You worked hard to perfect that beer style you love, and now you want to show the world (i.e. your family, friends, and drinking buddies) your success and share the goods. Choose the appropriate glassware to highlight all of its unique character — it's science, not snobbery — and it works. Standard 16-oz. (473-mL) shaker tumblers are fine when you're at the bar where breakage and theft are issues, but at home your beer deserves to be presented in a manner that shows off all of its attributes.
Style-specific glassware is beneficial from a scientific aspect: beer contains volatile esters that are not only aromatic, but make up 80% of the flavor you perceive. They are a result of yeast types, fermentation temperatures, hop aromas and other brewing factors — as most homebrewers are aware. Carbonation serves as the "delivery system" to get these characteristics to your olfactory senses intact before they disseminate into the air. When served in a glass that releases these volatiles, showcases aromatics, and encourages lively and stable carbonation, the flavor experience can be greatly enhanced.
Here are some basic types of glassware that are style-appropriate. Whatever the glass, there is history and science behind why they are shaped the way they are. Let's explore them by style . . .
This form has a medium stem to facilitate grasping for swirling, with a slight bulb tapering to a flared lip. This glass is great for estery or hoppy beers with a long-lasting head. The bulb concentrates the volatiles, which then work their way up to, and support the head. The flare allows the head to stay intact, allowing delivery of aromatics, but also for the beer to slip underneath onto the tongue without interference. Since the head is the "cap" there is minimal dispersion of aroma as it hits the tongue. Many have etched pinpoints on the bottom of the bowl called "nucleation sites" that encourage bubbles to continuously form for head stability. The bowl also helps trap the wonderful aromas while enjoying your beer and after the glass is emptied.
This form is best for high-gravity, low-carbonation beers and barrel-aged versions. A short stem allows the warmth of the hand to encourage the volatiles to "bloom" — in these styles the aroma delivery is achieved through the evaporation of alcohol since the carbonation may be low or absent. The rim tips inward rather than flaring out to capture the volatiles inside a more contained space, which allow the nose to sniff directly. This is also useful for highly-hopped beers in order to get the full aromatic effect of the hops used. Using a snifter for beers with a lot of carbonation can be problematic — they trap the head, which makes it difficult to sip the beer beneath the foam without getting it all over or up one's nose! Like the tulip, the bowl allows for swirling to release volatiles by surface evaporation, and preserves the aromas to be appreciated after the glass is empty.
This form is typical of Belgian styles and has a medium-to-tall stem with a graceful ovoid-shaped body. Beers that are vinous in character benefit from this wine-glass shape. The stem keeps the hand's warmth isolated from the beer to maintain optimum temperature while swirling, and the gently curved bowl is easy to sip from, allows lacing to stick longer and delays its eventual slide down the interior for great visual effect. The rim is thin to prevent sensory interference of thick glass for a seamless transfer to the tongue. It is elegant to hold and drink from, and gives the beer a refined and sophisticated look that is appealing.
This form is an historical nod to the origins of Trappist styles, imitating the shape of ecumenical vessels used by European beer-brewing religious orders. They tend to be over-sized, heavy and faceted or otherwise decorated with gilt trim and/or emblems of religious or brewing significance. They have thick, blocky stems that are easier to grasp with so much weight in the top-heavy bowl. Some are so large they require two hands to grasp, but are so thick that transferred warmth isn't an issue. They are mostly used to serve Trappist styles as a tribute to their origins, and have the same tasting attributes as their more svelte sister, the goblet. Drinkers may find that a thick rim gets in the way of beer reaching the tongue, but many versions have the shape without the bulk.
This form has a tiny stem with a straight-sided body flaring from very small at the base to a bit bigger at the top. Like traditional flutes used for Champagne, these glasses are used to keep the "bubble elevator" visual effect going for as long as possible. Effervescent dry or sour beers like gueuze and lambics showcase this, and allow the sliding of the beer up and down the sides as it is tipped to rejuvenate the carbonation with every sip. Low carbonation beers benefit from the "tipping" effect to create turbulence that rouses bubbles and delivers aromatics to the nose and mouth simultaneously in a narrow space that concentrates and accentuates them.
