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The Straw Challenge

I don't quite subscribe to the theory (for lack of a better word) of the “right glass” for this or that style of beer. Firstly because sensory experiences can not be objectively evaluated or quantified (EDIT: outside of a controlled environment), and secondly because there are many other factors that contribute to the experience of drinking beer that the theory fails to take into account. But I don't want to argue about it. I believe we will all agree that beer is best enjoyed when drunk from a glass (well, I prefer an earthenware mug, but let's not argue about that, either).

However, if you still have friends among the normal people—you know, people who don't give more than a fuck and a half about beer because, it's just beer—sooner or later you will face a situation where glasses (let alone the “right one”) won't be available. At best, there will be some plastic cups, but quite often not even that; and your only alternative will be to drink from the bottle or can, which is something very, very bad to do. It's a disrespect to beer, in particular to the beer your surely brought, because you'd rather not drink the industrial crap your friends drink, and because there's not better place to spread the gospel of craft beer than a barbecue.

Of course, you could bring your own glass, but do you really want to be that person? And if you do, are you really willing to get up, go to the kitchen and wash the glass every time you finish drinking a beer? (Because if you are obsessed enough to bring your own glass, then that's the least I would expect).

There has to be an alternative. One that will spare you the opprobrium of drinking from a bottle, but won't get too much in the way of enjoying the party.

What about straws? They are inexpensive; you can buy a pack at pretty much every supermarket, they're easy to carry, you can leave them on a table inconspicuously and then make fun of drinking beer with a straw. At worst, people have you for an eccentric, which is a lot better than “weirdo who brings his own snifter to a party”.

When I was a kid in Argentina I remember people saying that drinking beer with a straw or with a spoon will get you shitfaced like no other thing (I can see why some people would think a straw is a good idea, but a spoon? Who the fuck has ever drunk beer with a spoon?). In retrospective, it must have been some sort of urban legend, not unlike that about the lethal combination of watermelon and wine, but I never thought of drinking beer with a straw and I don't know anyone who did. Nor did I ever read something about it. So, instead of googling it, I thought that taking the matter empirically would be a lot more fun.

I chose two beers—Hubertus Světlý Ležák, from Kácov, because it'll be the most likely type of beer you'll find at a party, and Staffordshire IPA, brewed by Marston's for Marks and Spencer, because, just because.

At first I thought of doing a blind tasting, but I quickly realised that I was an idiot, so I did my best to leave behind all prejudice, and evaluated the above mentioned alternatives—glass, plastic, bottle, straw—with an open mind. I also drunk a full bottle in each case as, outside competitions (and who cares about competitions?), there's no point in evaluating beers like those two (or any other for that matter) in a smaller measure (and because, if I'm going to do something silly, let's get at least mildly pissed as a result).

(And no, I didn't drink all eight bottles in one go, it was in two separate days)

Hubertus presented notes that suggest a walk at dusk, in late summer, on a freshly mowed lawn while eating a baguette freshly baked by a jolly fat Frenchman. The IPA, on the other hand, was biscuity—shortbread perhaps? Not the real stuff from Scotland mind you, but a cheaper imitation you can buy at Lidl—and a bowl of.... Bloody hell! They tasted like a pretty good pale lager and a decent IPA should taste like.

(To be honest, I had planned to write silly tasting notes like the ones above, but the experience turned out to be more interesting than I had expected. The glass was the control sample.)

Plastic cup:
In both cases, there was a lot more head than in the glass, and it had a different consistency—like the dollop of froth you get on a latte, or something like that—and it also stayed longer. Must be the material. They also tasted more bitter, as if the hops had taken a step forward.

This must be the first time that I drink a beer straight from the bottle paying attention to it. Hubertus was awfully carbonated, to the point that the bubbles would wreck most of the structure of the beer. Things improved as the bottle emptied, with the beer also getting more bitter. The IPA, on the other hand, fared much better. It was still gassier than from glass or plastic, but not as much as the lager. Maybe it was the design of the bottle—with a shorter, stubbier neck—or it could be that the beer was less carbonated to begin with. Either way, I kind of enjoyed it, and it also kept a more uniform profile.

I wasn't expecting much, to be honest, but it was even worse than that, at least with the Lager. It was like drinking beer while suffering from a strong cold or a pollen allergy. The dullness wasn't so bad with the IPA. The bitterness was still there, but almost like listening to music through a thin wall, and the malts were almost absent. It tasted a bit like a weak hop tea with a pinch of something sweet. It wasn't unpleasant, but not something I need to do again, either.

What do I get from all this? Both beers tasted best from a glass, but not by that much, really. I can see other people liking them from a plastic cup better. After all, it's all a matter of taste, so probably you should try it yourselves and make up your own minds.

Or not. Really, if you fret about things like this when you are at a party, or some other similar situation, chances are that you are taking too seriously something that is supposed to be fun. Quite often (if not always) the best way to drink a beer is the most convenient and comfortable available. Remember that.

Na Zdraví!