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Shape Shift

Owing to her beer-educator status and her husband's career as a brewer, Ginger Johnson has plenty of pint glasses.

She just never uses them for beer.

"They work great for milk; they work great for iced tea," says the Ashland resident.

For beer, Johnson has an array of pilsner glasses, mugs, steins and tulip-shaped stemware, each meant for a particular style of brew. It's a concept Johnson frequently introduces in beer-appreciation classes hosted by her business, Women Enjoying Beer, and city parks and recreation programs.

"Most people haven't thought a whole lot about their beer glassware," she says.

By not thinking about it, beer-drinkers are forfeiting much of the enjoyment, Johnson explains. Depending on the shape, glassware accentuates aroma, modulates temperature and ensures the correct amount of carbonation. A typical pint glass' sharp angle causes bubbles to "race up the side," resulting in what most people regard as a flat beer, says Johnson.

"It's not the best beer glass for hardly any beer."

The standard pint's size also does nothing to moderate consumption of higher-alcohol beers, says Ginger. Many specialty shapes are meant for 12-ounce servings of Belgian-style ales or lambics, for example.

"Those are made to be sipped."

For all the variety of craft beers available in the United States, there's a dearth of appropriate glassware in many restaurants, bars and pubs, says Johnson. But the domestic beer industry is starting to following the wine industry's lead in marketing style-specific stemware, she adds.

Vice president of high-end glassmaker Spiegelau, Matthew Rutkowski has dedicated much of his life to "demonizing" pint glasses because "they work against beer." A pint glass's thickness warms beer too quickly, he says. The glass from which it is made usually is cheap and porous, drawing out effervescence and degrading the way a beer tastes and feels in the mouth.

But economy and durability are precisely the reasons why the conical pint is most bartenders' glass of choice. That's starting to change in the Rogue Valley, says Johnson, with restaurants like Frau Kemmling Schoolhaus Brewhaus in Jacksonville serving its German imports in iconic glassware and Beerworks in Medford selling a wide array of glasses — about 30 — to accompany its 400-some beers.

"It's as much about presentation of the beer," says Beerworks co-owner Chris Dennett, who also serves beers in requisite glassware at his Elements Tapas Bar & Lounge in downtown Medford.

Dennett likens the mismatch of beer with glasses to drinking pinot noir from a Champagne flute. However, a flute would be a good choice for a sour style of beer, he says. Similarly, a wide-mouth goblet mean for red wine showcases Belgian-style ales, such as Chimay, if the traditional chalice isn't available.

"Those glasses exist for a reason," he says. "This is a very old idea."

More recently, Samuel Adams began popularizing the idea in the United States by advertising that it developed and trademarked its own glassware. Customers have taken notice and started asking for it, says Dennett.

If beer drinkers are confounded by the dozens of choices in glassware, they can start by pouring their lager or pilsner into a stemless wine glass. And regardless of shape, says Johnson, beer glasses should never be chilled.

"It's like putting a ripe tomato in the refrigerator."

Jonhson plans an April 12 event showcasing glassware for beer at Gathering Glass Studio in Ashland. The $20 fee includes tasting beers paired with food. Register at www.womenenjoyingbeer.com or call Johnson at 515-450-7757.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story.

Trade the thick, clumsy pint for a tulip or traditional Belgian beer glass. - MCT