Weizen or Weisse
This form has unique appeal in terms of shape — I call it the "Barbie Doll Effect." It is extremely tall, curvaceous and bulges out enticingly at the top (you get the picture). The glass is very thin to show off the unique color and turbidity of wheat beers, and the bulb at the top gives their enormous, rocky head all the attention it is due as its crowning glory. Since most wheat beers in Europe come in larger bottles, these glasses are typically of the 0.5-liter capacity, marked with a line and a full 2 inches (5 cm) above it to show off that pillow-y white head. Because the glass is so tall, the lacing that remains on the sides takes a long time to dissipate and leaves a rich wheaty aroma behind in the empty glass. There are smaller, less hefty versions, but they cannot match the grandeur of the full-size examples.
Mug or Stein
Most of these forms are of German origin and reflect the cultural history of beer as a social libation. They tend to be heavy, either straight-sided or barrel shaped, and always with a prominent handle to facilitate serving and hefting. They need to be thick and sturdy in order to survive endless clinking andhandling of multiples during service (think of the St. Pauli Girl with handfuls of mugs). Most are of the 0.5-liter size, again with corresponding fill line and generous headroom, but the famous 1-liter giants made of dimpled glass are not seen very much stateside. These are vessels born of necessity, and they perform their function of delivering large amounts of colder, crisp styles with plenty of head to the lips of drinkers in social situations very well. Most are glass, but antique ceramic steins have metal lids that were added to keep leaves, bugs and other detritus out of the beer in the outdoor biergartens and were personally-owned by the imbiber. These personal steins are often decorated with family crests, hunting scenes and other personalized motifs.
These glasses are small, short, and straight sided with no flare in order to concentrate the volatiles, and are used to serve several styles that are indigenous to the towns where they were born. Some used for rauchbier are as small as 0.25 liter, as few people want more than that of a smoked beer. They increase in size to the Kölsch glass at 0.4 liter, and the gose glass of 0.5 liter. These glasses cannot be stacked and are tippy, so are more of a traditional relic of their pedigree where they are served than as typical barware. The word stange means "stick" and these tall, slender cylinders are used to serve these more delicate beers, amplifying malt and hop characteristics in a tightly-confined space for maximized sensory perception.
This form is tall, slender and flares from a small, thick base to a wider lip like a trumpet. The German version is solid, while the "pokal" version has a short stem. This glass is all about showcasing the clarity of these styles, so a slimmer profile allows the drinker to see clear through the beer. The base or stem keeps hands from warming up lager styles that are served on the colder side. Since the aromatics of these styles tend to be delicate and more nuanced, the tall shape helps concentrate them for delivery to the imbiber's nose as they sip. It also allows plenty of room for a nice fluffy head.
This glass is a product of the United Kingdom (UK) where sessionable, low-gravity beers are more the norm, and a large capacity glass like the nonic is appropriate. An Imperial pint is 20 ounces (0.6 L), and the larger format became the standard capacity in taprooms all over the the UK. It has a wide flat base with sides that flare out just a little, with a prominent bulge about an inch below the rim to enable a good grasp. Since ales of this region are traditionally served at warmer cellar and cask temps anyway, no handle or stem is necessary. This is a glass shaped for large pours of ales that, what they lack in alcohol, they make up for in aromatics. A wide rim allows them to be perceived with nothing in the way between the glass and the drinker's nose and tongue. They have markings that allow the drinker to choose quarter, half, three-quarter and full pours.
This form originated in Scotland, and is uniquely-shaped to mimic the national flower of Scotland. It has a round base, short to medium stem, topped with a pronounced ovoid bulb and flared sides rising from it. Whisky-tasting glasses are simply smaller versions of this unusual style. Although more of a national tribute than a drinking vessel with practicality in mind, it makes Scottish ales, barleywines and wee heavys look very festive. The accentuated bulb allows the hand to warm the beer, releasing the volatiles yet holds the aromatics long after the glass is empty, but the flared sides make it easy to smell and sip off the rim.
