Sept. 11 episode of Beer Buzz, Brett and I got a little sidetracked on glassware. I’m sure we had more than a few listeners wonder why this was important. The truth is that it’s not important unless it’s important to you. In my mind, matching the glass to the beer is a way of showing respect to that beer. You probably spent your hard-earned money on that beer, and want to really appreciate it. The right glass should complement the beer in a way that brings out the best of the beer. Does it make a difference? Maybe not, but I still like to know it. Plus, it’s a good way to make your guests feel fancy.To illustrate how the right glass can affect the experience of drinking a beer, here’s a brief rundown of different glass types and what they are designed to do.
The small tulip or “snifter” glass: This glass is the familiar brandy snifter. It’s not so much a bowl-shape as a tulip-shaped glass, and it usually only holds a few ounces. It’s designed for the brandies and bourbons of the world, but they are also commonly used for ales. The large, round bottom is designed to be cradled in your hand to warm the beer up, bringing out the complex flavors, while the tapered top traps aromas for your sniffing pleasure. This glass is ideally suited for stronger beers such as barley wines, imperial stouts, and pretty much anything bourbon barrel-aged. Also, I recommend this glass for strong Belgian ales.
The large tulip glass: This glass is just like the little guy above, except he holds a bit more beer. The design is still very effective for capturing the aroma in the top and for warming the beer when needed. Also, this shape helps with head retention. These designs work well with strongly flavored, malty beers because they capture the sweet aromatics along with the hop aromas and hold them. Try this shape with your favorite Belgian Abbey ale, a Saison, or a lambic. Pretty much anything Belgian will be fine in this glass, but you can also use this for a good doppelbock.
The Imperial “Nonick” pint: Ah, the glass of British pubs. The Imperial part is the pint’s size. An imperial pint is a little over 19 US ounces (our pints are 16). This glass is the glass you see with the odd bowed-out ridge about a quarter of the way down the glass. This bump has purpose, though. It adds strength to the glass, prevents them from creating a vacuum when stacked (like the shaker pints do), and helps prevent the dropping of the glass. Some say the bump also helps trap aromas, but I’m not convinced. This is good for British and American ales including pale ales, porters, stouts, and bitters.
Irish Imperial pint: The official glass of Guinness, this is a sort of cousin to the Nonick pint. These have a bump with a gentler slope near the top of the glass, but it serves the same functions. It’s got a wide mouth tapering down to a narrow base. The narrow portion below the curve is designed to reduce the heat transfer from your hand, while a wide mouth is good for sipping (or gulping). This glass is designed for stouts and porters.
The shaker pint: This is the American pint glass, named because it is designed to hook up to that stainless shaker behind the bar for cocktail hour. We all know this is the general-purpose beer glass here in the states, and most beer fans have a slew of them in their cabinet at home. It’s mostly used because it’s inexpensive, stackable, and easy to clean. It’s great for gulping, and goes well with American lagers, since you’re not too worried that your glass doesn’t show off the aromas of your beer. This isn’t a bad glass for beer, mind you. It’s just not a good glass for beer, either.
The “Jelly” glass: As you might think, this glass was originally used to package jelly. These have sloped sides similar to an American pint, but they tend to be larger. They have a wide round mouth tapering to a narrow octagonal or hexagonal bottom. This is the classic Witbier glass from all of the Hoegaarden ads. As you can imagine, it’s good for witbier. It’s also a good glass for light farmhouse ales, if you don’t mind losing a bit of aroma.
The Pilsner flute: Shaped somewhat like a champagne flute, this is usually a bit larger. The glass is tall and slender. The wide bottom tapers down directly into the foot of the glass without a stem. The conical shape of the glass helps with head retention and shows off the high carbonation of pilsners and American lagers. The narrow shape also shows off the light color of these beers and will make a red ale really show its color. This shape is also good for bringing the aroma of the beer out as you sip.
The weissbier vase: The classic German wheat beer is known for its yeast character and the citrus notes of the wheat. The gently curved sides create a wide glass at the top but curve down to a narrow waist before sloping back out at the foot of the glass. The wide mouth makes for great sipping and helps with head retention. The glass is also extremely good at capturing the clove and banana aroma from the traditional weissbier yeasts. Perfect for Hefeweisse and Dunkelweiss (Aventinus, anyone?)
The handled glass stein: Distinctly dimpled, this is the quintessential German drinking glass. The thick walls and handle prevent the beer from getting warm quickly, and the thick walls double as reinforcements for hearty clinking while yelling “Prost!” Ideally suited for German lagers, including Oktoberfest and Marzen styles, as well as Munich Dunkels and Vienna lagers.
Stemmed “pokal”: The pokal is sort of a short pilsner glass with a stem. It’s used mostly for serving Bock beers (Helles Bock, not Shiner Bock). These beers tend to be malty and the beer is designed to enhance the sweet aromas from these lagers. They also perform the same function of a pilsner in enhancing head retention.
Stemmed abbey goblet: The glass of Orval, Westvleteran, Westmalle, and other Belgian dream beers, this beer is different depending on the beer. In Belgium, it’s common for every brewery to have their own specific glass for their beer. The idea is that the glass is designed to bring out the things that beer is known for, but let’s be honest: Some of it is just marketing. The goblet is perfect for abbey beers, however, because they are basically glass art, which goes well with the type of beer they are designed for. They usually have long stems and a bowl-shaped cup with a wite mouth at the top. Some have etchings in the bottom which help the bubbles form in your beer (nerds call these “nucleation sites”). These etchings help the carbon dioxide escape from the beer and helps to maintain a frothy head. These are ideally suited for Belgian abbey-style ales.
“Other”: In addition to these general types of glasses, there are also a lot of other beer glass types in the world, usually designed by brewers to market their beer. Slight alterations on an existing design, or completely silly shapes (a boot, anyone?) may not actually enhance the beer’s flavor, but they can make drinking more fun.
Choosing the right glass for your beer is really a matter of taste, but these categories might help you make a choice if you’re inclined to go with tradition. If you’re a server at a local craft beer bar, being able to talk about why the shape of the glass suits a beer might get you some tips, though. Plus, it’s just kind of fun to know, if you’re a geek like me.