Beer Glassware: Does it Really Matter?
I work in a place that takes its beer glassware very seriously...in earthquake-torn San Francisco. It's a bad combination. There's a constant fear quite literally hanging over me (on a ten-foot-high shelf) that has led to a hatred of slammed doors, cars with loud stereos, and just about anything else that might feel like Loma Prieta round 2 might be going down. Recently, as I nervously stood beneath my geeky collection, I got thinking: do I really need all this glassware? Do these special beer glasses really deliver on their promises?
Here are a few of the beer glasses we keep around, and their purported benefits.
Shape: Bulb that tapers in before flaring out at the top.
Purported Benefits: concentration of aroma, support of the foamy head at the top, and comfortable drinking afforded by flared rim.
Shape: A round bowl on a stem.
Purported Benefits: Beautiful presentation, foam support, wide mouth for easy drinkin' (in big sips.)
Shape: Tall, footed, slender, tapered out from the bottom.
Purported Benefits: Displays the beer's clarity, while tapered shape supports head.
Shape: Tall, large, slender at bottom, bowled out a bit at the top.
Purported Benefits: Large size accommodates a massive, frothy head associated with highly-carbonated German wheat beers. Slender bottom shows off these beers' famous hazy color and protects its lively carbonation.
Nonick Imperial Pint
Shape: Large, slightly tapered out with bulge near top.
Purported benefits: Designed for the no-nonsense drinker. The bulge facilitates stacking and prevents rim chipping.
Shape: Slight taper outward from bottom.
Purported benefits: Cheap and easily stackable. Sturdy ones can be used for stirring and shaking cocktails.
Shape: Stemmed, wide-bowled, tapered in at top.
Purported benefits: Designed for maximum concentration of volatile organic compounds—that is, aroma.
Shape: Short and squat with thick glass and a slight outward taper.
Purported Benefits: Tradition generally drives the use of this glass, which is usually reserved for Belgian witbier and lambic.
Drinking Beer While Blindfolded
Is it all empty promises, or do these glasses make beer taste and smell better?
My evaluation process was an exercise in looking stupid. First, I put on a blindfold. Then my trusty (and very patient) girlfriend slowly brought each glass to my blindfolded face so as not to reveal which glass was which—I would have been able to identify the glassware if I'd picked them up myself.
In the first round, I ranked each glass in terms of how intense the aroma was when I smelled the beer in each glass. In the second round, I tasted the beer from each glass, paying attention to how the glass delivered the beer into my mouth, noting differences in flavor and carbonation.
Your results may vary, but I found that the differences from glass to glass were extremely subtle.
The glasses with the widest openings (the weizen glass, the nonick pint, the chalice and the shaker pint), ended up all seeming pretty similar when blindfolded, despite dramatic differences in the rest of each glass's shape.
This makes sense when you consider the purposes behind each shape. The narrow bottom half of the weizen glass is to show off the beer's hazy body and active carbonation, not to enhance flavor or aroma. The nonick's bump is for stacking and durability's sake. The chalice's dramatic stem and gilded lip is, well, to ensure that you look like the coolest monk in the monastery. None of these widemouthed glasses are designed to amplify the scent of the beer.
The snifter, on the other hand, concentrated the aroma to the greatest effect, but its small opening led to a more difficult drinking experience (okay, yeah, my enormous nose didn't help there). The tulip, which is designed to both concentrate aroma and be easy to drink from, was, unsurprisingly, my favorite glass to drink from, even without being able to see its famously flower-like shape.
If you're only judging on flavor and aroma, I'd say the tulip is your best multipurpose glass. (Go ahead and stock up on them!) But there is another reason for collecting an assortment of drinkware.
Think of a chef paying careful attention to his plating—serving beer in a certain glass can showcase the appearance of individual beers and evoke a long tradition of serving them in specific stemware. No glass will display the clarity and carbonation of pilsner like a pislner glass. The weizen glass is just right for admiring the haziness of weizen beers. And if you just want a long session of drinking large quantities of English ales, a nonick pint glass will feel just right in your hand.
How about you—do you collect beer glasses? Got a different glass for every beer? (And big cupboards, I hope?) Or do you stick with just one type of glassware?
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone and Co-Director of Beer at the Monk's Kettle and forthcoming Abbot's Cellar restaurants in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.