Glass Choice and Care
Inexpensive sets of glassware styles are available at retail and cover all the bases to showcase a variety of beer styles. Keeping your glassware clean — including hand-washing, thorough rinsing and towel drying — will make them work all the better. Automatic dishwashing detergents that use sheeting chemicals tend to leave a film, wear off logos and etch glassware over time; and any residue will kill head in a glass. Presenting your homebrew in glassware that plays up its best qualities, and increases your enjoyment can be a good investment, don't you think?
BYO – Basic Brewing Glassware Collaborative Experiment
Walk into a fancy wine bar and order a glass of vino, and they'll serve it to you in glassware specific to that varietal of wine. It's said that there are Belgian beer bars that refuse to serve you beer if they don't have the glass specifically tailored for the brand of beer you're buying. American breweries are now designing their own glassware scientifically tested to enhance the qualities that set their beers apart.
But does glassware really make a difference when serving beer? Is all of this fuss worth the trouble, or are we okay just slurping our favorite brews out of the good old shaker pint glasses that the corner pub slides down the bar every weekend night? That's the question we sought to answer in this Brew Your Own — Basic Brewing collaborative experiment on glassware.
We invited Basic Brewing listeners and Brew Your Own readers to join us in comparing different styles of glassware side-by-side. We asked them to compare the look, smell and taste of the same beer served in different glassware of their choosing.
I asked Steve Wilkes, my podcast co-host, to select a beer and some glassware to put to the test. Steve chose a Pilsner glass; a brandy snifter; and a Tripel Karmeliet tulip glass.
Steve's beer of choice was Old Rasputin Imperial Stout from North Coast Brewing Company. Mine was Avery's Maharaja Imperial IPA.
The differences in the glassware became apparent almost immediately. The tall, narrow Pilsner glass created a large amount of foam on both beers, and that foam hung around for a long time. The brandy snifter had almost no head after the pour, while the tulip glass sat somewhere in the middle.
The combination of the persistent head on the Pilsner glass with its shape may have played against it in this test. We found the aroma to be significantly less in the Pilsner glass, perhaps due to the foam cap and the fact that the opening was much narrower than the other two, preventing our noses from having access to any aromas that may have been escaping.
In our opinion, the brandy snifter came out on top in aroma and flavor, with the tulip glass again fitting in the middle of the three. This surprised me because I expected the wider opening of the tulip glass to feature the aroma better.
Listeners and readers who participated each took different approaches.
Jonathan LeMarbre from Smith Falls, Ontario, put three beers to the test in a variety of glasses, sampling a homebrew IPA, homebrew nut brown ale, and Sugar Shack Ale from Barley Days.
"Glass styles, for me, did affect my drinking experience in aroma and viewing experience," Jonathan says. "However, glassware did not, as I suspected, change flavor profile at all, as I am sure most other beer geeks would already know. The only drinking change was in the release of carbonation, which the Innis and Gunn Pokal and the wheat beer glass did very well for head formation, but if you don't want a rapid flattening of your beer, then it would best be avoided in these glasses."
Jonathan advises, "Just because a beer may come with a specifically manufactured glass doesn't mean that is what you should always serve it in."
Scott Koué from Detroit, Michigan, sampled Roscoe's Hop House Amber Ale and Lion Imperial Ceylon in three beer glasses (including a plastic "kegger" cup) and two cocktail glasses. He gives the nod to the containers designed for beer.
"The big surprise was how well the plastic picnic glass held up," Scott says. "The glasses that didn't create head had so much residual carbonation that they really fizzed up in the mouth, and the CO2 bubbles on the tongue really masked a lot of flavor. It seemed that beer needed a larger container to let the smell 'fill up the space' and be noticed."
Tom Wallace of Charlottesville, Virginia, sampled Chimay Cinq Cents in a Chimay chalice and a Pilsner glass. Tom and his wife, Meghan, favored the Pilsner glass over the one designed for the Chimay brand.
