Proper Beer Glassware
The type of glass that a beer is served in has the potentially to significantly impact the way that you perceive that beer. Glasses come in all shapes, sizes and materials; each of which will impact the characteristics of the beer.
Every glass has a number of features that will impact the flavor of the beer. The following include the typical features on most glasses, an understanding of these components will allow for the assessment of a new glass or a variation of an existing glass for consideration when drinking a specific beer.
The handle is the portion of a glass that is offset to allow for the drinker to hold the beer without touching the vessel that the beer is contained in. A handle is typical on mugs and steins only. The handle will allow the drinker to maintain the temperature of the beer while drinking by avoiding the transfer of heat from the hand to the beer through direct contact.
The overall shape of the beer glass can be designed for a variety of purposes including the congregation of volatile compounds for aromatic assessment, the formation and maintenance of head, the ease in which the beer can be consumed and the ability to agitate the beer for aromatic assessment. Beer glasses come in all shapes, each with their own benefits and negatives.
The bowl is a wider area of the glass below the rim or lip which tapers to condense aromatics for the drinker. The bowl often allows for the agitation of the beer for increased aromatic compounds and concentrates these aromatics for the evaluation of the nose. A bowl is not typical in all beer glasses but is essential for the proper evaluation of beer for some styles.
The bulb is a convex potion at the rim of the glass which allows for the collection of head without spilling. The bulb also allows for easier drinking of the beverage. A bulb is often found on tulip or thistle glasses and is an essential part of the design for the specialized wine glass or Teku glass.
The rim is the edge of the beer glass which is in contact with the drinkers lips. The rim can be smooth and rounded or come to an abrupt edge although they should never be sharp. The rim can be convex to allow for the beer to be displaced directly on the drinkers tongue rather than on the lips but this is not always present.
The size of the beer glass should vary based upon a number of factors, the most important of which is the alcohol content of the beer. The best rule of thumb is that the higher the ABV of the beer, the smaller the pour needs to be.
The stem on some beer glasses is between the foot and the bowl. The stem can be held, similar to a wine glass, to prevent the transmission of heat from your hand directly to the beverage. This is essential for maintaining a proper temperature beer through a longer evaluation.
The following recommendations has been developed through research and historical accuracies (where appropriate) to identify the optimal glass that a particular beer style should be served in. The glasses below are listed in no particular order.
The tulip glass has a foot and stem that lead to a bowl that contains the beer. The bowl curves inward initially and either stabilizes vertically or flares outward slightly. The tulip glass is essential for sensory enhancement and temperature control. The shape of the bowl and the vertical flaring of the rim allows for the volatile aromatics to be collected and concentrated. This bowl allows the evaluator to vigorously swirl the beer to aid in either head development or the evacuation of aroma compounds from the beer. Additionally, the large opening of the rim allows for you to place your nose into the entrance to the bowl easily. The stem connecting the foot and the bowl is essential for temperature control. If you have a beer that is too cold you can hold the bowl in your hand (similar to a snifter for cognac) or if the beer is at the correct temperature and you don’t want to warm it you can hold the stem itself. If you are only going to have one glass in your collection for enjoying craft beer, the tulip glass is the most versatile glass that you can have. A modified version of a tulip glass, the Thistle glass, is similar in shape to the tulip but includes sharply angled outward edges from the bowl to the rim. The Thistle glass is the traditional glassware used to serve Scottish ales as the thistle is the national flower of Scotland.
The traditional champagne flute is a standout when used to serve wild or sour ales. Just like champagne, the high level of carbonation will be showcased in this glass and will allow the concentration of initial volatiles for aroma evaluation. The stem on beer flutes is typically shorter than a traditional champagne flute but if you don’t have a beer specific version the champagne version works just fine. As with the tulip glass the stem can be used to maintain a beers temperature although cupping the bowl in this beer glass is more difficult when the beer is needed to be warmed. The small size of the glass will also help to showcase the clarity (or lack of clarity) of the beer. The downsides of this glass include the often small size which is still appropriate for some sours and wild ales, and the quick dissipation of aroma elements. Because the glass is narrow, it tends to be difficult and potentially messy to attempt and swirl the beer to volatilize additional aromatics.
Chalice or Goblet
The chalice or goblet is the traditional drinking vessel for a number of different beer styles including a number of Trappist style ales. Looking around on the internet and you are sure to see chalice glasses available with the monikers from several monasteries. Goblets are also historically appropriate for the German Berliner Weisse, the highly carbonated, lightly soured wheat beer. The thickness of the glass used for the chalice will vary with some being dainty and thin with others being thick and sturdy. Occasionally one will find a chalice that has etchings in the center of the bowl that are designed to be a nucleation point for carbon dioxide entrained in the beer, providing a steady stream of small bubbles contributing to the head formation. The bowl and rim design of these glasses does not concentration volatile compounds for aromatic assessments but often the beers that are poured into these beers are boldly aromatic and require little concentration for thorough evaluation.
The traditional drinking vessel for hundreds of years is the tried and true mug. The mug is characterized by the handle located on the side of the vessel. Mugs will come in all shapes, sizes and materials but the requirement for these glasses is this handle. Mugs are the traditional glass for most English styles of beer in addition to a mug-variant, the stein, for German beers. The stein’s significant variation is that it is often stoneware and has a lid. Interesting fact, the lid was added to the stein during the black plague to prevent flies from entering the beer when it wasn’t being enjoyed. The mug does not add any specific characteristics to the beer and is similar to the standard pint glass. The only reason to drink out of a mug is for authenticity, for a true beer connoisseur the mug is an antiquated vessel better for quaffing session beers in the pub than evaluating and understanding the beer.
