What To Do With All Those Festival Glasses

What To Do With All Those Festival Glasses

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

You purchase a ticket to a craft beer festival or a special beer release on a Friday evening or a Saturday afternoon – what do you come home with? You only rent the beer, but you can keep the brewery swag, the good memories with friends, a bit more beer knowledge….. and of course, another taster glass. Walter and I have amassed a large, but largely trivial, collection over the years (see the banner image, ~80 different glasses), and those are just the ones we bothered to keep.

There are slightly fewer styles of taster glasses then there are festivals, and there are a lot of festivals. Recently I decided to delve into our glass collection, taking one of every pair of festival glasses we have saved (which is about 60% of the fests we have attended) and consider them individually, on total, and as a craft beer phenomenon. There were all shapes, sizes, colors, and materials, each with memories attached.

We have shaker pint glasses, nonic pint glasses, tulips, mini-tulip pints, snifters, midget pilsners, dwarf spiegelaus, tankards, oversized shot glasses, those horrible midget can glasses or handled mason jar glasses, mini-Libby stemless wine glasses, even a coffee mug. The sizes also run the gamut, from three ouncers up to 16 oz. pints. I don’t think we have any imperial (20 oz.) pints or willi becher pints as festival glasses, so I guess we’ll just have to keep going until we get some.

Getting your tasting glass means you’re about ready to drink. image credit: Indiana Public Media

There are positives and negatives to every style and size. Small glasses help to prevent over pours, but they also have a tendency to get beer on the outside and end up sticky. The larger glasses allow for neat pours, and a variety of pouring volumes, but they result in more wasted beer. This is true for us at least, because we’re looking to sample many beers. We want enough to sample and learn about the beer, but not so much that we overindulge. Therefore, we end up pouring out some beer (never in the view of the brewers). It must be a pretty special beer to have us drink all of a larger pour – and it does happen.

The small glasses are harder to deal with (my opinion) in almost every aspect. The are harder to hold on to, to pass out at the gate (hard for two people to hold on to at once), is more likely to have beer or foam overflow, and they aren’t really useful after the festival. They aren’t even cheaper! Glass pints can come with five color printing for about $1.20; those silly mason jar glasses with the handles are about $1.65 each.

The larger glasses are better for branding too. It’s easier to read for the festival logo on a larger glass, and they also have more space on the opposite side for sponsor logos. The mouth on the larger glasses help to bring out the aroma of the beer. That’s important whether you’re drinking in a taproom or at a festival. As long as the glass is clear, small tasters are usually fine for seeing the color, but a larger glass is equally good for that and help more with the head.

There are people who say that the small glasses promote over drinking because people just throw the sample in their mouth and head for more. This isn’t supported by previous studies saying that people who use small spoons eat less than people using large spoons. Maybe they were thinking of the forks versus spoons comparison – people who eat with forks tend to consume fewer calories than people who use spoons.

One of the nicer plastic tasters – this one from Beers Across the Wabash, 2019. image credit: Walter

Nevertheless, I kind of buy into idea that small pours are more likely to lead to many more pours. With larger samples you take more time to finish, and this promotes more conversation and fewer booth visits. Therefore, it would make sense that people might drink a bit less……unless you’re a chugger.

So how do you end up with all those glasses on your shelf at home? 1) First the organizers of the festival decide on what they want to use to brand their festival and either 1) make an impression visually, or 2) spend more money elsewhere and save a bit on the glass. I think both strategies are fine, as long as a good experience is had overall. I don’t really covet the glass – and we’ve collected a BUNCH of those glasses. I can’t tell you the last time I specifically broke one out to use after a festival. Oh wait, yes I can, we’ll talk about it below.

Once the festival organizers decide on what type of vessel to use, then they can choose a particular style and size. I think for specialty beer festivals, the style of glass can matter. Upland kills it by using the stemless Libby wine glass for the Sour Wild Funk Fest. Likewise, the Midwest Belgian Beer Fest in St. Louis made a good choice with large size stemmed wine glasses, and I love having snifters for barrel aged beers. On the other hand, too many people choose those little mason jar glasses with the handle – I really don’t think those excel in any capacity, not even price.

