I’ve secretly always wanted to be one of those people who has all the different shaped beer glasses – 6 of each so that I can appropriately serve all of my friends. Given the limited amount of space in my apartment, I’m left to wonder: what’s all the fuss about? Some of the best beer bars I know serve every beer in a wine glass… so what’s to stop me from doing so at home? So many questions – it’s time to get answers!
It turns out that the shape of a glass is specifically designed to do one of 3 things: Maintain a beer’s nose, allow for the formation of a head, and showcase the beer. Before diving into each of the different shapes, the first thing to ask is why are these things important? Because you drink with all 5 senses
- Nose: Some of the aromatic compounds in a beer – especially those in higher ABV, barrel aged or otherwise “potent” beers – are described as “volatile,” meaning that they disperse quickly. Knowing that a beer’s taste is equally influenced by both smell and what is experienced by your taste buds, it makes sense that we want to keep those compounds around as long as possible.
- Head: The fluffy, foamy cap atop your bevvy holds a high concentration of aromas and flavors. The head holds these compounds in place and brings them to the top of the beer, thus closer to your nose, to increase your enjoyment. The size of a beer’s head tells you a bit about the ABV. In general, higher ABV = less head. A less-than-clean glass can kill the head too…
- Appearance: Beer is bottled in dark glass (usually brown or green) or a can for a specific reason – it’s UV rays (not change in temperature as the urban myth goes) that skunks a beer. Packaging is specifically chosen to protect your beer from the elements. The side effect – you have no idea what it looks like! The right glass will allow you to admire the color, carbonation and clarity.
All this said, if a beer is in the perfect glass, this still does not set you up for a flawless tasting experience. We must also consider the temperature! A typical bar tap at your corner pub pumps out the brew at about 38 degrees. WAAAAYYYY to cold for most beers. This is the temperature most appropriate for beers you don’t want to taste (you know the ones…). A good rule of thumb is lower the temperature = higher carbonation = less aroma. Typically, a more complex, higher ABV beer is best served at a warmer temperature (55-60 for an imperial stout, anything barrel aged, etc.). Truly great beer bars have the ability to set the temperature of each tap line individually. Some can set carbonation levels too – but that’s a whole other entry.
On a related note, please, for the love of all that is good, do not freeze your glasses! A frozen glass does 3 things, neither of which is good. Imparts ice crystals in the beer, zaps the potential for any aroma to reach you, and transfers any funky flavors that may be floating around in your freezer into your beer.
Now that you know the basics, how to choose a glass? Well, that’s actually quite simple – I’m glad you asked!
Tall, narrow and tapered intended to showcase everything that is beautiful about pilsners – effervescence, golden color and a pillowy head.
The larger balloon shape allows for the typically larger heads of weizen/weiss/wheat beers, the body is designed to to showcase the appearance of this hazy beer style.
2 styles, the standard/shaker pint (left) – named for it’s original use in shaking cocktails and the nonic (right) – named for it’s resistance to nicks and breaks due to the ridge with both makes it easier to hold and prevents it from clanging against its neighbors. The Europeans have one idea about how much this glass should hold (19 oz), the americans feel differently (14-16 oz)
Best suited for strong beers! Barley wine or anything labeled “double” or “imperial.” The fact that the top is narrower helps to trap those volatile compounds we talked about.
The name means “stick” or “rod” in German. The best possible vessel for my favorite style of beer: Altbiers as well as Kolsh and Gose. Because of it’s tight narrow shape, it concentrates the malt and hop aromas.
Tulip or Thistle Glass
Similar to the snifter, these glasses trap volatile compounds with the added benefit of the flare at the top not only allowing for, but inciting a large head.