The return of the dimpled pint glass
- 30 April 2014
- From the section Magazine
The dimpled pint glass or jug nearly disappeared from pubs a decade ago. Now this symbol of the British pub is back.
Travel back in time for a moment. Visit in your mind the fictional British pubs of the 1980s - the Woolpack in Emmerdale, the Rovers Return in Coronation Street. Someone orders a pint of bitter at the bar. What is it served in?
A glass tankard. With handle. And distinctive dimples. To some, they resembled a sort of glass grenade. You might call it a pint pot. Or a jug.
This was the traditional pint glass of yore. But in the 2000s, it came close to extinction. In 2001, Ravenhead Glass in St Helens - the last factory to make the old-style glass - closed.
A fixture in British pubs since the 1920s, the dimpled glass had been challenged by straight glasses - the conical, the nonic and the tulip. As lager conquered bitter in the 1970s and 1980s, it somehow seemed more appropriate in a straighter glass.
Modern drinkers cared little for the reasoning behind the traditional dimples. (Depending on who you believe, either to reduce the amount of glass used, or make them easier to wash up.) They weren't bothered that the handle of the glass was supposed to make the beer remain slightly cooler.
And publicans were happy with the change. Modern glasses were much easier to stack and store.
For the dimpled jug, that was supposed to be that.
But having stared extinction in the face, the dimpled glass is returning. And not just to traditional pubs in the north and Scotland. Take the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston in east London. The clientele can fairly be described as hipsters - replete with rolled-up trousers, lumberjack shirts and woolly bobble hats. Rose Dennen has been general manager there for six months and the pub has had dimpled jugs since then. They offer a choice to bitter drinkers - there's straight glasses as well. But everybody chooses the dimples.
"It's not old men with flat caps and whippets drinking out of dimple glasses," says Dennen. "Now you've got hipsters, girls in skinny jeans and fashionable Ts, drinking craft beer. There's an appropriation of the traditional by the hipster culture. There are so many beards in Dalston, and they do love a dimple."
The craft beer trend is a big, big part of the dimpled glass revival.
"There can't be a pub in Dalston without a good run of ale, it's an expectation. We've got five handpulls and two on draught, our ale sales have massively increased, probably gone up by 23% in the last five months."
Other pubs have long kept the faith. The North Bar in Leeds has been serving all its real ale in dimpled mugs since 2000. Director Christian Townsley says part of the pint glasses' appeal was their heritage.
"There's a huge array of stemmed glassware in Belgium, Germans have the beer stein, and the British have dimpled pint pots - it's a nice iconic British tradition to hold on to," he says.
Bitter is the bar's forte and the "old-school coolness" of the glasses appeals to the predominantly artistic and literary crowd, he says.
"They also have a really lovely feel when you put them down on a beer mat - they are solid and reassuringly comforting," he says. The broad diameter of the surface means you can get a good aroma from the beer, he argues.
Back in 2000, Townsley says dimpled pint glasses were hard to come by. But in a typical twist of 21st Century manufacturing, this symbol of the British pub is now manufactured abroad. The North Bar is supplied by a company that gets them from Turkey. They cost about three times the price of a regular pint glass.
"I personally like to see 'dimpled mugs' in pubs serving traditional cask ales and think that the fact they've been adopted by pubs and bars across the UK who aim themselves at a younger customer can only be good for getting more people drinking real ale," says Neil Walker, spokesman for the Campaign for Real Ale.
"As with anything, what's 'cool' goes in waves and I think that the use of these style of glasses is having a resurgence at the moment."
But not everybody is a fan.
"It's not an ideal drinking vessel for beer. They are thick and clunky, and something I don't personally enjoy drinking out of," says beer writer Melissa Cole. "They've also got such a large open top that, for the fashionable beers that are much more reliant on aroma, they have poor head retention, so they don't keep the beer in condition very well. [But] it's proving popular all over the country, everywhere from Edinburgh down."
Cole compares the dimpled glass to the nonic - the glass with the bulge in the middle. "They are both unattractive - butt ugly."
Having said that, she has noted that they are particularly popular with female real ale drinkers. "It's a nice up yours statement. A little sign of empowerment."
For anyone who spots that the centres of dimpled glass usage are now among young hipsters, it could be argued that the trend is mere affectation, a kind of wanton nostalgia.
"Everyone likes nostalgia, whether it's a vintage full skirt, waxed moustaches, or a dimpled pint glass," says Cole.
And the glass hasn't conquered everywhere. "There's a couple of old boozers that have them, but they aren't common in bars [in Leeds]," says Townsley.
He thinks the dimpled glass might not be back for good. The trend for stronger craft beer has resulted in an increasing number of people drinking two-thirds, half and third measures which lend themselves to different glasses, he says.
And there will be some - probably older drinkers - who are baffled at the idea of a dimpled glass revival, having never given up on them. "They never died in community pubs," says Cole.