As a veteran of beer festivals and brewery visits, Laura Oldham noticed a boring trend.
She always got handed either a plastic sampling glass or the same old pint glass.
So when she and others decided to launch their own beer festival in Columbus this year, they opted for a fancy tulip-shaped glass.
“For us, it was a matter of added value,” said Oldham, one of the organizers of the Grandview High Gravity Hullabaloo, set for Feb. 1. “If we give them the same pint glass they get at every other beer festival and every brewery, it’s just not as fun.”
Tasting glasses won’t make or break a festival, but many organizers fret over them.
It’s easy to understand why. Tickets to festivals aren’t cheap — $75 and up in some cases for the VIP treatment.
A nice souvenir glass to take home can make a big impression, especially with discriminating craft beer drinkers who know the difference between a throwaway plastic cup and a collectible that will be cherished for years.
“For the nicer events, you definitely need to have a really nice glass,” said Craig Johnson of Festivals Unlimited, which organizes the Beerfest events in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Pittsburgh.
With the proliferation of beer festivals (see sidebar on 2014 events in Ohio), there’s a huge range of sampling glasses offered at events.
The annual Blues & Brews festival in Akron has a miniature pint glass. The Winter Beerfest events in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus provide a nifty snifter for connoisseur ticket-holders. And Brewzilla, the final event for Cleveland Beer Week, has handed out miniature weizen glasses.
All feature a logo for the event, sometimes a year and logo of a sponsor.
The worst ones — at least in the eyes of many seasoned festival-goers — are plastic glasses.
The Oregon Brewers Festival announced last year that it was dumping plastic in favor of glass, saying plastic provides an aftertaste and glass is more environmentally friendly.
Plastic glasses often are given out at venues where organizers are concerned about breaking glass.
Inevitably at big indoor events, someone, whether drunk or not, drops a glass. When it shatters, a loud rumble of hoots and hollers flows over the crowd like an audible wave.
The Cincy Winter Beerfest switched from glass to an acrylic mug for most ticket-holders a few years ago. (The connoisseur level gets the snifter.) Johnson said he expected complaints when the change happened.
“We didn’t really get blowback from the public,” he said. “People used to really complain about the glass. Now it’s just a vessel.”
Sometimes, a plastic cup is more expensive than glass so it’s not a matter of organizers being cheap, Johnson said. Of course, he added quickly, a nicer, upscale event must provide glass as opposed to plastic.
Tom Aguero of Monroe, Ohio, who writes the blog Queen City Drinks (www.queencitydrinks.com), said he understands the worries of organizers. He also questioned whether a nice tasting glass is really necessary.
“If you’re trying 20-plus beers in an hour or two, you’re not getting much aroma or flavor after the first few, so you don’t need a fancy glass,” he said.
But many people collect the glasses and want them as keepsakes.
Julia Herz, the craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, a trade group in Boulder, Colo., that runs the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup and Savor events, has a shelf devoted to her favorites. She’s partial to stemware.
Festival organizers can take the glass as seriously as they want — or not at all, she said.
More important than the shape, size or glass vs. plastic issue is that organizers make sure there’s no detergent or dirt residue that will interfere with the beer tasting experience.
“A clean glass is key and that’s a no-brainer,” Herz said.