guide to selecting beer glassware

Beer is a beautiful, complex and wondrous beverage. We all agree on this, right? Drinking a hand-crafted beer is more than an exercise to swallow yellow fizzy water. It’s an experience that should be savored.

I’m sure some of you are saying to yourselves, “Experience my beer? Dude, it’s a beer.” It’s also a delightful sensory experience. Drinking a beer involves more than taste. To derive the most out of your beer, you also need to account for your other senses, especially sight and smell.

Humans are visual creatures and are easily influenced by appearance. Much of what we taste actually comes from what we smell. (That’s why you can’t taste anything when you have a cold.) So if you want to get all you can out of that $5 (or more) bottle of beer you just bought, ask the waitress to bring you a glass to pour it into.

There are several factors that will allow you to experience everything that your beer has to offer, including the beer’s temperature, the environment you are in, and the vessel that delivers the beer to your mouth. This article is a guide to help you choose the right glass for the right beer.

There are a few things you should remember, no matter what type of glass you choose. First, be certain the glass is clean. If you notice any spots, oil, lipstick or dust, be sure to clean the glass with soap. If you’re at a bar or restaurant, don’t be ashamed to ask for a new beer if you notice the glass is dirty, or you see bubbles sticking to large spots on the side of the glass. That’s a sign your glass is probably dirty. You paid money for it, they shouldn’t bring it to you in a dirty glass.

The glass should not be chilled. When a beer is really cold, it numbs your taste buds. If you really want a cold beer, order a cheap one. Don’t waste the extra money on a good beer, as you won’t get the most out of it. Next, when you pour the beer, be sure to build a proper head. For instruction on proper pouring, see my Perfect Pour video.

Now it’s on to selecting the proper glass for that beer. Glasses come in all shapes and sizes, but the following guide should give you an idea of the general types of glasses and why they work well with different styles of beer.

Shaker Pint Glass

This is your typical, industry standard beer glass. If you order a beer at a bar, 98% of the time, this is what it will come in. This is also the least interesting and effective glass to drink a beer from. Figures…

This glass is popular with bars and restaurants because it is durable and stackable. It’s more space and cost effective to use them. However, there is very little about the design of the glass that enhances your drinking experience.

pint

Advantages

  • It’s better than drinking from the bottle.

Disadvantages

  • It has a rather straight and uninspiring shape, so it doesn’t make for the best presentation.
  • There is no inward taper to hold in aroma.

Appropriate For

  • A general use beer vessel. If you’re slinging beers at a bar, no problem. If you want a better experience, there are better choices.

English Tulip Pint

This is a slight variation of the shaker pint. It starts narrow at the base and flares slightly out at the top.

english tulip

Advantages

  • The outward flare better supports the beer’s head, helping the head retention. It also helps you hold onto the glass.
  • The small inward taper at the top is slightly advantageous for holding in the beer’s aroma.

Disadvantages

  • Doesn’t stack well and the design doesn’t provide a significant upgrade over the shaker pint.

Appropriate For

  • Irish and English stouts

Pilsner Glass

Tall and slender, this is a traditional glass for German Pilsners.

pilsner

Advantages

  • The slender body allows more light to pass through the beer. This is designed to highlight the golden color and clarity of a pilsner.
  • The outward taper provides support for the head of the beer, allowing the foam to last longer.

Appropriate For

  • Pilsner
  • Golden lager

Brandy Snifter

This short, stout glass is wide at the bottom and tapers to a small opening.

snifter

Advantages

  • The wide body exposes a large surface area to release a lot of aroma.
  • The inward taper and small opening at the top holds the aroma very well.

Appropriate For

  • Barley wine
  • Imperial stout
  • Strong ale
  • Belgian trippel

Stemmed Tulip

This is the most ideal glass for getting the most out of your beer: taste, appearance and aroma. Great for beer tastings.

tulip

Advantages

  • The stem keeps your palm off the bowl of the glass, which can cause the beer to warm prematurely.
  • The inward taper holds in aroma, much like the snifter.
  • As you drink the beer, the outward flare at the top will spread the beer out over a wider area of your tongue, which ensures you get the broadest array of flavor.
  • The outward flare also supports the head of the beer.

Disadvantages

  • You might look kind of girly while drinking a beer from a tulip glass.

Appropriate For

  • Belgian ale
  • Imperial IPA
  • Beer tastings

White Wine Glass

Come again? Yes, you can use a wine glass to drink beer. In the absence of an ideal beer glass, when you want to get everything you can from a beer, whether it be for a tasting or your own pleasure, a white wine glass will do just nicely. It has many of the same characteristics that make the snifter and tulip glasses so good to use.

wine

Advantages

  • Inward taper to hold in aroma.
  • Thin body to show off the clarity and color of the beer.
  • The long stem keeps your palm off the body of the glass to prevent premature warming.

Disadvantages

  • People will likely think you’ve gone off your rocker when you pour a beer into a wine glass.

Appropriate For

  • Beer tasting when you don’t have a better choice available.

Other Glass Styles

There are hundreds of other styles and variations beer glasses that have been created. In fact, in Belgium every brewer creates a glass specifically for each of their beers. Below are some other hybrid style glasses that combine different elements of the basic styles I described above.

Sam Adams designed a glass that is like a stemless tulip. It has a narrow bottom to reduce heat transfer, much the same as a stem. The top of the glass tapers in and then back out, like the top of a tulip glass. It’s a nice piece of glassware engineering.

sam adams

Dogfish Head’s glass is an english tulip-snifter hybrid. Thin at the base, it flares out and tapers inward at the top.

dogfish

The Tripel Karmeliet glass has a thick stem and wide bowl. It tapers slightly inward, going straight up with a wide opening so you can really get your face in there and smell the wonderful aroma of the beer.

tripel karmeliet

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About Brian

I like beer.
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3 Responses to guide to selecting beer glassware

  1. Chuck Boyd says:

    When I was in Belgium last year, I saw a display of several HUNDRED different glasses and the beers they were designed for. Despite my best efforts, I did NOT get to sample all of them. Nice article. Thanks

    • Brian says:

      Yeah, I so want to go to Belgium and see all that for myself. It’s awesome to see how much they appreciate good presentation. I’m glad some American breweries are developing their own signature glasses now. It’s another step away from the standardized commodities that we’ve lived with for so long.

  2. Bear says:

    I must say, my favorite style of glass is the British Imperial Pint glass. When you grasp that glass you feel like you’re drinking a beer. Not to mention there is a nice curve that separates the head from the body and that’s always important.

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