.  The purpose of the stem is to give the drinker a place to put his or her hand.  The idea is that the heat of the hand will not transfer as quickly to the beer.  The slender taper of the glass over a significant rise is used to maximize the amount of light shining through the glass.  This will help show off the beautiful clarity and color of the pilsner.  The narrow but tall design allows for maximum head retention at the top of the glass.  In the United States we often pour our pints to the brim to feel like we are getting the most bang for the buck.  In reality we are depriving ourselves of the rich flavor experience that beer foam adds.  Foam is a trapped area of aroma compounds bursting with scents that add to the true enjoyment of your beer.   PIlsner glasses can be used for anything light and clear that you really want to show off and keep cold as you drink.