Why Porters Served in Highballs? I Speculate No More.


Antique Children's Mug...the perfect glassware?

Why joys so scantily disburse,
Why Paradise defer,
Why floods are served to us in bowls, —
I speculate no more.

–Emily Dickinson

There has been some discussion amongst beer bloggers about glassware, especially as it pertains to the woman drinker.  I thought I had no opinion on this until last Saturday when my strong feelings on the matter ambushed me over a half of Fullers London Porter.

On Saturday I donned my bog-standard witch outfit, it being Halloween, and I sat sipping comforting, potent London Porter in the glow of many elaborate jack-o-lanterns in the Barrowboy and Banker in Borough.   I’ve only had this on tap once before, and feel slightly negligent that I’d been to this club at this grand Fuller’s pub many times and never ordered it before.  It’s intense and only slightly demanding in its heaviness, with dominant bitter chocolate as the primary front, and then lovely dried fruits round it out.  It’s not easy to drink pints of this stuff, and yet I did, even when I would have preferred to drink halves.  Why?

Glassware.  I don’t need a stemmed glass but why must halves be served in a collins glass?  This is what they put a half of London Porter in at the Barrowboy and Banker.  Perhaps I’m being too fussy and precious here but it’s as if they had given me a highball glass filled with Veno Chesty Cough. The straight-sided, thin glass didn’t permit the beer to breathe; it warmed unpleasantly in my hand and was awkward to hold.  It is the same glass they serve coke or lemonade in– it’s as if the half is just an afterthought.  Even the bar man kept insisting I really wanted a pint, didn’t I?  Perhaps due to his charm, I relented.  The pint was served in a beautiful, rounded goblet– the nose greeted you with every sip and drinking it from this bowl shape was a completely different experience.  But, size does matter, especially when it comes to something that’s 6%.  I’d just rather stick to halves, but not if I have to drink it out of a cocktail glass.

I don’t care if a glass is stemmed, though some beers are just nicer to drink from a stemmed glass. I don’t mind halves served in the mini Nonik (or bulged tube style glass), though as Zythophile points out, it isn’t the prettiest thing.  He also mentions in this fascinating post that the authentic ale mug up until WWI was a pink china pot with a white strap. (Surely Hello Kitty can pick up the patent on this and reintroduce it?  Or maybe I’m just dreaming).  I love that in Belgium every beer has a specific style of glass in which it should be served.  What would it take for UK pubs to pay more attention to how they are serving their beers?

Some pubs get it right consistently– the Old Dairy being one of them.  They serve their cask ales in the dimpled handle style.  Recently The Beer Nut sang the praises of the dimpled mug.  If I can’t drink my halves out of something like the antique children’s mug (featuring a tipsy monk) pictured above, or a Sanrio re-issue china pot, then the mini-dimple will do.  At they Old Dairy they even give you a choice.  Last night the chipper bar man asked if I wanted my (perfectly kept and delish) Exmoor Gold in a thick, fluted glass or…he paused for theatricality here before bringing out the little dimpled mug.  “It is the most feminine in glassware, I’m sure you’ll agree.  You can even hold it like this,” he suggested as he raised the glass with his little finger extended. Deportment aside, it is my glass of choice.


6 Responses

  1. I don’t think this was entirely the pub’s fault: I’ve frequently got those awful highball glass with the Fuller’s logo on them. Seemingly this is how the professionals down in Chiswick believe your porter should be served.

    I think you should write to Fuller’s PR and ask for an explanation.

    • I fear you may be right– or maybe it’s just my vague dislike of Fullers that’s kicking in here. In general I’m not a fan– I find them quite boring and never know what to order when I’m in a Fullers pub. I know London Pride is the favourite of many but I don’t get the appeal. I also dislike their too-colorful, cartoonish pub signs and with the exception of The Barrowboy and Banker, I’ve found in general the service in their pubs leaves something to be desired. OK, I will stop whinging now.

  2. The Jugged Hare on Vauxhall Bridge Road serves halves of London Porter in brandy-style glasses, which is perfect. SO I don’t think there’s a Fullers-wide policy on this.

    I’ve taken to asking for a wine glass in some pubs, I decant my half into it and it suddenly looks and feels much better.

    • Hi Boak! The wine glass is a good idea– I’ll have to try it next time I end up with a highball glass for a half.

  3. George Orwell felt that porter and stout were best served in pewter mugs, which you could still find in many pubs in the 1940s, though Maurice Gorham in 1948 said that while pewter “is probably the best material for doing justice to the taste of draught beer”, he declared that “glass is certainly better for draught stout”. Personally I’ve never liked pewter, though I own a lovely old quart-sized pewter mug of the kind the drinkers are using in Hogarth’s Beer Street.

    • HI Zythophile– thank you for stopping by. Once I went to a pub crawl where many of the older gentlemen had their own pewter mugs they brought to be filled. I can see the appeal– sometimes glass just isn’t very satisfying, though I like how you point out in your post that a dimpled glass is like a cathedral window– indeed the many colors of beer are so lovely, it’s a shame to hide them.

      A quart sized mug! And here’s me thinking the drinkers on Beer Street were just especially small. haha.

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