"The Pilsner glass preserved the fine-bubbled beer head throughout the entire drinking session, while the coarser chalice head dissipated within a few minutes," Tom says. "Our general impressions were that the chalice glass presented the best aroma, which was a light citrus character overlayed by a rich yeasty character. The Pilsner glass developed a smooth rich mouthfeel that became almost silky at the end, while the chalice glass presented a coarser, more abrupt, mouthfeel."
Zot O'Connor sampled a homebrew IPA and Firestone Walker Double Barrel IPA in shaker pint and nonic pint glasses, which feature a bulge below the rim. Zot reports the nonic pint had "20 to 50 times" the aroma of the standard shaker, which he felt positively impacted the flavor of the beers.
"The bulge changed the aroma of the beer dramatically for a hoppy beer and affected the perceived taste of the beer," Zot says. "I now cringe when I drink a hoppy beer in anything else, especially the bottle."
Glassware does seem to make a difference, at least to the majority of our experiment participants. Finding the exact pairing between beer style and glassware style is where it gets tricky. But finding our own preferences is the fun part.
Brian Davis of Lyle, Minnesota, sampled a double IPA and a weizenbock in four glasses: a Scaldis Noel snifter, a New Glarus sampler, a mini Pilsner, and a 10-oz. nonic glass. The snifter and the nonic showed off the beer better for Brian.
"My pint glass collection is going the way of my golf ball collection," Brian says, "reminders of where I've been, but not very useful. There are certainly some styles that would be best in a shaker-type glass — ones that you don't really care about the aroma, but for the beers I like, the snifter or the English pint (nonic) are the way to go."
For Danny Coenen of Gainesville, Florida, the test was a mixed bag of results. Danny sampled a hefeweizen, an aged northern English brown, and a brown porter in a shaker pint, Sam Adams Perfect Pint and a New Belgium stemmed globe glass. The New Belgium glass seemed to promote more intense aroma, with the Sam Adams glass coming in second. In flavor, the hefeweizen fared best in the New Belgium glass, the shaker showed off the English brown, and the Sam Adams glass was best for the porter.
"I had anticipated the aroma differences between the glasses, but I was very surprised about the flavor differences, which were quite noticeable," Danny says. "Different styles of beer shine in different types of glassware. I recommend investing in a half dozen or so different glass types and playing with them until you find the favorite for each style. That may or may not be the glassware with which the style is traditionally associated."
Greg Gramlich of Fort Collins, Colorado, poured a homebrew IPA into a shaker pint, goblet, and Sam Adams Perfect Pint. For Greg, the appearance and aroma in all three were fairly similar. However, in flavor, the Sam Adams glass gets the nod.
"Jim Koch isn't crazy when it comes to beer glasses," Greg says. "His glass seems (to me anyway) to bring out the hop flavor and aroma better than the other two glasses. Although, I did like the way the goblet kept the beer colder for longer. My final conclusion: drinking three pints of IPA from three different glasses while trying to notice subtle differences in taste and aroma can get you a nice buzz really quick."
In Oklahoma City, Richard and Debbie Scipione chose a Pilsner glass and a shaker pint to sample an American pale ale. For head retention and aroma, Richard and Debbie preferred the pint glass, although flavor differences were subtle.
"It seems that the wider mouth of the pint glass may contribute to a fuller aroma," says Richard. "Also, the pint, being wider overall and without the more dramatic taper of the pilsner, may have more surface area in contact with the beer."
Christopher Owen from Louisville, Kentucky, sipped a homebrewed IPA from a shaker pint, Duvel tulip, and a 12-oz. brandy snifter. For Christopher, the results were fairly close.
"Half the fun of being a beer geek is matching my beers to the appropriate glass and collecting cool glassware," Christopher says. "However, I don't observe any significant differences between the glass styles in terms of taste and aroma, which is what beer is all about. I may give a slight edge to the snifter during judging events, but I imagine the cleanliness of the glassware makes a much bigger difference than the shape of the glass."
Steven Crosby of Las Vegas, Nevada consulted CraftBeer.com for his contribution. He picked four beer styles and pitted beer glass styles the Web site recommended against non-preferred glassware. In half of the tests, Steven agreed with CraftBeer.com's recommendations. In the other half, the non-traditional glass style won out.