How do specific glasses affect my beer?
Glassware for beer is a topic that among beer aficionados certainly gets people talking. There are a number of strongly-held opinions on the topic. Some people insist that you must drink beer from a glass, while others rigidly adhere to drinking from the container – whether can or bottle. Still others insist that the whole thing doesn’t matter and would prefer to get back to drinking their beer. Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, you may still wonder what all the fuss is about with glassware and beer.
Depending on where you go to have a glass or a pint of your favourite brew, you probably noticed that every venue serves beer in different glasses. For example, if you visit Storm Crow Ale House, your beer will come in a straight-sided shaker pint. If you visit Craft Beer Market on the other hand, you’ll typically find special glasses for IPAs and Sours, while the rest come in fairly standard shaker glasses or other standard pub glasses. BierCraft serves a multitude of local and imported beers in the branded glasses from each brewery, and often these seem like special or specific shapes. But why is that?
Some will say that the glass a beer is served in makes no difference, and indeed, for many beer drinkers that is probably true. These folks may not notice the difference between drinking an IPA out of a straight-sided shaker glass, a British Pint, or a Spiegelau Glass. To them, the latter may seem overly-fancy too.
But there are certainly those who will notice and appreciate the differences that the right glassware can reveal. If you’re one of them, read on!
While beer drinkers may ask a number of questions about glassware, these questions can be distilled into three main ones:
- What types of beer glasses are there?
- What are the different shaped beer glasses designed to do?
- And most importantly, what beer styles are these glasses designed for?
To try and sort through these questions and provide you with something meaningful, you’ll find below a description of the most common glassware styles that are found in pubs across BC, and what (if anything) they’re designed to do.
Common types of glassware
This is the common ‘sleeve’ pint glass that most North Americans are familiar with from our local pubs. They’re the most common because they are sturdy and relatively inexpensive. Often times these glasses can be dropped from height and not break, making them resilient for a pub or restaurant environment. They also stack very well so it’s easy for servers and bar-staff to carry and store.
From a flavour and aroma perspective, the Shaker Pint does nothing for your beer – but nor is it expected to. The purpose of this glass is to get beer from the tap to your mouth and nothing else.
Preferred styles: none – just designed to make beer go into your body.
Like the Shaker, this is a common glass found at many drinking establishments around the world. It typically holds one pint of liquid, and depending where you live it may even have a stamp on it showing where the bartender should fill the glass to.
The British Pint glass is designed to hold beer, plain and simple. But unlike the Shaker Pint, the shape of this glass does serve a secondary purpose. The typically thinner glass of the British Pint allows the drinker to get a better look at the colour of the beer, and the curved bulges on the side encourage head retention. The bulges also help in stacking and conveniently they also make for a nice, handy grip.
Preferred styles: British Ales, Porters, Stouts, most traditional ale styles.
The Tulip Glass is the style that you’re likely to see if you go to a pub specializing in craft beers or if you go directly to a brewery. The stem conveys some fanciness it’s true, but the shape still has a function beyond making people wonder what you’re drinking.
Tulip glasses have two features that make them distinct. Firstly, their shape is designed to funnel the aromas of the beer more closely towards the nose and mouth to maximize the enjoyment of the beer. Secondly, these glasses typically have a special pit at the bottom that encourages the beer to keep bubbling and releasing CO2, resulting in more head, and hence more aroma.
Preferred styles: Any highly aromatic beer, stouts, porters. sour beers, and barley wines. IPAs and fragrant pale ales are great out of these glasses too if you don’t have a Spiegelau glass.
The Chalice is the type of glass that you may have seen if you frequent a pub that sells Belgian or Abbey beers as they are commonly associated with this type of glassware. If you’ve ever gone to BierCraft in Vancouver, this is one of the types of glasses served with a number of their beers, many of which come from Belgium.
The Chalice glass is designed to some degree for fanciness, but beyond that also for head appearance and retention. The best quality Chalice glasses will have pits or scoring along the sides or at the bottom of the glass to create what’s called a nucleation point, or a place for CO2 bubbles to form. This feature ensures that there is always a good amount of head on top of the beer. The wide mouth makes it easy to quaff the beer in big gulps.
Preferred styles: Belgian Abbey Ales, Belgian Strong, Berliner Weiss, light sour ales.
Hardcore IPA drinkers have known about this kind of glass for some time. If you’ve ever been to any of Craft Beer Market’s locations then you’ve likely seen one of these if you’ve ordered an IPA of any kind. They are a distinct shape in that they are tall and thin with a tulip-shaped top and a thick, ridged stem that fills with beer.
Similar to the Tulip Glass, the Spiegelau Glass is specifically designed around maximizing aroma. The elongated tulip shape and narrow opening funnel the pungent hop aromas right into your nose for maximum enjoyment. The stem is designed to hold beer so every time you take a drink the ridges inside cause the beer to foam a bit more, creating extra head and releasing more aromas. The key to many IPAs is enjoying those hops and since we taste as much with our noses as with our mouths, the Spiegelau Glass seeks to get the hop aromas airborne and into the nasal cavity when we take our next sip of IPA.
Preferred styles: IPAs of any kind: West Coast, East Coast, White, Black, you name it. If it’s an IPA, put it in this glass and notice the difference.
Pilsner glasses are seen at some pubs but are more common where European lagers are served on draft. They are typically tall and slender, with straight sides and taper towards the bottom, with some designs having a steeper conical shape than others.
The purpose of a Pilsner glass is to showcase the clarity and effervescence of the beer, and also to allow a significant amount of head to sit atop the beer. This shape allows you to enjoy the sight and aroma of your beer, helping you to smell the various malts that make up the distinctness of each Pilsner. Specific blends of malts are used to add gentle subtleties between different Pilsners, and the Pilsner glass tries to make those subtleties easier to detect. Since clarity is also important in this style, these glasses are fairly thin so as to show off both clarity and carbonation.
Preferred Styles: Pilsners, European Lagers
The Hefeweizen Glass is tall and slender like the Pilsner Glass, but has a more well-defined curvature to the shape, similar to an hourglass.
The Hefeweizen Glass is designed to capture and retain the fluffy white head for which the style is known. The larger bulbous opening also helps to concentrate the aromas for the drinker. While the beer style is known for having a number of uncommon aromas and flavours, for some drinkers these can be quite subtle and difficult to detect. The shape of the glass is designed to make that process easier while maintaining a significant amount of head on top of the beer.
Preferred styles: Hefeweizen, other German wheat beers, Belgian Witbier
The astute reader will notice a common thread between all of these custom glassware styles: namely, they’re designed to make the aromas of the beer more prominent and try to keep the head of the beer active, visible, and intact. Each glass is suited to a particular style but not every beer drinker is going to get the full enjoyment out of the specialized glassware.
Does glassware matter, then? To some degree that depends on you. If your method of drinking beer is to quaff back the delicious nectar, and you aren’t too fussed about aromas and appearance, then it’s likely that a typical British Pint or Shaker will do you just fine. And don’t let anyone tell you there’s something wrong with that – we all get to enjoy beer the way we like, after all.
On the other hand, if you’re a beer drinker that enjoys smelling the beer and detecting nuance then you will find that enjoyment heightened through the use of a glass designed to maximize the characteristics of the beer you’re drinking. As mentioned, each of these different types of glasses have a specific beer style in mind and have been crafted in a way to ensure that as many of your senses as possible are engaged when drinking from it.
Ultimately, the decision to drink from a glass, let alone a specific glass, is up to the the person drinking the beer. But if you want to get the most out of your beer and engage as many of your senses as you can, try putting it in its own glass and judge for yourself.