Beer Glassware – Does it really matter?

beer-glasswareWould you like a glass with your beer?

Let me ask you something, how important is it to you to use the beer proper glassware for your precious homebrew or that special commercial craft beer you found the other day?

For me I grew up drinking Budweiser. When we were feeling a little more highfalutin we would plunk down our money for some Michelob, Löwenbräu (remember the jingle?) or sometimes Little Kings Cream Ale in the 8oz bottles as that was pretty much the extent of different beer unless you had friends that were going to Colorado, those were the days that Coors was not sold east of the Mississippi River. OK now I’m really dating myself. But we always drank straight out of the bottle or can. Things have changed quite a bit since those days in the mid to late 70’s as I am now a full blown craft beer connoisseur and home brewer since the late 90’s.

Now don’t get me wrong as I am far from being a ‘beer snob’, I really dislike beer snobs. My son Jason, whom I have mentored regarding craft beer and now lives in Charleston, SC. (his favorite brewpub is Holy City Brewing of North Charleston) says, “Even though I prefer a really nice craft beer, I still know how to wreck a mess of PBR’s when the time is right.” I myself also enjoy hanging out in the garage with friends drinking a cold one right out of the can or bottle at times.

beer glassesThat being said I really, really enjoy craft beer. I like to drink styles according to the season/holiday and if served in the proper glass it can really enhance the enjoyment. How about a malty Oktoberfest in a stein or dimpled glass, a refreshing Kölsch in a stange or Dortmunder Lager in a pilsner glass? Hell yea, bring em on!

There seems to be a faction of people that think most glassware is marketing driven. Although it would seem that way as the majority of glassware in pubs, bars and restaurants are the standard pint tumbler that have some kind of logo etched or painted on them. This is simply not the case as there is much more thought behind the structure of a beer glass.

Grab one of your favorite beers from the fridge, open it up and pour it into that pint tumbler, as soon as the beer cascades into the glass, changes are taking place; color, aroma and taste are being altered. Subtle flavors become more pronounced, colors are more brilliant, your enjoyment of the beer simply becomes a better experience. Take this one step further and try a side by side comparison of beer in a glass and the same beer from the bottle or can. Hey, it’s research so no one can frown on you about drinking two at the same time.

beer-head-scienceWhich glassware should you use? While it’s usually optimal to use glassware designed by the brewery for a specific brand of beer, sometimes this is just not possible. Don’t sweat it as the real enjoyment is the beer itself. As the homebrew guru Charlie Papazian says, “Relax and have a homebrew”, or for that matter whatever beer of your choosing. Scientific studies have shown that the shape of glassware has direct impact on the development and retention of head, giving the pun “head is good” a more respected meaning than that those giggles, snorts and sheepish smiles. A robust head on your beer is good? Yes sir it is. The foam created by pouring a beer acts as a ‘trap’ for many of the volatiles in a beer. Volatiles are compounds that create aroma, such as hop oils and yeast fermentation byproducts like alcohol, fusels and fruity esters, spices or other additions. So a healthy foam head may enhance the flavor of the beer.

Before we dive into the glassware let’s talk about some pointers that will help make that beer extra special. Never chill your glassware, once again, never chill your glassware, and refuse a frosted glass. Why? As the beer is poured into the chilled/frosted glass condensation occurs and dilutes your beer, this will also lower the serving temperature. To make things simple please ask your barkeep or server ahead of time. They should know this already if you are in a good beer bar but sometimes we are not always in ‘good beer bars’. I know of a few restaurant chains that keep all their glasses in the cooler.

PBWWhen it comes to cleaning the best option is to hand-wash all glasses. Use a mild dishwashing soap or if you have some, powdered brewery wash (PBW) is better. You can get PBW at your local hombrew supply shop. Try to use a fresh sponge/washcloth for your glassware so there is not cross contamination from greasy food particles. Air drying is preferable, resist towel drying because the towel may leave material and dust particles which will affect the head retention.

So while you’re enjoying that tasty beer, here are some guidelines of recommended glassware that will cover most beers. This could possibly make you the envy of your friends and family but most likely not with the wife when you try to make room for all these oddly shaped glassware in her cupboard.

flute-glassThe Flute
Has a long and narrow body similar to a Champaign glass. This glass shape highlights carbonation and sparkling color, releases volatiles quickly for a more upfront aromas. Use with American Wild Ale, Bock, Czech Pilsener, Dortmunder Lager, Eisbock, Flanders Oud Bruin or Red Ale, German Pilsener, Gueuze, Lambic, Maibock, Helles Lager, Schwarzbier, Vienna Lager, Weizenbock


goblet-glassThe Goblet
Some are dainty, some thick-walled and robust. The big bowl does the work. A wide mouth promotes deep gulps of heavy sipping beers, and the sheer size of the cup holds up inches-high heads. Use with Belgian IPA, Belgian Strong Dark Ale, Berliner Weissbier, Dubbel, Quadrupel (Quad), Tripel


beer-mugThe Mug or Seidel
Made for holding large amounts of beer, mugs bear the classic handle, for lifting large loads and clinking other glasses. A siedel is a standard mug with dimples, while a mug with a lid is a stein, which is said to be added during the Black Plague era to keep flies out of beer. Use with Oktoberfests, light lagers, pale ales, cream ales and witbiers or any beer drank in large quantities.

lager-beer-glass-lights-pilsnersThe Pilsner
Slim and tapered, pilsner glasses show off extreme carbonation and clear, almost shiny colors. The vessel’s ample top half keeps heads sturdy. Use with American Amber / Red Lager, American Pale Lager, Bock, California Common / Steam Beer, Dortmunder, Euro Lagers, Helles Bock, Munich Lagers, Pilseners, Schwarzbier, Vienna Lager, Witbier.

