What sort of glass do you reach for when you’re pouring a beer at home?
If you haven’t given it much thought before, here’s why you should. Your glass does more than just hold your drink. It can directly affect how your beer tastes.
Over the years different styles of glassware have developed that are adapted to suit particular styles of beer. And while they’re not all strictly needed, they’re not a waste of money either. Their different shapes have come about for good reasons, and they can enhance your enjoyment of a beer.
The shape of your glass will affect how you smell your beer, which in turn affects how it tastes. Flavour is mix of all sorts of sensations — taste, texture, temperature, even sound and vision play a role — but the most important of all of these is aroma.
Unlike sight or sound, smell relies on taking something from the outside world into our bodies. Tiny particles — volatile aroma compounds — detach themselves from the thing we smell and make their way into our nose where they cross our olfactory receptors.
Once poured beer sheds volatile particles upwards from its surface. A rim that tapers inwards will capture these volatile particles at the top of the glass. This concentrates the aroma there and makes it easier to smell. In contrast, a rim that flares out will allow more particles, more aromas, to escape into the air.
A good head of foam is important to most beer styles, and glassware can control this too. Tall and thin glasses, such as pilsner or weizen glasses, have room near the rim for a head of foam to accumulate. Their shape encourages the bubbles to stick around, which protects the beer underneath from exposure to oxygen. This keeps your beer tasty all the way down to the bottom of the glass.
The design of your glass can also affect the temperature of your beer. If you’ve gone to the trouble of pouring your beer at the correct serving temperature, the last thing you want is for your hands to warm it up too fast. A stemmed glass keeps your beer cool. (As long as you hold it by the stem and not the bowl.)
Glassware can even influence your drink by providing a sense of occasion. As with all food and drink, the way a beer looks is the first thing to influence how much we enjoy it. A glass that shows off a beer’s enticing colour and rich foamy head makes drinking it even more enjoyable.
Real world advice
Glassware makes a difference, and using the wrong glass can make a good drink seem merely so-so. (Even worse if it’s not properly clean.) But even so, very few of us are going to bother collecting every type of beer glass out there.
In the real world, most of us will make do with one or two glasses that cover the most bases. If you’re wondering what to buy, I have some suggestions.
A straight-sided half-pint glass like this one is great for lagers, sours, lambics, wild ales and other lighter styles. For drinking at home, the smaller size is going to be more useful more often than a full pint.
Angular tumblers have become popular over the last couple of years. They balance function and simplicity, and while they don’t have a stem to keep your beer cool they do have a tapering rim to help concentrate aroma. These are good for all styles, but particularly stouts. These rich dark beers won’t suffer as much from being warmed by your hands.
A tulip glass is a very versatile glass and will be particularly suited for pale ales, IPAs, stouts and porters. (Plus Spiegelau are a good quality manufacturer.) If you don’t drink much lager, this may be the only type of glass you need.
Teku glasses are also fantastic all-rounders. They’re popular in craft beer bars and taprooms, and with good reason. Their stems keep beer cool and their rims allow you to get at its aroma.
Beer competitions usually use ISO tasting glasses, as these cover all the bases. They’re great for all kinds of drinks, not just beer. If you want to learn more about wine and spirits too, these might be a good buy for you.