For craft beer lovers, there's nothing quite like cracking open a bottle of that highly sought-after imperial stout, or even simply a well-made pale ale, after a long day at work while sitting comfortably and decompressing. You've got the product down, but are you getting the most out of your beer?
Many will already be familiar with the disdain many have for the use of the ubiquitous straight-walled tumbler glass, but where do you go from there? Why get different glasses at all? The simple answer is for the taste. The more complicated one includes aesthetics.
"The best beer glasses bear a strong resemblance to wineglasses," says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Oxford Companion to Beer. "As with wine, any beer that is truly to be tasted rather than simply drunk must be swirled or rotated in the glass.
"Beer served in stemmed glassware will maintain its temperature better; the liquid will not be warmed by the heat of the drinker's hand."
So now that we have a direction to head in, let's explore some of the options available to us in the beer glass scene.
The standard, everyday beer glass. Most of these in America will be the straight-edged tumbler designs. The best ones to drink from as an everyday pint are the Guinness-styled glasses. They are slightly tulip-shaped and accommodate a full 16 ounces of beer with enough room for a two-finger head. Full capacity is generally around 20 ounces. These are perfect for pale ales, amber ales, dry stouts, and especially sessionable beers.
The narrow waist helps to support the frothy head of certain beers, especially ones that derive a lot of their flavor character from yeast. You should be able to get your nose in and smell, and -- most important -- enjoy it as an aspect of the drinking experience.
Use this for Biere de Gardes, red ales, lambics, dark and pale strong ales, saisons, and almost any Belgian-styled beer that's not monastic.
Feast like a king with a chalice of Trappist beer. These types of glasses are great for big sipping beers. They're more traditional than other glassware and make an attractive visual statement about the quality of beer inside.
Normally thought of as the domain of brandy, the humble snifter is all all-around good vessel for any higher ABV beer or a beer with lots of high-impact flavors.
Ben Mcfarland, author of World's Best Beers: One Thousand Craft Brews from Cask to Glass, says, "If a beer is big in body and flavor, be it a Barleywine, an imperial stout, or an intensely hoppy IPA, then a snifter or brandy balloon makes sense. It eases the impact of overwhelming aromas and holds the flavors in tightly."
Use this glass for barleywines, belgian tripels, strong ales, imperial stouts, double IPAs, oud bruin... yeah, basically anything strong and very, very flavorful.
"Aromas and flavors associated with pilsners and light lagers need channeling and funneling direct into the nose with a glass that tapers inward at the top," Mcfarland says of the tall and slender Pilsner glass. In addition to promoting a champagne-like effervescence and better head retention based on a smaller surface area, they also highlight the crystal-clear nature of these lagered beers. Use them for all pilsners, bocks, steam beers, dunkels, and doppelbocks.
This may be an iffy investment initially, unless you're a big fan of wheat beers. It's slightly different from the pilsner glass, being a little wider and conical. They're usually taller to support a huge head, which wheat beer enthusiasts love.
Sam Adams' Pint Glass
Developed by Sam Adams Brewing to be a showcase for its Boston Lager beer, the Boston Lager Glass has done a lot to promote the notion of beers being served in glassware that isn't a boring pint. The glass features laser-etched nucleation points on the inside bottom to create a constant stream of CO2 release into the beer, keeping the head going for longer. The curves and bulbs help to "collect aromas," as the description states, while the lip "places beer at the front of [the] palate to maximize enjoyment of [the] sweetness of the malt."
So what's the takeaway from all of this? Honestly, it comes down to personal preference. If there is a specific style that you really love above all others (dark Belgian beers, for example), then the economical thing to do would be to purchase a goblet or two and call it a day.
For the best spread that will highlight the most styles, try a couple of good nonic-style pint glasses and some snifters. You'll be able to unlock some of that hidden flavor and aroma with a little bit of pinache.
Finally, if you're still a little hesitant, maybe a few words from the craft beer industry greats, like Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association, and the fine folks at Russian River Brewing will do. Drink up, and enjoy those new glasses.
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