There are two types of people in the craft beer world. In truth, there are many types, but I guarantee I can ask one question that will divide us all into two groups.
Are you a stickler about your glassware choice, or do you pour with reckless abandon? I can almost hear some of you yell at your screens right now. With new styles emerging weekly, it’s become increasingly obvious that certain glass shapes compliment particular brew styles. Knowing exactly what glass to pour in is enough to make anyone’s head spin. I’ll be the first to admit blame; I’m a total rube when it comes to choosing an appropriate glass. There should be a bit more consideration in my pours, but most days I instinctively grab my trusty tulip.
Taking to the internet might be the quickest way to learn, but it’s full of too much or too little information. Then, I discovered The Flying Saucer in Kansas City. They boast an offering of more than 240 beers with 100 different brewing styles to choose from. Among the ranks are general manager, Kellen Duryea, and bartender, James Carr, both Cicerone Certified Beer Servers. They’re also some of the most delightful beer nerds you might have the pleasure to serve you. The Flying Saucer’s basic employee training period is an extensive eight classes, covering basic brew styles, flavor profiles, food pairings, brewing process, and style specific glassware. This ensures they not only have an educated staff, but in return, they can pass on the knowledge to anyone who walks in the door.
When it comes to glassware, there are general parameters, but each brewery has their own method. Kellen Duryea’s first tip is to look at what style of glass a brewery has their logo on the side of. Generally, that will be the glass to drink most of their brews out of. Looks like those free glass nights at your local pub might be educational too! So what are the staples for any glassware collection? Duryea suggests that everyone from beginner to aficionado at least have a pint, a tulip, a snifter, a hefeweizen, and a pilsner glass.
If you feel like going a step further, Duryea also recommends picking up a set of tasters. Why? There are many reasons, but the in reality… craft beer is fun to share! Let’s face it, the good ol’ sharing is caring saying makes us decent friends, and sharing social lubricant couldn’t be more fitting. It’s also a good snap-shot of your beer. Trust me, this will prove very beneficial by the end.
To get the science on how your glass accents specific ingredients, James Carr is the resident expert. Just ask, and he’ll explain how to angle the glass as you pour from the tap or bottle, or how the shape lends itself to volatile enhancing properties. Ask more and he’ll tell you what glass styles designed specifically to create the perfect head. Did you know natural CO2 activates your palate as well as cleanses? Agitating it during the pouring process builds the right amount of head to trap aromas and enhance flavor, then helps to alleviate the flavors, thus keeping your palate fresh for each sip. Carr swears, without natural CO2, taking a bite of raw hop or malt pellets leaves the taste on your tongue for an entire day. If you have a day to spare, he recommends giving it a go. I’ll take his word for now.
So what about those variances within the same glass style? For an example of engineering differences, let’s look at the pint family. Carr says that stems from functionality and durability. Nonic and imperial pints, made from thinner glass with slightly different bulge shapes at the top, were engineered to create a churning effect as you angle it under a faucet at a 45°. Remember, we’re agitating that CO2! The shaker pint however, exists today for durability. It’s simple design that wasn’t intended for drinking beer, but for shaking cocktails. Most are made with thick, double heated glass and a fully tempered lip. You’ll find these mostly served in a rowdy bar setting, and if it drops, it probably won’t break. While the nonic and imperial pints are more ideal for flavor over the shaker pint, they’re all adequate for serving stouts, porters and English ales.
What do you know about goblets, flutes, tulips and snifters?
Goblets are engineered with a decent sized bowl and rising walls with little to no tapering. The shape forces you to open your mouth broadly as you sip. This ensures the beer flows across the surface of your tongue and to the sides. All those sugar receptors will be hit perfectly, giving you a full palate of flavor. Magic! Try pouring in quads with an extremely complex malt build, or other malt-forward beers that have complex sweetness to them.
The much narrower flute glass isn’t only for dry, effervescent champagnes. Carr says they’re perfect for beers with similar flavors. The narrow opening guarantees it flows quickly down the center of your tongue where the preferred taste receptors are concentrated, and the small mouth put the aroma right at your nose, making the most of the experience. Think Trappists, Abbeys, Lambics, and dry fruit beers, my friends.
Let’s stop for a moment of honesty. Raise your hand if you thought tulip and snifter glasses were basically the same? Many do use them as the same glass, which is an all-too-common mistake. Technically they’re both engineered to capture aromas and enhance beers with volatiles, like hop oils, spices, and fruit flavors. So what’s the difference? The snifter, resembling a common wine glass with a shorter stem, has a wide bowl and a tapered mouth opening. The tulip has a similar shape, but the top flairs outward forming a lip. Snifters, as their namesake eludes to, hone the beer for your olfactory system. Less effervescent beers with strong flavors and complex aromas are best served in snifters, like quads, triples and other strong ales. The tulip’s flair helps induces and maintain a larger head. So, think more hoppy styles such as IPAs, Scottish ales, Belgian strong ales, and barleywine styles that are prone to produce a beautiful foam when poured.
Last but not least, the hefeweizen and pilsner glasses. It’s equally about function and presentation with these glass styles.
The hefeweizen glass, commonly known as a weizen or wheat beer glass, primarily serves various wheat beers like dunkelweizens, hefeweizens, kristalweizens, and weizenbocks. Carr explained how the narrow bottom traps the yeast producing a byproduct responsible for the banana, clove, and nutmeg flavors you get with weizen beers. The height and width at the top compliments the characteristically thick and fluffy head, trapping the aroma, and showing off the color of the beer.
A pilsner glass is tall and slender that tapers outward as it nears the top. They best compliment low to medium alcohol-level pilsners, ales, and lagers that are light, and refreshing. Because these beer styles tend to have higher carbonations, the glass shows off the rising bubbles and head while maintaining drinking ease.
All this talk of flavor enhancement, aromas and taste receptors, one thing should be clear. There’s a reason for everything in the glass world, but it boils down to practicality, personal preference, and how nit-picky you want to be. If you decide to dive into perfecting the perfect pour, Duryea’s suggestion of acquiring tasters might help. Even if you aren’t sharing, you can assess the characteristics and choose a complimentary glass.
If you want one solid rule for drinkware, you should always, always, always use a clean glass. A dirty glass has oils, dirt and residuals from storage, previous beers, or handling. It will alter the flavor, and no matter how you pour, the head will suffer too. If you’re finishing a beer, or just took a glass from the shelf, it’s a good idea to do a quick but thorough rinse.
There are many more glass styles to consider and this isn’t a definitive guide to how you or anyone else should always drink beer, but it’s a decent start. I might occasionally give way to old habits and grab that tulip first, but from now on I’ll make an effort to try my go-to brews in an appropriate glass. Who knows? The experience could completely change my mind about what’s always stocked in my home.