Your Glassware Did What? A Sensory Experiment of Time and Temperature

mad scientistBeer may be my passion, but in recent months, I’ve come to learn that a beer can sometimes only be as good as the vessel in which you enjoy it.

A shaker pint glass does the trick in a pinch, but when it truly comes to experiencing a beer to the highest degree, it’s important to consider what you pull from your cupboard. While I’ve shared my thoughts previously on the importance of glassware, I’ve was recently presented a serendipitous experience to explore how the method of drinking our beer impacts our senses.

And honestly, I think this latest experiment offers a rather curious take on the matter.

Here’s the setup:

I’m about to enjoy Lagunitas NightTime, a black IPA, when I thought, why not break it into two glasses and see what happens? With my handy Spiegelau IPA and stout glasses in tow, I split the 22-ounce bomber between the two in order to see if there would be any significant difference in the experience.

There was.

Stout glass on left, IPA glass on right.

Stout glass on left, IPA glass on right.

Forgoing specific impressions of flavor, I instead focused on two important aspects of these two glasses:

  1. What did the beer “feel” like?
  2. Was there (generally) better aroma or taste?
IPA glass via spiegelau.com

IPA glass via spiegelau.com

As for #1, it was easy to compare/contrast because the stout glass is made for the purpose of impacting a beer’s mouthfeel. Between the two glasses, the stout glass was far and away better at this, offering a much creamier consistency than the IPA glass.

But #2 surprised me. The typical “dank” hop aromas I experience with Lagunitas beers was better in the stout glass than the IPA. Both glasses are meant to accentuate aromas of each style of beer – the IPA glass with hops and the stout glass with “roasted malt, rich coffee and chocolate notes,” which I truly believe it does.

Stout glass via spiegelau.com

Stout glass via spiegelau.com

Then I realized something else. Not only was the stout glass offering stronger sensory experiences, but it was keeping the beer colder, too. I even took out a thermometer to check. Over about 20 minutes of monitoring, NightTime stayed 2 to 3 degrees colder in the stout glass compared to the IPA glass as they both sat on my coffee table, only being touched when I sipped from either.

That’s weird because to put it plainly, higher temperatures should generally mean stronger flavors.

So if I’m drinking a black IPA from now on, that stout glass seems very enticing.

But that was just the start of my experiment.

“Science”!

To try and better grasp what was going on, I followed my unscientific NightTime experiment with two more the next day in the same time frame as the first, between 8 and 10 p.m., when my house is sitting at about 74 or 75 degrees F.

First, I recreated the experience with a homebrewed IPA. Splitting half my 12-ounce bottle between the two glasses, I tracked temperature inside each glass over 15 minutes, taking four readings: one right after pouring, then 5, 10 and 15 minutes later. I left each glass untouched on my kitchen counter and only used my thumb and fore finger to pick up a glass by its stem to take a sip.

I poured the IPA directly down the middle into each glass, which caused noticeable more foam in the stout glass, which is on the left:

IPA edit

For reference, I stuck the thermometer about halfway down each stem of each glass, so it was getting ambient temperature from where the beer would recirculate most. I’ve highlighted the location:

temp readingHere are temperature readings from the IPA in degrees Fahrenheit:

homebrew IPAAgain, the stout glass keeps the beer colder, but to me, the sensory experience was roughly the same between the two. My IPA used a ton of Belma hops with a dash of Mosaic, so it essentially smells and tastes like a berry patch. I couldn’t properly differentiate between the two, which was still a little stranger due to temperature differences.

After the 15 minutes, I poured all of the leftover beer into a third shaker pint glass and took my time finishing it. I rinsed out both the stout and IPA glasses under cold water on the “coldest” setting my tap would allow for 10 seconds each.

As a secondary aspect, I set up the same experiment with Ska Brewing’s Estival Cream Stout. Splitting a 12-ounce can between the two glasses, I followed the same steps as above. Again, the stout glass, left, started out with more foam:

stout edit…and here’s where the temperatures went:

cream stoutThis time, I felt more confident that the stout glass was true to its partner, imparting stronger roasted notes of the stout. The IPA glass was fine to drink from, but the aroma simply wasn’t as strong.

What gives?

