Drinks

Could this odd IPA glass make your beer taste better?

Feb. 21, 2013 at 4:42 PM ET

If you must choose an IPA glass, choose wisely (in other words, not for the looks).
Jim Galligan
If you must choose an IPA glass, choose wisely (in other words, not for the looks).

To look at it, the new IPA glasses co-developed by Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada and glassmaker Spiegelau kind of reminds me of the dumpy little chalice from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” And just like that humble cup, this one has people all stirred up.

Let’s start with what’s important: While it might not be the most elegant vessel in your cabinet, this glass certainly brings the best out of an IPA (India Pale Ale).

The tapered shape of its 19-ounce bowl channels the beer’s aroma, a major component of an IPA’s taste, right up to your nose.

The opening on the top of the glass is just wide enough to let you sniff and sip comfortably without letting the bouquet of the IPA escape or be infiltrated by the scents of the outside world.

The walls of the glass are made of hearty 2-millimeter thick crystal that helps to maintain the temperature of the brew.

Instead of having a stem, the IPA glass has a wavy-sided chamber on its bottom, which helps to aerate the beer every time you take a sip. It looks goofy, but it seems to work quite nicely. There’s also laser etching on the floor of the glass to keep a steady stream of bubbles flowing upwards to help sustain the beer’s head. The etching on Sierra Nevada version is my favorite, as it’s in the shape of a hop nugget.

I decided to put the glass to the ultimate test – letting my wife try it out. She likes good beer, but doesn’t get too worked up about things like proper glassware (she’ll drink Victory Storm King Imperial Stout from the bottle if I don’t keep an eye on her).

I served her a Dale’s Pale Ale, which is technically not an IPA but is a beer she knows well, so I figured it’s a good test subject. She said she could taste a clear difference; the flavor was a bit brighter in the IPA glass compared to the Spiegelau tulip glass she’s familiar with, and the hops were more pronounced. If she can appreciate the difference, anybody can.

I tried the glass with a Green Flash Palate Wrecker IPA, which happily blew me away with its huge and resinous hop profile. The IPA glass also works very nicely on other aromatic beers. I filled it with 12 ounces of New Holland Dragons Milk, a Bourbon barrel aged strong ale that I know very, very well, and the glass made my taste buds work overtime processing a deluge of potent flavors.

A bit of a kerfuffle arose on the Internet soon after the IPA glass’ release, when it was brought to light that its shape is very similar to a wine glass sold by Spiegelau’s parent company Riedel.

Spiegelau vice president Matt Rutkowski doesn’t shy away from this fact, saying that the development of any new glass typically draws from the 500-year-old glassmaker’s extensive library of shapes, and then small but significant changes are made to the design.

“Eight different handmade prototypes are crafted in different heights and dimensions, producing radically different aroma and flavor results,” Rutkowski told TODAY.com.

Spiegelau developed the IPA glass in collaboration with Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione and his wife Mariah, and Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman and his son Brian.

Each group provided feedback independently to Spiegelau, and many small tweaks were made during the development process, from the geometry of the bowl, to the dimensions of the rippled base, to how much liquid the vessel held, all aimed at extracting the most flavor, aroma and pleasure from an India Pale Ale.

The IPA glass is a tactile pleasure. It’s light and balanced when empty, but the thin crystal walls of the bowl are surprisingly sturdy. I like to fidget while sipping a beer, and the odd-looking humps of the glass’ base gave me great joy as I endlessly traced my forefinger and thumb up and down and up their curvy sides.

The glasses cost $9 a pop for branded versions purchased from Dogfish Head or Sierra Nevada, or $25 for a non-branded set of two from Spiegelau. I think that’s a pretty solid investment for something that makes the beer drinking experience more sensual – more aromatic, more flavorful, more pleasing to the touch.

When all is said and done, I don’t care that the design of this glass is an evolution of an existing shape. I don’t care that some people think having a special glass for IPAs is a bunch of "bulls@!t." I don’t even care that it looks a little ridiculous. This glass is a joy to use and I wholly recommend it, especially for aromatic beers.

Now only if they could make it look good…

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter.

More from TODAY Food:
California knows how to party! Wine picks under $15
Taste-test: Do beer glasses enhance the brew?

TOP