We’re already used to pouring wine and cocktails into specific glasses, so it would seem fitting that we do the same for beer. Not only is beer glassware visually very diverse, it can have a substantial impact on how you enjoy your beer. Desired head development and retention varies across beer styles, and different glassware produces different amounts of foam. Therefore, if we know the kind of head retention we want, then we can select the proper glassware for it.
So then, why is the amount of foam so important? Foam contains volatiles, which are compounds that give beer various aromatic attributes. Smell can have a significant impact on one’s review of a beer—it accounts for 24% of the core beer rating system—so the right glass can help bring out the malt, hops, yeast, and other compounds. To get across how essential the right glass can be, some breweries have gone as far as designing their glassware before beginning to brew.
There is a ton of overlap between which beer styles go with what specific glassware, and it would probably be counterproductive to list every single possibility for each style of glass. So instead, let’s focus on the purpose of different glassware and the most popular brews to pour in them.
First off, we can begin to separate glassware into two broad categories: those with a straight wall and glasses that portray a more bulbous shape. The shaker pint, can glass, stein / mug, stange, and arguably the pilsner glass all fall into the ‘straight wall’ category. If you’re drinking from one of these glasses, you’re probably not too concerned with the aroma as there is no bulb or lip to catch volatiles. Tighter, narrower topped glasses, however, will help to better catch aromas and create greater head retention. Generally speaking, straight wall glasses are better for swigging than sipping.
One of the most versatile, and default bar and restaurant glasses, is the shaker pint. Getting its name from its use to shake cocktails behind the bar, it’s typically used to drink lower alcohol beers, such as Amber Ales, American Lagers, Bocks, and Pale Ales. The can glass isn’t as classic—as more and more breweries have begun to produce 16oz cans, the can glass has grown in popularity and can be a great alternative to the shaker pint. In fact, unlike straight wall glasses, most have a taper at the rim of the glass to highlight flavor and aromas. You’re also going to want to save this glass for your Pale Ales, as well as some IPAs.
The stein, or mug glass, is the best choice if you’re going to be walking around at an Oktoberfest and want to be able to cheers! everyone around you without breaking your glass upon impact. Although stein and mug are used interchangeably, the stein is nowadays more of a collector’s item, with its traditional hinged lid originally made to prevent flies from dropping in your drink during the Black Plague. The thick walls and handle allow you to sip all day with durability and without any hand warming, plus it allows you to carry around a lot of beer before having to refill. Go ahead and pour your German style ales into this glass!
Although a stange glass is a Tom Collins substitute or looks like something you’d find a mojito in, stange, meaning stick or rod, helps to tightly concentrate aromas with its narrower frame. Therefore, you can usually find more delicate beers poured in here to increase malt and hop sensibility, such as German Kolsch, Gose, Bock, and Altbiers. Finally, the pilsner can have little or no curvature, so we’ll categorize it as a straight wall glass, used to pour pilsner beers, unsurprisingly. In addition, the pilsner glass can be a great option for other low alcohol beers. Like other glasses in its class, the straight edge allows better examination of color, carbonation, and clarity. Additionally, the longer, narrower shape helps to increase head retention and trap aromas.
Then we have glasses with some sort of curvature: imperial pint, nonic pint, flute, tulip / thistle, snifter, chalice / goblet, weizen, oversize wine, and teku. The imperial and nonic pints branch off from the everyday shaker pint, except both have curvature to help with trapping aroma. The imperial pint has a slight bowl shape on the top half of the glass, like the offspring of a shaker pint and weizen. The nonic pint is similar, except the bowl shape is super concentrated near the rim of the glass, to release more aroma and flavor upon drinking.
Next is the flute glass, a pretty versatile option traditionally used for champagne and brut. The reason it can make such a great beer class is due to its long and narrow body producing high carbonation. Glasses made specifically for consuming beer may have a shorter stem, but the main purpose is creating a visual experience while quickly releasing volatiles for a strong aroma. There is actually a wide selection of beers that can be poured into this type of glass, including American Wild Ales, Bocks, Flanders Oud Bruin, Flanders Red Ale, Fruit Beer, Gueuze, Krieks, and Lambics.
One of my favorite glassware options is the tulip, or thistle glass, as it is compatible across many different beer styles, no to mention it’s appealing to the eye. The signature taper in towards the top helps concentrate the head and trap aroma while allowing maximum swishing and swirling ability with the bulb shaped bottom. The name thistle essentially refers to the same glass style, except it may appear more stretched out, as it’s designed for Scottish ales and named after Scotland’s official flower. As if it didn’t resemble a tulip enough, some have a lip at the rim to help place beer further back on the tongue—meaning initial bitterness is low and malt taste is high. What to pour in here? You could get away with almost any type of beer, but this glass is especially good for Barleywines, Belgian style beers, Biere de Garde, Double or Imperial IPAs, Saisons, Fruit Beers, Lambics, Red Ales and, as mentioned, Scotch Ales.
The snifter glass, which was again traditionally used for something else—brandy, ports, cognac, bourbon—is similar to tulip glasses yet might have a larger bulb and will not taper at the top. Since the glass itself usually holds less beer, you might save it for stronger beers high in alcohol where hand warming might actually benefit the beer, providing different characteristics throughout the sipping period. Again, there’s maximum swirling room with a snifter as well, which is always encouraged. Pour your Imperial or Double anything into these glasses, as well as other robust beers and barleywines.
The chalice or goblet is not only for the king’s table, it’s a great glassware option that allows for color and clarity examination. Ideal for big sip beers, it may be scored on the bottom to allow a stream of bubbles that help with head retention. While the term chalice and goblet can be used interchangeably, a chalice tends to be much sturdier with thicker glass walls. This glass is perfect for Belgian IPAs, Ales, Dubbels, Tripels, Quadrupels—you name it, as well as a Berliner Weisse and German Bock.
Moving on, we have the weizen glass, great for witbiers and any beer with weizen in its name. The fluid shape of this glass helps with examining look and color, while the larger headspace traps aroma on top while keeping yeast at the bottom of the glass. You can pinpoint these out as many are served with some sort of citrus fruit on the rim—a yummy addition, but the citrus will destroy any head you wanted to maintain.
Next we have the last glass that was originally made for something else—the oversized wine glass! It has a very obvious open bowl for a strong nose, and is great for serving any Belgian ales, some sour beers, Old Ales, and Wheatwine. In a pinch it can be a great substitute for a tulip, goblet, or chalice.
The last option for glassware is a glass that truly provides a full sensory experience—it will bring out great flavors in your beer, but as a result will also expose any shortcomings. The name TeKu is really just a mashup of two Italian men’s names (Teo Musso and Kuaska) and has made its way over to America. This glass is powerful at catching and releasing aroma. The kind of beer to pour in here? Only the good stuff! We’ll leave that up to you to decide what that is.
Glassware is being made for each category and then those in between, so it can become increasingly difficult to distinguish between two types of beer glasses. What’s most important is understanding how certain curves and bulbs and narrowness in the glass can produce different levels of foam or cause a higher concentration of aromas. What other glasses have you consumed beer in? Have you noticed a difference? Even if you wouldn’t reject a beer for being served in a shaker pint when a tulip would have been more ideal, it’s fun to experiment with different glasses and see how it affects your beer drinking experience.