Pilsner glasses are narrow, tall glasses specifically designed for holding the light, highly carbonated pilsner style beers created originally in Bohemia. The standard pilsner glass holds 12 ounces of beer and can have either perfectly straight sides or a slide outward angle. These narrow glasses show off the brilliant clarity and bright colors of traditional pilsners while allowing the development of a generous two-finger head. This narrow design also creates a small area for the evacuation of volatiles, allowing for the efficient evaluation of aroma.
Pint or Nonic Pint
The standard pint glass is the tried and true beer glass that has been used in bars and restaurants for decades. Interestingly, this glass was originally designed to be used for mixed drinks at bars with the use of a Boston shaker and this is where this glass should have been kept. Bars and restaurants love this glass because they can be used for both mixed drinks and beers, store well, are cost effective and are durable. The pint glass is a slightly tapered glass without any qualities that enhance the beer being consumed. The nonic pint glass has a slight bow in near the upper portion of the glass. Common myth is that this is for better stability in the hand but in reality it is to facility easier stacking of glasses without them being stuck together because of a slight vacuum induced when stacking. The very name itself is from the fact that when they are stacked they are less likely to break or nick, nonic is a bastardization of no-nick. The pint glasses are typically available in two sizes, a 16 ounce and 21 ounce (or imperial) size. The traditionalist and cost effective beer drinkers may like these glasses but they do not offer significant advantages when evaluating a beer.
Beer drinkers tend to steal ideas from other beverages as is the case in several of the beer glasses that are being discussed. Chief among these is the snifter glass; originally designed to serve spirts. The snifter glass is ideal for high alcohol beers that are better served at a slightly warmer temperature as the bowl allows the warmth for the evaluators hand to transfer heat to a beer that was served too chilled. The volumes of snifter glasses vary but the typical glass allows more than sufficient room to swirl the beer, releasing additional volatiles for aroma evaluation. The bowl also narrows at the top, unlike a typical tulip glass allowing the concentration of volatiles more efficiently. The difficulty of these glasses is that due to their shape it is often difficult to enjoy a large quantity of beer in one sip; however, these glasses are not intended for quaffable beers, they are intended for large, high alcohol beers that are meant to be savored. Every beer connoisseur should have a decent snifter glass in his or her collection to efficiently evaluate the larger beers in their cellar.
A stange is a traditional German glass, similar in design to a pilsner glass that allows for the concentration of aromatic compounds in a tall and narrow design. Stange translates roughly to “rod” or “stick” from German and it is understandable after seeing this glass. Traditionally the stange held 6.5 ounces of beer but in recent years the stange has been steadily increasing in size, approaching 10 or 12 ounces in some places. The stange is typically used for more delicate beers, similar to the pilsner glass that would benefit from the concentration of aromatic compounds in the narrow opening.
Weizen Glass or Vase
The weizen glass is one of the most recognizable glasses currently available with its larger upper portion, narrow gripping area to a widening base. These glasses, or vases as they are occasionally called, are extremely large, to facilitate the collection and maintenance of the dense, fluffy head normally found in traditional weizen (or wheat for the uninitiated) beers. The key design aspect of this glass is the large curvature near the top for the collection of the head, typically designed to hold ½ a liter of beer. One key note, if your weizen is served with a fruit (*gasp*) you will not have the development of the beautiful head that most have come to expect. Citric acid will destroy the formation and continuation of the head. If fruit was intended by the brewer for the beer, they would have put it in the product that you are poured.
Craft Can or Laboratory Glass
A recent development in glassware is the so-called craft can or laboratory glass. These glasses were taken originally straight out of a science laboratory and used for beer. Some even boast the volumetric gradations on the side still. This glass has seen a boom in the last 5 years, becoming almost a mainstay at trendy breweries, gastropubs and restaurants. Occasionally they are even given away at beer festivals to the patrons. These glasses are fairly wide, cylindrical vessels with a slight inward lip at the rim. The idea is that this inward lip assists in the collection of volatiles, unfortunately its small ratio of capture area to open space discards this theory. The fact of the matter is that these glasses are a fad that has caught on, they are similar to the pint glass in that they are not adding anything specifically to the evaluation of the beer.
Customized Wine-Style Glass or Teku
The Teku glass was created in the fashion of a wine glass but with specific design elements that benefit a number of different beer styles. The stem of the glass can be used similar to a tulip to hold the glass without impacting the serving temperature through the transmission of heat from your hand. The bowl is designed to flaw outward near the bottom while angling back in towards the rim. Prior to reading the rim the glass then angles once more, outwards again to facilitate easier drinking of the beer. This glass shines in beers that have volatiles that need to be concentrated for proper evaluation while the interior of the glass assists in the formation and continuation of the head. Teku is a company which created the original design, some breweries even have Teku glasses emblazoned with their logo on them for sale. The Teku glass is a favorite with beer connoisseurs as it will enhance a variety of different beers, most notably sour and hop-forward beers like IPAs and pale ales.
If you are reading this saying that we missed a particular style of glass, it’s not surprising. Beer manufacturers and more importantly, their marketing directors, have a long history of developing specialty glasses for their specific beer. While some of these glasses may work, others are purely for decoration purposes. In order for you to evaluate if the beer will be enhanced through using the glass, evaluate the individual design components of the beer and asses if the particular beer that you are enjoying needs enhancements in those areas. Always be wary however, some are simply a marketing ploy.