It’s high time for a post on one of my favorite beery topics – glassware. Oh, I can see the eyes rolling now. After all, it’s “just beer,” right? Well, yes. But consider this – never before has America enjoyed as much choice in the beer aisles of its supermarkets and liquor stores. More than likely, you’re out there trying new craft beers all the time. You’re also spending more money on beer, because let’s face it – craft beer costs more than the Bud/Miller/Coors (“BMC”) you used to drink. Don’t you want to derive the maximum enjoyment for your beer buck? If so, proper glassware is key.
Oenophiles (aka “cork dorks”) would never dream of pouring their prized bottles of Pinot Noir into substandard stemware, or worse yet, chug them from the bottle. This is because the wine world has long appreciated the impact of aroma on a wine’s flavor profile – certain glasses capture volatile aroma compounds better than others. Plus, the cork dorks don’t underestimate how appearance adds to the enjoyment of a fine wine. It simply looks better when poured into a nice glass, leading to anticipation as to how it’s going to smell and taste.
All of this is also true for beer. I strongly suggest pouring your beer into a glass. Don’t drink from the bottle unless you’re at a stadium or something and have no choice. Even if you don’t want to spend money on special beer glassware, any glass is far better than none, even if it’s a plastic cup. Using a glass enables you to smell the beer, whereas a bottle obviously will not allow that. Also, pouring into a glass will help out-gas some of the beer’s carbonation, leading to a smoother, less-burpy drinking experience.
In case you didn’t catch it in the prior paragraph: USE A GLASS. Good. Since that has been established, let’s have a look at some glass styles, with an eye toward their best beer matches. Now, I’m not suggesting you run out and buy a glass for each style of beer. I would think of the beers you enjoy most often, and perhaps get 2-3 glasses that are most appropriate for those beers. Alternatively, some glasses are great for almost any beer, so these jacks-of-all-trades tend to be good choices for the budget or space-challenged.
The Venerable Shaker Pint
This is the most common glass, which probably leads most people to believe it’s also the best. It isn’t. Restaurants and bars often use these simply because they are cheap, and easy to stack. They aren’t ideal for highly aromatic beers, because there’s no bowl in which to capture the volatiles that give off aromas. Beyond that, they don’t allow for much headspace when considering a standard 12-ounce pour. Try pouring a foamy Belgian blonde into one of these; it just doesn’t work. Still, shaker pints are perfectly acceptable for many styles. Use these with American pale ales, amber/brown ales, Oktoberfests, Irish dry stouts, light lagers, IPAs. In general, I’d say almost anything that doesn’t foam up too much (this excludes most Belgians and hefeweizens), and is designed for simple “session” type drinking is fair game for a pint glass.
The Nonic, or “Imperial” Pint
This is a bigger, better, faster, stronger pint glass. Nonic pints are distinguished by their bulge a few inches from the top, and just boast greater volume than the ordinary shaker pint. So, with this glass, one can take a 12-ounce bottle of IPA, give it a nice hard pour, and generate a real head without spilling beer all over oneself. No need for lame “stadium pours.” The bulge also makes it easier to keep your drunken grip on the glass. Use with British session ales, IPAs, cream ales, brown ales, stouts – pretty much anything that isn’t Belgian or relatively high in alcohol. This is an excellent all-around glass, especially for those who aren’t crazy about Belgians. Of course, I think you all are insane, but that just leaves more Belgians for me.
As one would expect, these are sleek, elegant glasses. These tend to showcase active carbonation, so use these with Champagne-like beers that give a quick pop of carbonation and a tight, upfront aroma. It’s the most stylish way to drink pilsner that I know of. They are also good for use with Biere de Champagne, or small pours of Belgian golden ales in a reception setting.
Another way to drink lager. Even a Budweiser will look devastatingly attractive in one of these, with a long, furious stream of bubbles rising up the glass, leading to a snappy aroma. Again, if a pilsner or other lager drinker, this is a glass to have. I’m not even much of a lager drinker, and I have one. But then again, I’m a nerd.
Use one of these if you want to drink a lot of beer, slam glasses together in a vigorous “Cheers,” or run to the urinal. A lot. Heavy duty and hold much beer – that’s about all that can be said. Oktoberfest is the obvious application here.
Another one of the “sleek, tall” family of glasses, as the name suggests, these glasses are where it’s at if you favor German-style wheat beers. Those are beers with copious foam, and the large volume of these glasses combined with the flared top allow for their typical giant meringue-like crowns. It’s the sexy way to serve hefeweizen; really the only way. If you’re crazy for hefes and don’t have one of these…what’s wrong with you?
De rigueur for Trappist and other Belgian-style abbey ales, drinking from chalices feels like drinking from the Holy Grail. Some of these are heavy and sturdy, like the Westmalle chalice pictured, but others are kinda wimpy and delicate like the Orval and Chimay glasses. Keep your “Cheers”-ing to a minimum with these, as an overzealous toast will crack them. I’ve done it. Why drink out of them other than for the fact that they look stately? Well, they hold a good deal of foam, and they maintain that foam well – which is really what you want. I told you, no stadium pours!
My personal favorite, and I’m not alone – this is a favored glass by many a beer aficionado, for a number of reasons. First, they work well with nearly any style. Their ability to contain voluminous foam is unparalleled, making these great for Belgian ales. Also, due to a physical design trick I don’t clearly understand, the drinker need not wait for that giant head to recede before taking sips. When tilting the glass toward the mouth, beer tends to slide right underneath the foam, allowing one to sip without ending up with a faceful of bubbles. Beyond this, tulips are also good for strong beers, as the relatively large bowl below the flared top acts as a modified snifter, concentrating aromas and allowing for swirling. I use these most for saisons, Double IPAs, and Belgian Strong Pales like Duvel, La Fin Du Monde, La Chouffe, etc.
Precisely what you are thinking, this is the exact same glass one would use to sip a fine cognac. This glass is great for very strong, aromatic ales – no glass concentrates aroma compounds quite like a snifter. It can also be swirled quite vigorously with little fear of spilling. Use this one for barleywines, imperial stouts, or any beer with big aroma. If you have a fresh Double IPA, pour it in and be amazed at the depth of the pungent hop character the glass yields.
Yes. You might already have a nearly-perfect beer glass, in the form of a wine glass. To what purpose is a good wine glass designed? To capture aroma very well and flatter wine, that’s what. It should come as no surprise that a wine glass is more than capable of doing the same for beer. Don’t feel weird at all about grabbing a wine glass, because they work extraordinarily well, especially oversized varieties. Once at a restaurant, I ordered Duvel, and the clueless waiter plunked a pint glass in front of me. I tried pouring a little, which led to the inevitable epic fail, a glass full of foam. I looked around, and at an adjacent empty table, I noticed wine glasses. I swiped one, and proceeded to enjoy my Duvel as if it was a fine chilled Sauvignon Blanc. There’s no shame in this, trust me. If further confirmation is required, I can tell you that the better beer dinners I’ve attended have all served beer in wine glasses. They are simply awesome for aroma and manage plenty of headspace, there’s no getting around it. Also, the long stems allow for drinking without prematurely warming the beer with your grubby hot hands.
I hope this has been a useful guide. Much of this glassware can be obtained at Total Wine, Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel, or any number of online retailers. For my money, I’d recommend going to Total Wine and picking up a Duvel gift pack – 4 12-ounce bottles of Duvel and a tulip glass. That glass is tough to beat. You might find yourself drinking orange juice out of it!