Don Kavanagh: Through the looking glass

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Don Kavanagh learns that the glass is as vital as its contents.

A different glass can demonstrate the various attributes of good wine. Photo / Getty Images
A different glass can demonstrate the various attributes of good wine. Photo / Getty Images

I've rarely given a great deal of thought to what I am drinking from when I am drinking.

A pint glass, a 330ml bottle, a tumbler, even a can would usually suffice for me, so long as the liquid inside was of a decent enough quality. That was how it stood until a while back when I was introduced to the brilliance of superior glassware.

Now, I can just about see your eyes rolling and hear you muttering that one glass is pretty much like another and the only real difference is size.

I was of a similar mind and tended to think of glasses merely as drinks-delivery systems until someone showed me exactly where that theory was wrong.

I was invited to a wine tasting some time ago where we were shown exactly what a difference a glass makes, although I was utterly unconvinced at first. After all, the tasting was being done by a representative of a glass company, so there was a clear level of self-interest on his behalf.

However, by the time I'd finished, I was a confirmed convert to the idea of glassware changing the flavour perception of wine. I tried the same wine in four different glasses and it tasted markedly different each time. The depth of the glass, the width of the mouth, and even the thinness of the lip of the glass all affected the flavour.

It's not simply a Jedi mind trick either. The subtle differences between glasses mean that the concentration of flavour and aroma is affected, which changes the perception and reality of the tasting process.

I marked it down to experience and thought about my wine glass collection in a whole different way.

So just recently when I was invited to a similar tasting for beer glasses, presented by Spiegelau, I jumped at the chance.

The set-up was the same: pour an identical beer into a series of different glasses and watch as they magically change flavour.

The change was even more obvious with a well-flavoured beer; with glasses designed for different styles of beer, the Epic Armageddon used as a tasting beer took on genuinely different characteristics in the various glasses.

The tall, thin, Pilsner flute lifted the hop concentration and reduced the maltiness; the wider-mouthed "pint" glass offered a much more malt-heavy flavour and the IPA glass was pretty much the Three Bears glass - just right. Even brewer Luke Nicholas was wondering what had happened to his beer.

Now not every bar (or even many bars) will have quality glassware like this, but you can hardly blame them. The bar environment isn't sympathetic to beer glasses and expensive, specially designed beer glasses simply don't work in such conditions.

But there is no excuse for not having a collection of decent glassware at home. After all, if you go to the trouble of buying quality beers, wines and spirits, doesn't it make sense to present them in the best possible light? From Spiegelau's new IPA glass to the classic Glencairn whisky tasting glass by way of a feather-light pinot noir bowl, the world of quality glassware is out there, just waiting to be explored. You owe it to yourself.

- Herald on Sunday

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