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That's NEAT!

When a local businessman stumbled upon a new design for whiskey glasses, he turned to experts in the chemistry department for an explanation.
Research  |  Oct 8, 2012  |  By Shane Bevell
Christine Crnek, Professor Spencer Steinberg and George Manska pose with a NEAT glass. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

With his usual scotch glass in the dishwasher, George Manska pulled a squat little vessel off his shelf. It was the result of a mistake he'd made in a glass blowing class, and it was just the right size for a single-malt pour.

As he sipped, he realized that somehow the glass was enhancing his experience.

Manska was curious why he did not detect the smell of ethanol in his scotch when using the glass. Using some reverse engineering, he figured it out and wrote a patent for the NEAT glass (Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology), which was named the 2012 Best New Bar Product by Vegas Seven. But before he launched his barware business, he needed some evidence to explain why his glass enhanced the flavors of his drink.

A chance encounter connected him to UNLV and chemistry professor Spencer Steinberg. At an awards dinner, Manska met Dave Emerson, an emeritus chemistry professor in the College of Sciences (Emerson died earlier this year). Manska brought along two prototypes of his glasses, as he always does, to have an after-dinner drink.

"I began discussing the glass with Dave, talking about the possibility of doing simple tests to verify that we were on the right track," Manska said. Emerson was intrigued and invited Manska and his business partner Christine Crnek to campus to meet Steinberg, an expert in environmental analytical chemistry.

Steinberg designed a test in his lab that would compare the NEAT glass to other common nosing glasses, giving him a rough idea of where the ethanol goes. "These basic tests were validation for us that there is indeed a correlation of vessel shape and the presentation of aromas," said Manska. "We are indebted to him for the confidence he gave us in our product design. He is exactly what the university needs, a hands-on guy who relates well to people, and is a great ambassador for UNLV."

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Steinberg used solid phase microextraction and GCMS (gas chromatography, mass spectrometry) tests to measure what is emanating from the spirit in each glass, and where those aromas are most or least plentiful.

"What I found was that because of the shape of (the NEAT) glass, a drinker could actually get their nose closer to the surface of the whiskey and at a position where they were more likely to inhale fatty acid ethyl esters," said Steinberg, who has been at UNLV for 22 years. "These esters are the chief aroma and taste constituents and, most likely, what drinkers want to experience."

According to Manska, a former Ford engineer, the glass provides a large surface area to promote evaporation, and the necked orifice compresses vapors increasing molecular collision frequency, forcing lighter ethanol to dissipate rapidly over the rim as it expands through the orifice. The flared rim serves two functions, releasing compressed vapor and positioning the nose to sample ester aromas above the ethanol. In addition, the short height from the liquid surface to the nose increases ester presence in the sample, which is usually undetectable in taller glassware. Thus, fatty acid ethyl ester aromas are easily sampled and enjoyed unencumbered by deadening, aroma-masking ethanol.

The test results indicated that the functionality of NEAT gives us a better product, given that nosers can smell more aromas and characteristics of a spirit without ethanol crowding out the olfactory sensors, Manska said.

Manska said that although the results of the testing were satisfactory in verifying the NEAT glass functionality, he concedes that further testing is needed to substantiate his belief that the NEAT glass is superior to other traditional glasses.