The glass you put your favorite beer into isn't just a vessel to hold your libations and carry them from tabletop to the hole in your face. There is purpose behind the different sizes and shapes, all of which are intended to optimize the enjoyment of that specific drink. This topic has been covered by a lot of publications in the past but can get too technical and not so easy to digest. This is a dry and basic look at the different glassware you might see at a bar or might be drinking out of the next time you order a beer.
Think of your glass as a vehicle that is tuned to specifications in order to perform at its best. If James Bond were driving a Geo Metro he might not be as on top of his spy game as he would with his Aston Martin. Same concept goes with glassware. You'll get there eventually, it just won't be as fantastic as it could have been.
A lot of people scoff at the idea of using specific glassware or say that they never care what it's in they just want to drink. Well then, this Bud's for you. Some people can even take it a little too far. In 2012 there was a deadly dispute at a bar in Naperville, IL over the fact that a patron was drinking beer from a wine glass. Apparently this type of action can get you stabbed, so enjoy with caution. #idstabyouforabeer?
There are, however, plenty of people that do care and the people making the beverage have their specifics in mind. A lot of breweries have their own glassware and the majority of them even have specific glasses made for their beer. In 2007, Boston Beer Co. released their “ultimate beer glass” for their Boston Lager beer. The glass had a look that was far from traditional, but each feature was designed intentionally to lessen the heat transfer from your hand while holding the glass, emphasize aroma as you drink, and even keep it colder, longer.
Not every beer glass is this intensely designed. With so many specific beers, it would be close to impossible to have a specific glass for each one. However, each style of beer does in fact have a specific type of glass that is recommended for maximum enjoyment. And no, your ordinary pint glass is not one of them. While drinking beer from them isn’t exactly a terrible thing, these controversial industry workhorses weren’t even originally intended for beer but became a measuring stick for pricing and easily serving through a keg. A story for another time.
A lot of glasses have similar features, and those features work the same for each glass. The one major difference in each glass that isn’t relative to the style is the overall size, or volume of the glass. The volume that the glass can hold is usually in reference to the amount of alcohol that the beer contains. Higher alcohol content comes in smaller pours so you’re not downing a full 16 ounces of high-octane beer and packing in for the night.
Beer opens up and expands its flavor profile as it warms. Bulbous areas that make up the body of snifter and tulip style glasses are designed to improve surface area for the beer to warm up from the heat of your hands as it sits in the glass.
The tapered part of the glass at the top helps to trap the aromas. We’ve all learned that smell has a decent amount to do with taste, so this feature is important. As an example, some beers may be dry hopped, which increases the hoppy, bitter aroma and adds a fresh citrus pine quality to the profile of the beer. The more concentrated the aroma, the more powerful it will be experienced. It’s like having food in your car. The smell will be far more potent than if you were sitting in a larger lunchroom where the air can expand.
Some glasses, tulips especially, flare out at the top after a tapered section. This helps open up and oxygenate the beer and helps retain the head produced from the initial pour. This flared section also helps with where the beer is delivered to your palate and maximizes taste upon drinking. It’s like having a beer ramp delivering exactly what you need, right where you need it.
Fluted pilsner glasses are specifically designed to maintain the beer’s head. This allows for the carbonation to continually provide a fresh zest-like mouthfeel each time you take a sip. The beer is essentially “choked” at the base of the glass and the aromas and flavors are opened up and released after each sip as more beer is brought to the surface.
One important thing to remember in general, no matter what type of glass you use, is you want to refrain from using frosted or chilled glassware. Cold glasses restrict flavors and kill the flavor profiles in beers. Most sports bars and pubs will serve beer in chilled glassware, which promotes faster drinking and also adds to the commercialized understanding that beer needs to be ice cold to enjoy it. That type of thinking sits with the commodity beers, which in some consumer minds is the only way they can be had. For craft beers, you always want to experience it the best way possible, and not as a beercicle.