2) You show up the day of the festival and they hand you your tasting glass at check in. Do you look at it much? Do you ooh and ahh over it? I have, but rarely. Something different is always nice, but they don’t always work so well. Take the metal taster cups for example. If you’re at a summer festival, you better get yours early or those suckers are really going to warm up in the sun. Glass is a better insulator than metal, so even just carrying around the metal cups can warm them up, and therefore warm up your beer. Metal is cool looking, but I’d rather see my beer and not take the chance of getting a bit of metal flavor in my taster.

Our sili pint from the one of our festivals, I think it was the 2017 Taps & Touchdowns. image credit: Walter

The check in team (usually volunteers – thank you for all you do) gives you your taster glass or cup – does it look like everyone else’s? Sometimes the VIP tasters are different than the GA glasses. You pay more for VIP, but the main advantage is getting the extra hour of tasting before the GA attendees enter. Do people really care if they get a different glass? No, but they’ll care if theat different glass gets them into the VIP tent or allows them to get special beers at the VIP table. Yet, even this has problems; wristbands are affixed for the day and can’t be transferred, so they are the normal demarcation between VIP and GA. Taster glasses can be given to someone else to get the VIP beers. Sometimes festivals use different colored wristbands AND different glasses, but if the festival uses the wristband, why pay extra to procure different taster glasses?

3) You carry your taster around the festival for 3-4 hours. Sooner rather than later, you start to hear glasses being dropped. If glass, they break and everyone gets to cheer – it’s more passe than the wave. If it’s plastic, you get a bounce or two and you drink out of a dirty glass for the rest of the afternoon. Plastic taster glasses can range from flexible to rigid – polystyrene, polypropylene, acrylic, polyethylene. Some can impart more of a plastic taste than others, and some can get very brittle when thin (as exampled by our shattered souvenir glasses from the UnTappd Festival, read it here).

But plastic taster glasses may be a necessity as some venues won’t allow glass for insurance or clean up reasons. I really like the PET glasses used at Beers Across the Wabash this year (see image above to left), they had a large opening to allow for the aroma to build, they were rigid enough but didn’t need a wide lip and they didn’t impart a flavor. One particular festival was indoors on a concrete floor and chose a novel taster glass, a silicone shaker pint (see image above right). The style is called a silipint and we got ours from the 2016 Taps & Touchdowns Festival – man I wish they would bring that festival back. That’s the glass I got out recently to take a cool pint of beer outside onto the patio as I helped the neighbor child learn throw a Frisbee. I saw the possibilities and decided that an unbreakable cup would be a good choice.

The magnets from Bottoms Up cups can be used as keepsakes, coupons, advertisements, etc… image credit: Lil’ Walter

4) Now you’re back home after the festival and you have a tasting cup or glass. What do you do with it? If it is more than 10-12 oz., then it could be useful for beers or drinks at home, but tasters – what can they be used for? If you’re crafty, you can probably think of many things to make out of festival tasters. I’m not crafty, but I would consider making them into candles or herb gardens, or perhaps using them to hold pins or paperclips, or nuts and bolts. When the kids were younger, we used a couple as rinse cups for their watercolor paints. What else? Wind chimes, toothbrush holder? They can always be recycled.

There’s one alternative to the keepsake taster glass that we have come across. At Indiana On Tap, we choose to use cups from Bottoms Up, a company started in Washington State in 2008 by Josh Springer and relocated to Indy in 2011. Their system uses a cup with a hole in the bottom which is covered by a circular magnet. When put over the Bottoms Up dispenser, the magnet is displaced and the glass is filled with beer from” the bottom up.” It reduces waste and a single server can fill multiple cups at once, and the cups can also be used with traditional jockey boxes too.

The magnet at the bottom (if people leave it alone), forms a good seal, yet at the end of the festival, you can take the magnet home as a keepsake rather than the entire glass. For festival organizers, the magnet serves as a source of revenue from sponsors, a commercial that ends up on the fridge and is seen many more times than that taster glass would have been. You can even print coupons on them. At home, the magnet can be useful, takes up less room, and can be different for every festival, rather than contributing to the festival glass collection. Nevertheless, we’ll keep collecting glasses because we like the memories they evoke.

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