Spiegelau's Matt Rutkowski: Labels Lie, German Beers Mostly the Same

Categories: Booze Hound
FIU brew.jpg

As the craft-brew scene explodes across South Florida, how exactly do you learn about beer?(Besides drinking it in massive quantities.) Learn from the experts. Duh.

We spoke with Matt Rutkowski, U.S. vice president of Spiegelau (the guru of beer glasses), about the biggest myths circulating about craft beer.

Prepare your surprise face.

See also:
SoBeWFF: Does the Glass Make a Difference When It Comes to Beer?
Craft Brewja Arwen Lehman's 2013 Beer Predictions

5. Germany is the beer capital of the world.
Actually, Germans are behind the proverbial eight ball when it comes to brew. That's no thanks to their reinheitsgebot law. This old-school law basically dictates that commercial beer can be brewed only with water, barley, hops, and yeast. That's it.

"Because of that, all the beers in Germany tend to be very, very similar. They're either a lager-pil style, or they're a wheat style. Or they are like a rauchbier, smoked beer, so it's very, very limited scope. And they're stuck in this; this is the law," Rutkowski says.

"You can't brew a commercial beer with adding beet sugar; you can't brew a stout in Germany using chocolate nibs and coffee grinds. So they have one kind of beer culture which is lower alcohol, big drink, lager style. And the States by comparison, in the last 20 years, 15 years, has opened 2,100 independent craft breweries. That's under the noses of Miller and Anheuser Busch. And that's because the people in the United States really gravitate toward a few things -- entrepreneurship for one, dynamic flavors and a local scene and good beers."

4. Label ABVs can lie to you.
If you can't trust a label, what can you trust? Just beware next time you snag a high ABV IPA. That 9 percent label might actually be a 10. And that extra booziness can add up quick.

"You set a label and it's approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF), but when you're brewing beer, it's a physical, live process. Wineries do the same thing -- they have to print the labels, but if it came up a half-percent more, whoops, sorry, we just had extra sugar... What are you gonna do? So the truth of the matter is there's this variance. There's a labeling standard, but I've noticed this trend where most American craft beers tend to be edging up in ABV. It's very similar to what's happening to American wine. But the trade-off here is people are savoring these beers."

3. The best craft beer comes from hipster cities.
Newsflash: Black frames and neck scarves do not a good beer make. A great craft brew scene can stem just as easily from the land of bikinis and palm trees. Booyah, West Coast.

"People think craft beer is more the bearded, Portlandia style. Everything's gotta be Portlandia. I'm like, you know what? They brought hockey to Central Florida and they won the Stanley Cup. It can happen. It's not about temperature, and frankly the world comes to Florida. The entire world comes to Florida. Abraxas is one great place; it's cool and so there are a couple of guys who put their flag in the ground. And Cigar City in Tampa -- they're incredible. It's not where you are; it's what you bring to the effort."

2. Drinking out of the bottle is totally fine.
After you read our rundown of Rutowski's beer glass seminar and tasting, you'll never look at bottles the same way again. And cans? No way, Jose. If it's anything better than Coors Light, it needs to be poured. But don't worry, you can still break out the coozie collection for those PBR beach days. It's only the good stuff that needs to be savored.

1. Branded pint glasses are cool.
Despite the fact that your dive-bar-giveaway glass collection reminds you of your carefree college years, those vessels are doing your craft beers a major disservice. As with wine, fine beers change completely in taste, aroma, and even visuals based on their receptacle. Once you go good glassware, you never go back.

"We took a brewer's approach to our glass -- the best ingredients, best possible design, best possible everything -- and we're like, why not try it? We know it's better than that. People respond to that," Rutowski says. "I use the HDTV comparison: You can have a 1080 DPI 60-inch, or you can have a Bilco from 1975. Knowing that the two exist, people are not satisfied with the standard anymore."

Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.

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2 comments
Beer_Dreamer
Beer_Dreamer

Lest anyone fall prey to @icculus17's views as sole commenter, I'll say that Rutkowski is spot on. The worst part of the reinheitsgebot is that it nearly spread around the world as 19th German emigrants brought their beer culture to the US, Mexico, and other spots around the world where they started those countries' respective national beer brands.  


There is a generational change in the craft beer scene, where those of a older generation feel that the non-traditional "beer" ingredients that the the younger generation of brewers enjoys using is against the cosmic order. As in all generational shifts, the younger generation doesn't care what the older generation thinks, and its habits will become the norm against all protests. I think we can guess what generation icculus17 is from.

icculus17
icculus17 topcommenter

I think German beers can taste VERY different. 

adding "flavors" to beer is kind of gross, I don't know any real beer drinkers that will drink "flavored" beer consistently.  Chocolate nibs, etc...  It's like the "swedish fish" flavored vodka.

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