Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Riedels on Spirits and Beer
Meeting a lot of Riedels lately.
In July, I met up with Georg Riedel in New Orleans and spent a civilized half hour talking about the Riedel glassware's new Bar Series, it's first organized foray into the spirits world, with dedicated glasses for everything from tequila to single malt scotch.
And yesterday, I met George's son, Maximilian, who goes by Maximilian, as only the scion of a vaunted European company like Riedel could. A slight, wiry man with an easy way of talking, he said he was wearing his father's lederhausen. "So he is in a way with us," he said.
The occasion was a lunch at Blaue Gans, Kurt Gutenbrunner's Austrian eatery on Duane Street in lower Manhattan. I and a clutch of other journalists were there to test and enjoy Riedel's newish line of beer glassware. The atmosphere was appropriately, and perhaps excessively, Bavarian. A German dance team of three provided entertainment. A spry old man of roughly 70 was doing some nimble knee and foot slapping that I would not attempt, even on a good day.
Both Maximilian and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver spoke several times about the nature of good beer and the nature of good beer glassware. Oliver—dressed in a blue blazer adorned with the Brooklyn Brewery crest, and looking like a member of some booze-oriented yacht club—was quite cutting on the subject, comparing most commercial beers to the loaves of spongy Wonder bread you find in the supermarket. "That is not bread," he said. "It is not made the way bread is made, and it is not made from the stuff that bread is made of. Bread should not stick to the roof of your mouth. You should not be able to roll bread up into a ball and throw it across the room. I used to wonder why they called the edges crust, because they weren't crusty, until I found out that was sprayed-on food coloring."
There are three glasses in the line: one for lager, tall and slightly tapered at the bottom; a squat, modified tulip-shaped glass for pilsners; and a wheat beer glass, which looks exactly the way you expect a wheat beer glass to look: tall and a bit bulbous at the top. Wheat apparently has more protein in it than does barley—thus, the thicker head of foam.
We tested various German and Brooklyn beers in these glasses against the same brews drunk out of plastic cups and the bottle itself. Riedel is fairly peerless in the way it markets its products, which makes a reporter skeptical. Does every kind of alcohol need its own glass, really? But you have to hand it to them: wines, and now beers, do tend to smell and taste better when drunk out of one of their crystal vessels. After drinking a Bitburger out of the bottle and then out of the pilsner glass—the lip of which deposits the liquid neatly on the tip of your tongue—you begin to think of a beer drunk straight out of the bottle as a beer not drunk at all. Certainly not a beer enjoyed beyond the liquid's intoxicating effect.
The beer glasses are actually designed and produced by Spiegelau, which used to be Riedel's main competition. But Riedel bought Spiegelau in 2004. Spiegelau does retain some creative and administrative autonomy, though, and it was thought the Bavarian company was the best choice to create the beer line.