Chow Town

How to choose the right glass for your beer, and why it matters

The tulip glass can enhance the aromas of a saison.
The tulip glass can enhance the aromas of a saison. Brenda Ahearn

No offense to my good friend and fellow blogger Jasper Mirabile, who seems to love just about every national something or other day, but I’m generally not into those made-up celebrations.

That is, until one of those days allows me to learn something new. And when that knowledge is conveyed through the consumption of alcoholic beverages, well, Jasper, I’m right in your corner.

So, today, I write this in honor of National Beer Lovers Day, which will be celebrated on Sept. 7. I thought I’d use the occasion to drink some great beer!

Things got even better when it was suggested that I should explore the impact the beer glass has on the beer in your glass! Yes, much like wine and single malt scotches, when it comes to choosing your beer glass, size and shape matter.

“If you searched out the perfect glass for each beer you’re going to pour, that’s all you’d ever do. So, we narrowed it down a bit and use four basic glasses,” shared Jake Barnett, bar manager at Harry’s Country Club, which serves some 200 different beers.

I headed down to Harry’s with my good buddy Chad Tillman, a man who loves and studies beer. The plan was to drink each beer Barnett poured in the right glass and then the same beer in the wrong glass to see if there was a discernible difference.

Harry’s uses four basic glasses: a roadhouse glass, which is small and round; a shaker pint glass, which most of us think of as a classic pint glass; a tulip glass, which has a wide circumference meant to emphasize a beer’s aromatics; and a good ole’ fashioned beer mug.

Barnett also pulled out a brandy snifter, a Bordeaux-style wine glass, and a special Spiegelau glass designed for India pale ales. Barnett selected seven beers for the seven glasses.

A Reissdorf Kolsch was poured in the roadhouse glass, which emphasized the beer’s light, crisp refreshing style. It was a very good match that became much less so when the kolsch was in a shaker pint. The wider rim of the pint glass put more of an emphasis on the beer’s nose — not its strong point.

“The pint glass just doesn’t do the kolsch any favors,” Barnett added. He was right.

A Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Black Ale was next. It was terrific in the pint glass, which emphasized the beer’s creamy, toasty notes. With a smaller glass, or a less aggressive pour, meaning less head, those characteristics were much more muted.

My favorite beer of the tasting, a Saison Dupont, followed. It was presented in a tulip glass, which allowed for easy swirling to enhance the aromas of the saison. A brandy snifter or the Bordeaux wine glass would also do the trick. Not so much the other glass styles.

Next came that specialized Spiegelau IPA glass, which has what Barnett called “nucleation points” at the bottom of the glass. They’re basically grooves designed to refresh the beer, in this case, a Hop Notch IPA, with each sip.

“When I first saw this glass, I thought it was just a marketing gimmick, but when I tasted an IPA in this glass, I realized it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. It’s the perfect glass for an IPA,” Barnett explained.

Conversely, when the Hop Notch was poured in a tulip glass, much of the beer’s aromas, and quite a bit of its hoppiness, were lacking. And so it went with each beer and each glass.

The Coniston Bluebird Bitter was great in a mug but had a lot less life in a tulip glass. The Prairie Birthday Bump, a massive, high octane beer, was a terrific sipper in a snifter, but rather ordinary in a pint glass. And the Rochefort Trappist Belgium Ale was absolutely stunning in a Bordeaux glass and clearly stunted in a roadhouse glass.

“You can get as geeky as you want to with beer glasses,” Barnett mused. “but most people aren’t going to have six or seven types of beer glasses on hand. Still, they should know that a classic Bordeaux-style wine glass is great with a lot of beers, so they can do double duty.”

There’s no doubt your choice of beer glass will influence the flavors and aromas of the beer you consume. Does that mean I’m going to start a collection of beer glasses to accommodate by choice of suds?

Probably not. But I’m much more likely to make the right beer glass choice when I have a choice. And more knowledge is never a bad thing, right?

Happy National Beer Lovers Day! Prost!