Everyone knows there are different types of glasses for wine — different glasses for different varietals. But did you know that there are also numerous glassware selections for your beer — and that the choice you make can directly affect your enjoyment of the drink?
In the past, it seems like you had two choices — bottle or mug. But now, the glassware possibilities are endless. Does it really matter what you drink from?
Actually, it does. Here’s a look at how to choose beer glasses for the best possible enjoyment of your beverage.
Why Glassware Matters
Even though beer in some form or fashion has existed since as far back as 2050 B.C., beer has truly never been as popular as it is now. In 2015, the growth in sales volume for U.S. craft beers was 12.8 percent; the growth in export craft beer was 16.3 percent. And the global beer market is expected to generate about $688 billion in sales by 2020. That’s big business.
With the beverage’s popularity comes a range of glassware. Truth be told, the variety of vessels has been around for decades, if not centuries. But if casual drinkers visit only their local bar, where shaker pints and mugs are the norm, they may not have the opportunity to experience how the right glass can affect and enhance their drinking experience.
As it is with food, the presentation of beer is everything. If a beer looks enticing, the drinker is more likely to enjoy it. And if that beer is presented in a glass that’s out of the ordinary, the eye — and perhaps the palate as well — immediately identifies it as a special occasion.
Beyond the visual presentation, the way a glass is shaped affects the result of the pour — the formation and retention of head, or the frothy foam on top. Because the foam helps filter volatiles — the compounds that give beer its aroma — head retention is critical in developing aroma.
All in all, glass is much more than a temporary storage container for your drink. When selected properly, the right beer glass brings out the flavors, aroma and color of your drink. It can turn a run-of-the-mill experience into a one-of-a-kind one.
Why Are There So Many Drinking Glass Choices?
The different glasses available for beer consumption are aesthetically pleasing, but each glass also serves specific purposes. From releasing carbonation at the proper rate, to delivering taste to just the right location on the tongue, to perfectly capturing the aroma escaping from the frothy head, choosing the right glassware can make all the difference in your tasting experience.
For example, each style of beer glass is designed:
- To meet specific needs. In the Black Plague era, craftsmen added a lid to the German beer stein to keep flies out. And the narrow base of the wheat beer glass lets sediment settle at the bottom, so as not to affect the taste.
- With function as the primary consideration. The first glasses were actually stoneware steins, made to keep beer cold. Thick glass beer mugs were designed to withstand the abuse and volume experienced in Germany’s pubs. And the shape of snifters encourage the hand’s warmth to gently increase the beer’s temperature.
- To enhance and retain the beer’s head. The head helps retain a beer’s aroma, and the aroma can add or detract from your enjoyment. By shaping the glass to trap the head, glassmakers can enhance the beer drinking experience.
Are the Best Glasses for Beer More Than Clever Marketing?
Although American bars typically serve their beers in one type of glass (shaker pint, anyone?), this practice is not the case in Europe. Pubs overseas are for more likely to use the most appropriate glasses for the type of beer — if not a specific glass for the brand of beer. This truly elevates the experience.
Is that just brilliant marketing, making you believe you need a fancy, branded glass to make consuming your beer better?
Of course there’s a marketing component to some glasses, but it’s not the only one. As soon as you open a beer and pour it, you’re drawn to the color, the aroma, the anticipation. And when you pour it in the correct glass? Well, scientific studies suggest the shape of a glass significantly affects how the head develops and is retained.
This isn’t to say every bar — or every casual beer drinker at home — should have the entire range of beer glasses, but it just might be in your best interest to stock up on a few of the most common. But how do you choose the right ones?
We have just the guide to help.
10 Beer Glasses for Serving the Perfect Beer
As of June 2014, there were more than 3,000 craft breweries operating in the United States, and almost 2,000 were in the works. This meteoric rise in specialty beers has rekindled connoisseurs’ interest in matching the right glass with the right beer. And while there are almost as many glasses as there are beers, let’s highlight 10 of the most popular — and traditional — beer vessels.
Around since as early as the 1500s, the stein — short for “steinzeugkrug,” German for a stoneware jug — has been made from a wide variety of materials, everything from wood to earthenware to silver. During the time of the bubonic plague, the hinged lid was added to prevent flies from getting in the beer. This lid is what differentiates the stein from a mug.
Today, the stein is more of a souvenir than everyday glassware. Although steeped in tradition, the stein is not high on practicality or convenience.
Best for: Beers like American ales and lagers, Scottish ales and Irish dry stouts.
This common vessel is probably what first comes to mind when you think of beer drinking. Evolved from the German beer stein, the glass mug serves a dual purpose:
- Durability. The thick glass and handled design make it easier to maintain a firm grip and make loud, celebratory toasting safer.
- Insulation. The handle on the mug allows the beer to stay colder, as the warmth from your hand doesn’t affect the beer’s temperature.
One of the most popular glasses — likely in part because of the volume it holds — it comes in a variety of sizes and appearances. Some mugs have a dimpled texture to them. There are those who argue the dimples bring out the beer’s color and clarity; others believe they are only decorative.
Best for: The same beers that are best for steins, above.
3. Goblets or Chalices
A wide-mouth goblet is preferred for drinking beers with high gravity or alcohol by volume (ABV) for two reasons:
- The wide mouth maintains the beer’s head.
- The shape also lets the drinker take deep sips and analyze the aromas and flavor profile.
Best described as having a long, thick stem supporting a bowl, goblets — also known as chalices — come in different sizes, often ranging from 8 to 18 ounces. They are frequently ornate, with silver- or gold-rimmed accents and decorative stems.
Chalices may be heavier, with thicker walls than goblets, but they’re the same shape. Some chalices have etching on the bottom of the bowl; this attracts carbon dioxide and creates continuous bubbles that maintain a perfect head.