PintGlassThe Pint (Becker, Nonic, Tumbler)
Near cylindrical, with a slight taper and wide-mouth perfect for beers that don’t require a lot of fuss and is an all-purpose glass for nearly every beer style. There are two standard sizes, the 16-ounce (US Tumbler – most common) or the 20-ounce Imperial (Nonic), which has a slight ridge towards the top. The 20-ounce version is preferred to accommodate more beer or beers with large crowning heads. A Becker is the German equivalent, tapering at the top. This glass is also ideal for hoppy pale ales and IPAs, as those styles continuously exude hop aromas—the smells don’t need to be trapped.

snifter-glassThe Snifter
Normally used for brandy and cognac, these are wide-bowled and stemmed glasses with tapered mouths. Well-constructed for capturing the aromas of strong ales. Sizes vary, but they all provide room to swirl and agitate volatiles and detain potent aromas. Use with Barley wines, Double / Imperial IPA, Double & Imperial Stout, American & Belgian Strong Ales, Braggot, Eisbock, Flanders Oud Bruin & Red, Foreign / Export Stout, Gueuze, Lambic, Old Ale, Quadrupel (Quad), Russian Imperial Stout, Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy, Tripel, Wheatwine.

stange-glass1The Stange
Traditional German glass, probably best associated with Kölsch style. There are a few different sizes. Stange means “stick”, these tall, slender cylinders are used to serve more delicate beers, accentuating malt and hops. Use with Altbier, Bock, Czech Pilsener, Gose, Gueuze, Kölsch, Lambics, Rye Beer

tulip-beer-glassThe Tulip
A thin walled stemmed glass that the top of the glass pushes out a bit to form a lip to capture the head and the body is rounded. The construction is best suited to capture and enhances aromas, induces and supports large foamy head. Use with American Double / Imperial IPA, All Belgians, Bière de Garde, Flanders Oud Bruin & Red Ales, Gueuze, Lambics, Quadrupel (Quad), Saison / Farmhouse Ale, Scotch Ale / Wee Heavy.

weizenThe Weizen
This classic glass features soft curves and thin walls that really show off the beer’s color and allows for much headspace to contain the fluffy heads associated with the style while the shape traps the citrus & banana aromas. Traditionally these are 0.5L in size although slight variations in size are available. Use with American Dark Wheat Ale, American Pale Wheat Ale, Dunkelweizen, Gose, Hefeweizen, Weizenbock
Those are the traditional glassware now let’s take a look at some of the new designs that have been introduced.

Sam-Adams-Perfect-PintThe Sam Adams Perfect Pint
There is no better way to explain than straight from the Sam Adams website…“It’s been a personal passion of mine to develop a beer glass that elevates the craft beer drinking experience” said Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams. “We wanted to create a glass that offers beer lovers a full sensory drinking experience by fully showcasing Samuel Adams Boston Lager’s complex balance of malt and hop flavors. This glass achieves that mission.” Tiax, the world-renowned sensory experts, worked closely with Jim to identify and evaluate the functional design features needed in a glass to showcase the key attributes of Samuel Adams Boston Lager®. The key requirements for the perfect glass for Samuel Adams Boston Lager included: delivering sweetness from the malt; maximizing the hops aroma and flavor; maintaining the ideal temperature; supporting a rich and creamy head; and sustaining the right amount of carbonation.

Spiegelau-IPAThe Spiegelau IPA
Based on input from two of the leading IPA brewers in the United States- Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada- Spiegelau has created a new IPA beer glass. The Spiegelau IPA glass is designed to showcase varying aromatic profiles for the American ‘hop forward’ IPA beer, preserve a frothy head and volatiles and maintain a comfortably wide opening for the drinker to “nose” the beer.

Spiegelau-StoutThe Spiegelau Stout
Following in the footsteps of the hugely successful IPA glass project, Spiegelau has partnered with two of the leading Stout brewers in the United States, Left Hand Brewing Company from Colorado and Rogue Ales from Oregon to create the ultimate tool for enjoying Stout beer. After months of design and tasting workshops, during which hundreds of glass shapes were considered, the brewers ultimately and unanimously chose as their favorite from a final lineup of eight custom-made Spiegelau shapes.

Michael Sears

Michael Sears

Mike is the former President of Forest City Brewers, an established home-brew club in Rockford, IL. He is and experienced and passionate brewer and an aspiring beer journalist, with a love for sharing time with his brewing buddies and dogs (not necessarily in that order).
Michael Sears

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