Building a better beer glass

Boston Beer chairman Jim Koch thinks he can better the taste of beer, without touching the recipe. Fortune's Matt Boyle gets to the bottom of the glass.

By Matthew Boyle, Fortune writer

(Fortune Magazine) -- Most Americans drink beer in V-shaped "shaker" glasses (so named because they're shaped like a cocktail shaker), whose main attribute is durability and ease of stacking behind a bar.

But does beer really taste its best in them? That's what Boston Beer (Charts) founder and chairman Jim Koch began to wonder last year during a talk with Jean-Michel Valette, who previously ran an arm of Robert Mondavi Winery and now sits on Koch's board. When Valette mentioned that different glasses enhance or detract from the flavor of wines, lightning struck: The same had to be true for beer.

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Koch chose an angled rim to enhance the taste
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Boston Beer chairman Jim Koch

So Koch set out to build the perfect pint glass for the company's flagship Sam Adams Boston lager. He began by gathering nearly 100 glasses of all shapes and sizes to study (he even brought in a few vases). "My office looked like a Pottery Barn," he recalls.

During his daily taste test - Koch samples every batch of Sam Adams beer - he would put the beer in different glasses, and he noticed often dramatic differences. The need to "validate this scientifically" led him to Tiax in Cambridge, Mass., which works with food, beverage and pharmaceutical companies to create and enhance products.

Tiax put all its findings (the angle of the rim is critical; the optimal temperature for drinking Sam Adams lager is 46 degrees) into a 300-page report for Koch, who took it to half-a-dozen glassmakers around the world to create prototypes. The winner came from Germany's Rastal, whose shapely glass features an angled lip to deliver the beer to the front of the tongue and a narrow base to reduce the heat transfer from the drinker's hand.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Rastal's design - dubbed the Boston Beauty - is a dime-shaped "nucleation site," etched by a laser at the bottom of the glass, which sends a constant stream of bubbles to the top of the glass.

His quest complete, Koch ordered 500,000 of the glasses, which his salespeople are just now taking to bars (you can buy four for $30 at samueladams.com). Not every bar will embrace them, so coasters are included that explain why the glass is so special - and why you shouldn't drink anything but Sam Adams lager from it.

So what about Boston Beer's 20 other brews? "The idea of doing 21 glasses, that's a life's work," Koch says. For now, the Boston Beauty will have to do.

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