Don’t have either on hand? You can use an oversized, 22-ounce wine glass in a pinch. With the same open bowl as chalices or goblets, the wine glass offers the perfect headspace as well as the room to create an appealing nose.
Best for: German bocks and maibocks; Belgian IPAs; Belgian ales; Belgian dubbels, tripels and quadrupels; and other beers with a high ABV.
Tall, slender and tapered, the classic pilsner glass is perfect for, you guessed it, pilsners. It’s also suitable for other lighter beers. The skinny design showcases the beer’s color, clarity and carbonation. And the wider top, like that of the goblet above, helps develop the aroma and flavor profile while it maintains the head.
Although these glasses vary in size, they most often hold 10 to 16 ounces — holding less beer than most other glasses do. Pilsner glasses are often mistaken for weizen glasses, but pilsner glasses lack the weizen’s curvature. The European version of the pilsner glass, the pokal, has a slight stem.
Best for: American lagers and pilsners, hefeweizens, and blonde ales. Ideal for pale lagers with a lot of carbonation.
5. Tulip or Thistle
The tulip glass has a small stem and footer below a tulip-shaped bowl. Made to enhance flavor and aromatics, this glass is perfect for malty and hoppy brews. The bowl has a rim that curves outward just slightly. The lip that forms helps trap and emphasize the head. The bow of the rim lets the beer hit the tongue’s center, and the stem prevents the hand from warming the beer.
The thistle is quite similar to the tulip; the difference lies in that it’s slightly taller and less curvy — resembling a thistle blossom. Its large glass bowl also allows for an enjoyable aroma release.
Best for: The tulip glass is well-suited for stronger, aromatic brews, like double IPAs and Belgian ales. And because Scotland’s official flower is the thistle, the thistle glass is typically used for Scottish ales.
This tall glass, which widens ever so slightly at the top, is built for head, volume and aroma. The long nature is perfect for showing off the color; the narrow bottom traps the sediment found in wheat, or weizen, beers.
Often mistaken for a pilsner glass, the weizen is identified by the defined curvature near the top and its ability to hold more than a pint glass; the German version generally holds 0.5 liters. The curved lip again serves to trap the head, capturing the aroma for you to enjoy. But politely decline the citrus garnish that often accompanies the wheat beer. The acidity is detrimental to the head.
Best for: Weizenbocks, kristalweizens or wheat ales.
Although snifter glasses are usually used for cognac or brandy, they’re also perfect for big, aromatic beers. The shape — a stemmed big bowl that tapers at the top — traps and enhances the volatiles as they near your nose, while the glass itself fits snugly in your hand. Try swirling the beer, enticing the volatiles to release their full aroma. In this case, hand warmth is used to warm the beer to its optimal temperature.
Best for: Higher-gravity, or higher alcohol content, beers, such as Belgian ales, India pale ales and wheat wines.
German for “rod,” stange glasses are tall and slender. Although not visually stimulating — looking much like a Tom Collins glass — these glasses are a staple among connoisseurs. Generally holding 6.5 ounces, it amplifies the beer’s malt and hop volatiles, imparting a true sense of its flavor. The smaller size also encourages quick drinking while the beer is cold.
Best for: Delicate beers, such as kolsch, lambic, gueze or rye.
Of course, champagne first comes to mind when you mention flutes, but they’re perfect for certain beers, too. The long, narrow shape highlights carbonation — while ensuring it doesn’t dissipate too quickly — and color while allowing for a strong aroma to escape.
Best for: Fruit beers, krieks, biere de Champagne and Belgian lambics.
Cheap to make and buy and easy to drink from, the pint glass — especially the American pint — is probably one of the most common bar glasses in the United States. There are four kinds of the traditional pint:
- American pint. The American, or shaker, pint is probably one of the most recognizable, as its primary intent is for shaking cocktails. Simple in design, low in price, easy to stack and made from thick glass, this glass is a staple in many U.S. bars and restaurants. This 16-ounce glass can maintain cold temperatures while allowing good aroma release — although some say it allows for too much aroma release.
- Nonic, or British, pint. Similar to the American pint, this glass allows for easier stacking and gripping due to a curved bulge about two inches below the rim. This bulge serves another purpose as well: adding a second layer of flavor and aroma as the beer passes over it. These 20-ounce glasses are perfect for all beers except high-ABV types.
- Imperial, or Irish, pint. More often used for porters, Irish stouts and other dark beers, this pint tapers and curves from the middle up. The slight bowl the curve creates near the top of the glass helps trap flavor and aroma and build a solid head.
- Tulip pint. Commonly used in Ireland and England to serve ales, this glass flares slightly from the middle of the glass up to the rim.
Best for: Some say that this glass is near-perfect for a wide range of beers, including American ales, lagers, IPAs and pilsners. Others believe that no beer should ever be served in a shaker pint, but especially big beers or those with big noses.
Are You Ready to Properly Enjoy Your Next Beer?
Now you know what the best glasses for each beer are. But along with each glass comes custom care. Did you know you should:
- Never chill your glassware. That means no frosty mugs. The combination of beer and frosted glass equals condensation, and that makes for a diluted beer.
- Hand-wash only. Some detergents and spot removers may leave a residue, which can alter not only a beer’s taste but also its head and aroma. Hand washing also protects any decoration on the glass, such as a gold rim or logo.
- Let glassware air dry. Towels can leave particles behind that, like detergents, can affect the beer’s head.
So before you pour that next beer, remember to find the optimal glass for it and then treat it carefully. The proper glassware is an integral part of the enjoyment process. A properly served beer is always a more enjoyable one.