Curvaceous, shapely and perched on a slender stem, like a wine glass stretching and yawning. Tall and thin, like the love-child of a champagne flute and a real ale pint. Bulbous and bell-shaped, like the overhanging belly of a brandy snifter.
These days beers are served in all sorts of funny shaped glasses. Why?
The answer will come as no surprise: the shape of the vessel affects the taste and experience of drinking beer. When it hits the surface of the glass the beer’s aroma, colour and texture change. So drinking beer from an appropriately shaped glass enhances the flavours of hops, malt and yeast. Just as you’d serve red and white wine in different glasses or be horrified to receive your Old Fashioned in a Martini glass, beer deserves the same respect. But how do you know which shape improves which flavours? Here’s a brief guide to get you started.
From top to bottom, the shape of your glass is creating a sensory experience.
The width of the rim determines how you engage with the beer. A narrow rim leads to sipping, spreading the beer across the front and sides of your tongue where sweetness registers. Wider rims encourage gulping, so beer hits the back of the tongue and seems more bitter. A wider opening also lets off more aroma and enables you to really get your nose in to the glass and appreciate big, bold flavours.
Stems offer the same advantages to beer glasses as they do wine: preventing your hand warming the liquid before you can drink it. Longer stems are particularly popular on tulip-shaped glasses and snifters, often used for stronger beers. The stem can be tightly pinched to swirl the beer, allowing the weight of the bowl to create a whirlpool motion and releasing aromatics.
Even the very bottom of your glass has its own design features. The next time you drain the last drops from your pint of keg beer, look to see if there’s a small engraving or design etched in to the base of the glass. These tiny raised areas create ‘nucleation,’ forcing carbonated liquid up and creating a stream of bubbles.
Now you understand the various elements of your glass, let’s look at which beers are suited to which glasses.
Tall and thin
Pilsner and weizen glasses are typical of this style which accentuates lighter, carbonated beers. Thinner glass keeps the beer cooler for longer and a narrower rim traps the foamy head. The longer glass allows beer drinkers to appreciate the colour and carbonation of their beer.
Wide and robust
Pints and tankards fall in to this category. American pints have straight edges as they were originally used for shaking cocktails. British pints, with a slight bulge just below the top of the glass, are also known as ‘nonic’ glasses . Their name comes from their more durable nature: less prone to getting chipped, they’ve got ‘no nicks.’ These types of glasses are best suited to cask ales and stouts.
All the other shapes in between…
Ahem. To keep this blog short and sweet, let’s use IPA glasses as a great example of how developed a beer glass can become and how it can enhance your drinking experience.
The curved bowl of the IPA glass directs aromas upward and in to the nose, whilst a narrower base creates a longer lasting head from the resulting turbulence as beer falls down and over the edge during drinking. Tapering at the top of the glass makes it easier to swirl the beer and enjoy its hoppy aromas without flinging it all over your drinking companions.
But is it all marketing?
You know it’s true. Well dressed plates of food, books with beautiful covers, ergonomically designed cars – they’re all more likely to be bought than their less good-looking counterparts. So attractive presentation begins the beer drinking on a positive note, but is it essential to drink from the “correct” vessel? Perhaps not, although it does add to the experience, especially if you’re matching beer and food. So why not try the same beer in the “right” glass and the “wrong” glass to compare. You never know, you might discover something new about your favourite beverage.