Is this the end of the shaker pint? Brewers go all-in on upgrading glassware

Glassware matters.

Underline it. Hashtag it and put it on a sign. The vessel in which a beer is served makes a difference, both in the way a beer smells and tastes, as well as in how well it sells.

And as a growing number of beer drinkers catch on to the idea, breweries big and small are paying added attention to how their beer is served, particularly on draft.

That’s why MillerCoors in 2018 is making glassware a central tenet in its on-premise sales strategy. The company plans to spend several million next year to get its 16-ounce signature glassware for Coors Light, Miller Lite and the Blue Moon and Leinenkugel’s franchises into key retail accounts.

With more than 70 percent of millennial consumers preferring their beer poured in appropriate glassware, “it does matter,” says Chris Gick, vice president of national accounts at MillerCoors. “And we’ve also found that it has a halo effect on the retailer. Where retailers serve beer in appropriate glassware, consumers think that retailer stands for quality. So it’s really important, and I think the data speaks to the fact that consumers do care — especially millennials — so that’s why we want to lean in."

Company research buttresses that strategy. For instance, bars and restaurants in New York that served the MillerCoors Italian import Peroni in its custom, branded glassware sold the beer at a 41 percent higher rate than those that used generic vessels, according to a MillerCoors study conducted this year.

Part of that added velocity can be attributed to branding on the glasses, which spurs interest among other customers. But it’s not just about branding, says Jason Pratt, one of three Master Cicerones at MillerCoors and a senior marketing manager of innovations. Increased interest in beer brought on in part by the rise of craft has created a more-educated and demanding consumer “who expect far more out of beer,” Pratt says. “For the longest time, people accepted the shaker pint. It was fine. Now they’re starting to understand that you can use glassware to accentuate the characteristic flavors of a beer.”

Death to the shaker pint

In nearly every case, it’s increasingly not a shaker pint, the longtime bar-industry staple because of its sturdiness, versatility and ability to be cleaned and stacked easily.

“The shaker wasn’t even designed for beer,” says Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting, a Chicago-based creative agency and beer-industry consultant. “It’s shaped like a bucket and it’s designed to push liquid down your throat. It does nothing for the beer itself.”

And MillerCoors and other brewers are trying to get their beers out of them as much as possible. “We’ve found the generic shaker glass really provides no value to our brands,” Gick says. In an effort to persuade more bars, restaurants and pubs to adopt its own glassware, MillerCoors has redesigned its vessels to be stackable while still providing a good sensory experience for drinkers.

Why is proper glassware so important? Foremost is aroma. Most of what we taste is actually what we smell. Taste is limited to the five basic tastes we learned earlier in life: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. Flavors, such as blueberry, chocolate, pomegranate or orange, are a combination of taste and aroma. Therefore, drinking beer out of a bottle or from a vessel that allows all of those aromas to escape is a missed opportunity to fully experience a beer, says Jenny Pfafflin, exam manager for the Cicerone certification program.

Aside from benefiting the nose, pouring beer into an appropriate glass allows the beer to warm, opening up more flavors. It also creates a proper head, another source of aroma. In short, the right glass will ensure the drinker is getting all the aromas a brewer intended.

Smaller-mouthed glasses like snifters force smaller, more-concentrated sips, perfect for higher-alcohol beers like imperial stouts. Tulip-shaped glasses help retain aroma in the bowl of the glass, which is perfect for big, hoppy beers. Glasses designed for wheat beers, such as Blue Moon, have a curving middle that tapers into a smaller top, which help keep the head of the beer intact and therefore the aroma.

On top of that, “we eat (and drink) with our eyes,” Pfafflin says. Drinkers may miss the subtle beauty of malt color when drinking from a bottle; Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter, for instance, can show off its full body and deep brown color from its roasted malts.

For Miller Lite and Coors Light, taller, slender glasses show off the brilliant clarity of both beers as well as their effervescence.

“People don’t know what they’re missing,” Kiser says. “When you get a light lager in a Wili Becher glass and the head is trapped nicely and it sparkles for you, that fundamentally changes your experience with a light lager.” Bars and restaurants that adopt premium glassware “could move more of those beers, not because the consumer demands it, but because it creates a better experience for them overall.”

Better glasses, better beer sales

Using an appropriate glass clearly benefits brewers, who are able to better showcase their beers. But it’s also a growing expectation among consumers, which is putting pressure on bars to ensure beer is served in glassware that enhances its intrinsic qualities.

In an era when fancy beer glasses are sold in retail outlets such as Bed Bath & Beyond, beer drinkers expect their favorite bars and pubs to carry them as well. “When consumers go out for a night, they expect to have at least the same experience than they have at home if not a more elevated one,” Pratt says. “If I can have appropriate glassware at home but go to a bar and get served out of a shaker pint, why even leave the house?”

A growing segment of today’s beer drinkers are looking for a more-premium experience, a trend that bears out in sales figures and in increased traffic to craft taprooms.

Adam Cieslak, partner, co-founder and head brewer with Chicago’s Maplewood Brewery and Distillery said the decision to pair his beers with custom glassware was a no-brainer. “You don’t want to go to a taproom and drink out of a shaker pint; the experience should feel a little bit more premium. You want to put your best foot forward.”

When it opens its taproom today, Maplewood will serve 13 beers on tap out of seven different glasses.

While that may be too much to ask of most independent bars and restaurants, those that do adapt a more-progressive glassware program are likely to reap the benefits. In short: They’ll probably sell more beer.