Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Shaker Pint" Glasses

Standard 16 oz "shaker pint" glass

In my recent Wellington post, I complained about pubs serving good beer in "shaker pint" glasses.  Dominic from Hashigo Zake rightly pointed out that the ubiquitous 16 oz shaker pint is cheap and hardy, and that some have come to expect or even like their beer served in such a glass.  He wrote:

It may not be perfect for capturing aromas but a lot of people actually like the unpretentious, rugged style which corresponds to what they're looking for in a beer. The thick glass means the beer should change temperature slowly and being stackable and tough they're ideal for a bar. Best of all they aren't pig-ugly like the Spiegelau IPA glass.

No arguments about the ugly and unnecessary Spiegelau IPA glass from me.  But why my beef with the shaker glass?  I mean, you're probably drinking beer out of one right now.  They're everywhere.  Most of them sport brewery logos - and isn't that an implied endorsement by the brewery of the shape and quality of the glass, not just an inexpensive method of advertising?  (Answer: no.)

Here's the thing: shaker pint glasses are not really glasses.  They're a piece of bar equipment that does double duty as a glass.  They were a cheap vessel to serve draught beer in - and something that bars already stocked - back when the only options for beer were Molson, Labatt or O'Keefe's (in Canada).

Proper use of a shaker pint, according to Esquire.  Do not shake when full of beer or other carbonated liquids!

If you're serving icy Molson/Bud/Coors in a frozen glass, and you're not overly interested in tasting it, then go right ahead and use a shaker glass.  As correctly pointed out by Dominic, the glass is thick so it will hold its temperature well, potentially slowing temperature changes in the beer it holds.  If you serve a Coors Light in a frozen shaker glass, it will probably stay icy cold longer.  However, if your shaker glass isn't stored at the same temperature as your beer, it's also going to be very effective at pulling your beer away from its ideal serving temperature.  Ever had trouble tasting very much of your English bitter (and experienced foaming issues) because it's served in a frozen glass and is too cold?  Even worse, ever had a server pull a hot shaker glass right out of the scalding dishwasher, give it an ineffective one-second rinse then pour your cold pilsener into the hot glass?  Yuck.

Dominic also indicated that many people appreciate "the unpretentious, rugged style which corresponds to what they're looking for in a beer."  Sadly this is probably true.  Me, I'm trying to convince people to actually taste what they're drinking - and it's an uphill battle against billions of dollars in beer advertising over countless decades, all of which has been dedicated to getting you to associate beer with everything EXCEPT its taste.  Multinational breweries say: "Drink this beer and you'll be popular, fun, attractive, rich, intelligent, patriotic, manly (or unintelligent and attractive to the manly); drinking beer won't involve simple ingestion, but will be an experience you'll associate with our brand; but please pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, namely flavour.  In fact, you should probably just drink to get drunk or to win contests or to look cool with our bottle in your hand - please avoid any tasting by serving icy-cold and drinking straight from the bottle."

I certainly don't want beer drinking to become pretentious and suffer from elitism in the same way wine has.  But I do think that if consumers are at all interested in tasting what they're drinking, they shouldn't be selecting glassware or beer based solely on style or fashion.  (Such as the classics "hipster-and-PBR-from-a-can", or "football-fan-and-Bud-from-the-bottle".)  Perhaps it's a question of education - the shaker glass is not doing beer any favours, so it would be good for beer generally if consumers stopped expecting or demanding it.

Beyond the issues with temperature control, the shaker glass of course doesn't really capture any aroma, which is a big part of tasting a beer.  And quite honestly, though some might find the shaker pint rugged and unpretentious, I find it unattractive and utilitarian, especially when compared to all the great alternatives that are available.  (Just google "beer glassware".)  It works, but to me it's the equivalent of a paper plate for your beer.  It might be tough and manly, but it's more appropriate for Burger King than a rib eye steak.

The food equivalent of Bud Light in a shaker glass

Another huge issue with the shaker glass is expected serving size vs. proper pours, something I talked about in my last post.  Many expect 16 oz of beer when they order a "sleeve" (i.e. a shaker glass in BC lingo), but to do that you have to fill the glass to the rim with zero head, resulting in less aroma capture, poorer appearance, wasteful spillage and an awkward first couple of sips.  If you pour with the proper amount of head, then even if you announce the (sub-16 oz) volume of your pours, those people habituated to the shaker glass will still feel under-served.  It's a lose-lose situation, though marking the fill level of the glassware would help.

