Brandon Plyler stands before a rack of shelves filled to the brim with delicate chalices of every variety. With a wary hand, he reaches up and carefully plucks a "shaker pint" from the cluster of crystalware. This particular glass, he explains, got its name because it was originally used as the other half of a cocktail shaker. A typical pint glass, it's what you encounter at most bars. Chilling the shaker pint in a freezer before filling it is a common practice for many, but not for Plyler, who "vehemently despises chilled glasses." He compares chilling a beer mug to putting ketchup on a filet mignon, adding that "cold is not a flavor." He also notes that a freezer's hidden odors can attach themselves to the frosty mug, often completely altering the taste of one's brew.
Plyler is the mustachioed retail manager at Charleston Beer Exchange and an authority on all things beer. As an aficionado, a devout collector of glassware, a former sales rep for a beer distributor, and even an educator, teaching "Beer Basics" night classes at Trident Tech, Plyler's credentials are way beyond those of your casual drinking buddy.
The next glass Plyler shows off is a tall, skinny one, which he holds in his hands with the vigilance a mother would show her newborn child. The vase-like vessel, he explains, is mostly used for drinking hefeweizen, a type of unfiltered German wheat beer. However, Plyler says that this glass, like many others, is very versatile. The top of it balloons out to retain carbonation and gives the brew inside a rich, creamy, bubbly head, which, according to Plyler, is of vast importance. "Making a beer look good takes a lot of work," he says. "A nice, thick head is something most beers should have going on, not just Guinness."
Centuries ago, he adds, beer was consumed from leather mugs and ceramic steins, and very few cared about their beer's appearance. Glass symbolized wealth until the Industrial Revolution, at which time the price of glass dropped considerably and became available for all walks of life. In Belgium, Pauwel Kwak, an 8.4 percent abv. amber ale, is served in a glass so valuable that one must give the shoe off their foot as collateral before being presented with the costly chalice. The shape of it resembles a chemist's beaker. Legend has it that years ago, the beer was served to horse-and-buggy drivers, and the glass would fit perfectly in either their boot or stirrup.
While gently holding a New Belgium globe, Plyer becomes adamant about one of the most important things in regards to glassware: cleanliness. "When ordering a beer," he advises, "make sure your glass is 'beer clean.'" Equating a beer served in a dirty glass at a bar to food being brought out on a dirty dinner plate at a restaurant, he urges beer drinkers not to be bashful when it comes to sending a beer back.
Plyler points to different varieties of tulips, snifters, and globes on the shimmering shelves and explains that while each is designed with a particular beer in mind, he uses them interchangeably. Even with his vast collection, he admits that "you should be able to knock out most of the beer world with four or five glasses." While on the subject, he enthusiastically recommends Spiegelau's glassware, which makes some of the best products available.
As a collector, educator, and connoisseur of anything and everything beer, it is impossible to deny Plyler's passion. A self-proclaimed "glassware hoarder," he estimates that he has more than 100 beer glasses lining his cupboards at home. "Just like collecting anything," he continues, "you're only happy when you get more stuff." Even with his undying devotion to delectable craft beers of every variety, Plyler isn't afraid to admit that even he has a soft spot for an ice-cold PBR every now and then. "If it's a 100-degree day, and you're out at an oyster roast and you want to crack open a tall boy, well, that's OK," he says. No matter how you indulge, according to Plyler, the most important thing is that "you should always keep enjoyment in mind."