What makes me most curious about all of this is the mystery of temperature and beer characteristics. Is the stout glass simply so good it can defy physics?

I spoke with Oliver Gray, resident beermatologist and Friend of the Program at Literature and Libation, who was equally baffled.

“That doesn’t make a lick of sense,” he said. “A warmer beer with more activity in its C02 should kick off more aroma, and in turn more flavor. A colder beer, with condense, less active gas, should do the opposite. It’s the idea behind serving macro lagers ice cold; the cold temperature dramatically reduces aroma and flavor. The glassware, in theory, shouldn’t affect this, but it looks like I could be very wrong about all my beery presumptions.”

There are three aspects to consider for the difference in temperature control between the glasses:

  1. The circumference of the base is different between the two: stout (~5.75 inches on top, ~8 inches on bottom) and IPA (~5.5 inches on top, ~7.25 inches on bottom).
  2. That size difference allows for a different amount of liquid to be held at the base, where the beer is recirculated after every sip.
  3. The surface area for contact is different on each, with thicker glass on the IPA glass, meaning (in super-simplistic terms) the glass is working harder to absorb the difference in temperature from the beer. The IPA glass also has a half-inch section of glass on its base while the stout glass has about a quarter-inch.

But all this doesn’t necessarily explain why I might have better aroma or taste from the stout glass. Perhaps because it’s a bit more bulbous, allowing for more aroma to be delivered to my nose?

What does this mean?

I’m a true believer in the Spiegelau glasses and continue to recommend them to anybody who’s curious about them. However, I now wonder if instead of buying two different sets for just IPAs or only stouts, if you could just get away with one or the other to maximize your drinking experience.

Regardless, taking the time to investigate was fun and informative, if only to learn more about the glasses I’m drinking from and how they impact my beer. Glassware is often overlooked as an important part of the drinking experience, but can mean a lot to a drinker and enhance appreciation of beers and what brewers create.

Or maybe I’m just crazy.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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14 thoughts on “Your Glassware Did What? A Sensory Experiment of Time and Temperature

  1. Speaking with my science hat on, I would wonder if the ribbed base of the IPA glass is bringing more surface area to the party. While thicker glass will have a little effect, I would suspect that the amount of beer in contact with the inside of the glass would be the biggest factor. And although that little bit of ribbing might not seem like a lot, it probably is enough to suck a couple of degrees out of the initial pour. After that, both glasses look like they perform equally well although the cream stout did separate a (whole) three degrees on the final reading.

    If I were your graduate adviser, I’d suggest you repeat the experiment (in triplicate) plus adding a control. Say, a pint glass. Take readings every 10 minutes until all the beer comes up to room temperature. Plot temperature vs time of all glasses concerned. Also, mathematically calculate the exact surface area of the inside of each glass (in meters please) and then calculate the total amount of thermal conductivity of each glass in watts per meter per kelvin.

    Or you can just admit that you’re crazy 🙂

    Fun read as always.

    • You’re spot on, Ed. Oliver recommended this tactic as well, which I may come back to.

      I took the circumference measurements this morning and was surprised at the thickness of the glass base on each. If I understand correctly, Spiegelau doesn’t create an aspect of their glasses that doesn’t perform some function, but I’m not sure of the added benefit and difference between the two. Or maybe I’m just asking too many questions.

      Either way, the shape most certainly does a lot and I suspect future tests will be in order!

  2. weigh both glasses… I’m pretty certain the IPA glass has a larger mass (aka, thermal mass which may be enough to drive the initial warm up period)… after that it will come down to surface area / volume ratio (which the IPA glass is noticably higher)… and plot temps until they both hit room temp…

    Also, are you certain you poured half in each? or did you level out the verical levels in each? looking at the pics, it appears to me you poured the larger volume in the stout glass (aka, leveled the glasses)….

    • Thanks for this tip! I don’t have anything handy at home for weighing, but I’ll see what I can find…

      As for the pours, I aimed for an even amount, so I tried to get a touch more in the IPA glass, but you’re right, there still may have been more liquid in the stout glass.

      (The beauty of an unscientific experiment!)

  3. Pingback: Beer – #470 – Sparks Brewing – Frontier Extra Stout | A life just as ordinary

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