In Canada I haven't seen any size of shaker glass except the standard 16 oz version.  Getting away from this standard shaker also provides the opportunity to employ different and potentially more appropriate sizes of glass depending on the beer being served.

One of the many alternatives to the "shaker pint": classic "nonic" glasses designed for British session ales. The 24 oz size would leave you with 4 ounces of head even on a 20 ounce imperial pint.  Thin glass, stackable, the bulge provides chip resistance and easier grip for sweating glasses, and they're attractive.  A step up from the shaker glass

There are plenty of glassware articles on the web if my past couple of posts haven't exhausted you already - even the mainstream media occasionally takes notice.  My opinion is: don't obsess over glassware - going the Belgian route and demanding a specific, unique glass for each beer is clearly overkill (though it does guarantee you get an appropriately-shaped vessel).  A couple of different glasses, loosely appropriate for the styles of beer served, is a reasonable expectation of any pub.  But I think drinking flavourful beer in shaker glasses is a recipe for a non-optimal drinking experience, for beer being either under-poured or improperly poured, and ultimately for perpetrating beer's image as icy, pale, tasteless, and not deserving of the same respect as other beverages.  It's not the end of the world to drink a beer from a shaker glass, but it's very easy to do much better.

Home Glassware

While a bit delicate to be stocked at a rough-and-tumble sports bar, my favourite all-around beer glass, the one that I use for all my beer drinking at home, is Spiegelau's stemmed pilsener glass.  It's a great glass for nearly any beer you might encounter, is made of lovely thin crystal, and has a surprisingly large volume (a standard 330 mL bottle barely fills it to two-thirds) providing plenty of room for a tall head and aroma capture - or for more beer.

But if you know and love your shaker glass, by all means stick with it.  There's no one way to drink a beer!


  1. The problem for me, other than the ones you have already highlighted quite succinctly, is that "shaker glasses" or "sleeves" here in Vancouver do come in various sizes. I can walk you into three different restaurants on Commercial Drive, all serving "sleeves" with one version having a 16oz capacity, one a 14oz capacity and one a 12oz capacity. I know this because I have taken a digital scale into these places, filled the glasses with water and weighed them, then weighed them all empty to get their capacities.
    They all look the same to the untrained eye. The 12oz & 14oz "cheater sleeves" have thicker glass on the sides and a thicker bottom.
    The licensees are not using a standardized size but do use a standardized term, "sleeve" for these glasses here in Vancouver and most likely in most places in BC. That is why I was pushing the CAMRA Campaign Fess Up to Serving Sizes (FUSS) so you know exactly the size serving you are ordering as sleeve has no standard size.

    1. Thanks Paddy - I hadn't noticed these different-size-glass shenanigans locally, but I love how you proved them to exist - I think this is a nice bit of sleuthing that will benefit beer consumers. Great work. I'll certainly be keeping a sharper eye out in the future.

      Here's another area where marked glassware might also help: it's pretty hard to slip you less beer when there's a full volume mark on the glass, regardless of its shape. The only way would be to put an inaccurate volume mark on the glass, which is a good way to suddenly find yourself in front of a judge. Unfortunately, I expect those venues using volume-reduced glasses would be the last ones to voluntarily place volume marks on them.


  2. I love the idea of metred (marked) glasses but suspect there would be major push back from the hospitality industry. For the protection of the consumer and for the appearances of transparency, laws like those that exist in the UK regarding using approved glassware only would be a major win for consumers here in BC.

  3. There is a time and place for all things, including the shaker pint. And there is more to “the consumer’s experience” than the aromatics or head retention of whatever you may be drinking. For that matter, there is more to the experience than the beer itself. Focus more on the glass in front of you than the place and people around you, and you’re likely to miss that.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with your post. My thoughts on the subject are almost as exacting as yours. I have a different take on the shaker pints if you'd like to read about it on my blog "BeerLearner Blather"

  5. A 'frosty' pint glass is worse, because the colder glass dulls your palette and you get a chill haze effect to your beer. Hot day = Cold beer, non-chilled glass.