Like wine, many beers’ underlying aromas and tastes are both influenced and complemented by the vessel in which they are served. This goes beyond visual appeal—although a well-poured beer in a sparkling glass certainly sharpens your anticipation of that first sip. The shape and construction of the glass are meant to enhance aroma and flavor, and maintain the beer’s optimal temperature, with different glass styles to suit the desired qualities of different beer styles.
While glassware options are numerous—Belgian brewers, for example, are renowned for producing a specific glass for each type of beer—certain styles are reasonably versatile. So, if you want to enjoy your beer the way the brewer intended, there are a few key styles of glassware that you should stock in your home bar.
A delicate shape, for a style of beer with matching character. In the same manner that a champagne flute permits bubbles to rise through a narrow space, releasing carbonation and aroma gradually, the tall, slim pilsner glass allows the sustained stream of bubbles. The narrow glass also facilitates a tall head that helps the drinker to appreciate the characteristic hop notes. Pilsner drinkers look for “Brussels lace”—a lattice tracing of foam on the emptying glass.
For classic English ales, this 20-ounce Imperial pint has a perfectly flared head that allows the drinker to enjoy the full bouquet of aromas … and the satisfaction of knowing they’ve been poured a fair drink, thanks to that handy fill line. (The standard American pint is a poor 16 ounces.) The wide mouth allows for a slight cap of foam, appropriate to the lightly-carbonated ales. The nonic style, with a bulge three-quarters of the way up the glass, is a graceful alternative to the straight-sided shaker glass. Alternatively, a dimpled pint mug keeps the heat of your hand from warming the beer.
Weizen or Wheat Beer Glass
The tall, thin-walled wheat beer glasses could almost double as flower vases. The height captures the huge head that a wheat beer—especially a bottle-conditioned one—can produce. The glass can be topped off with yeast sediment swirled into the final drops in the bottle, or the yeast can be poured into a separate glass for a concentrated dose of Vitamin B.
These weighty Bavarian mugs are the biggest beer glasses for everyday use, presenting a challenge to the servers at Munich’s Oktoberfest, who often carry eight or more at a time. The large size—each mass holds a liter—allows room for a large head on the beer. It also means fewer visits required of the servers. And the thick walls of the glass can withstand the enthusiastic and repeated toasts that are part of any evening in the beer hall.
The footed tulip glass is deeper than it is wide, generally tapering, then flaring slightly at the mouth. The overall shape is perfect for stronger ales and lagers supporting their tall, foamy heads. Exaggerate the profile and the tulip becomes a thistle, with its deeply-bowed top and heavy, bulb-shaped bottom. In the shape of the national flower of Scotland, the thistle glass is a tribute to the Belgian taste for Scottish-style ales.
Given its ecclesiastical overtones, the chalice—a generous bowl atop a sturdy stem—is a logical choice for Belgian Trappist and abbey beers. The wide mouth allows these complex ales to breath; the stately design elevates the occasion. Many of these grand goblets are edged in gold or silver; these chunky glasses are a delight to hold, and some are design icons.
A final note: none of these glasses can do their job unless they are clean, meaning really clean and free from any grease or detergent residues that will kill the head. The term is “beer clean,” meaning a glass that’s not only clean; it’s contained one beer already, which will float away any final traces of impurities.