I know it sounds kind of silly, but I think most beer geeks will agree – the glass that holds the beer is almost as important as the beer that goes into it. With the holiday season rapidly approaching and the final weekend of shopping upon us, it all of a sudden occurred to me that enthusiasts in any field can be a difficult lot to buy for. Beer enthusiasts are no different. If you’ve got a beer geek on your Christmas list and are stumped as to what to buy for him or her, you might want to consider one of the essentials for serious beer consumption: glassware. You might be thinking that there are so many different styles out there that it’s hard to know which glasses to buy, but have no fear! As a beer blogger that is well versed in beer consumption, I’m here to help.
Each type of glass is designed to highlight specific qualities of the beer it contains, so the decision you eventually make will likely depend on what type of beer your beer geek tends to drink. In fact, in places like Belgium and Germany with centuries of established beer culture, it’s customary to serve each beer in glassware specifically designed by that brewer to maximize the qualities that the brewer intends the drinker to experience. While it would be almost impossible to provide a different glass for every single beer we can get our hands on, a well-thought out selection beer glasses can certainly cover a wide range of styles. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll find while shopping for beer glasses and what you should consider before making a purchase.
Pub/Pint Glass. Pubs, bars, and lounges often serve beer in these tapered glasses because they offer maximum convenience. They are shaped for stackability (especially the ones that are grooved near the top) and often are made thick-walled for durability. Sadly, these don’t do much to enhance the profile of your beer – they’re just easy for bar staff to work with. Unless your beer geek is serving up pint after pint to guests and is constantly running around with empty glasses, I would skip this one in favour of something more specialized.
Pilsner Glass. These tall, tapered glasses are all about showing off your beer. Since pilsners and standard lagers are typically not complex in flavour or big on aromatics, these glasses focus on the visual appeal of the lager within. The skinny form factor highlights the clarity of the beer while allowing the drinker to observe the long journey the fine carbonation makes from bottom to top. I don’t often drink lagers, but I own a couple of these for the occasional time that I enjoy a Bohemian pilsner.
Mugs and Steins. These are my glasses of choice for most malt-forward beer styles like bocks, Märzens, brown ales, Irish reds, and spiced ales like pumpkin ales or winter warmers. The characteristic handle keeps the drinker’s hand away from the brew to ensure minimal heat transfer, while thick glass or even ceramic walls help keep the beer insulated and cold until the last drop. If you’re feeling extra fancy, ceramic steins often are quite detailed and ornate and are coveted by collectors around the world. For the traditionalist, some even come with a metal lid that were originally designed to keep out flies, rats, and other nasties during plague times. Come the Oktoberfest time of year, this is usually the type of glass that I use most.
Weizen Glass. This is the glass of choice for drinkers of German weizen or Belgian witbier. Typically tall and thin like a lager glass, the weizen glass typically curves near the top. It’s this shape that traps and retains the fluffy, generous head that really marks the staple of wheat beers, while releasing the banana, orange, lemon, clove, and coriander aromas that are typically found in those styles.
Tulip Glass. Aptly named due to it’s curved body, flared mouth and stemmed base, this is the glass that’s associated with most Belgian ales. The shape helps to retain the head and push aromas upward as the beer is consumed and further enhance the aromatics. Due to these characteristics, this makes it an excellent all-around glass fit for serving saisons, pale ales, sours, lambics, wheat beers, IPAs, and any number of Belgian strong ales. This is my personal favourite style of glass due to it’s versatility and it’s the one I most often reach for in my own cabinet. If you only ever own one beer glass, it should be a tulip.
Chalice or Goblet. Many of the finest strong ales in the world use a variation of a chalice or goblet as their official glass. The stemmed glasses are shallow and wide, allowing for more surface area and dispersion of any alcohol aroma that might be given off by these high-gravity beers. As an added design, the shallow profile of the glass allows the beer inside to warm quicker, bringing a chilled beer to the appropriate temperature quickly. If you find your beer geek gravitating to Belgian dubbers, tripels, and quads, a set of chalice glasses might be ideal.
Snifter. Being a huge fan of high-gravity, complex beers, the snifter is another favourite of mine and an essential glass in my cupboard. Typically reserved for brandy and cognac drinkers, the snifter is all about maximizing the surface area of a beer to disperse alcohol fumes and push the intense aromatics upward for the drinker to enjoy. There is no finer way to experience a hefty imperial stout, barleywine, or anything that has been barrel-aged. These glasses are usually stemmed and fit the hand perfectly, to allow heat to transfer from the drinker to the beer so they get the full warming effect of a beautiful, strong beer.
IPA Glass. This is the newest thing I know about in glassware and the newest addition in my cupboard thanks to a couple of great friends. Developed by the hop experts at Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada in conjunction with the folks at Spiegelau, these are the new glasses of choice for us hopheads. A funky-looking glass with a ribbed base and an inwardly-curved bowl, this is designed to accentuate the hop profile of the plethora of IPAs on the market today. The base aerates the beer while you drink and the curved shape pushes those aromatics upward and helps to retain the head of the IPA, allowing the drinker to get a good whiff of hops. They’re a bit on the pricey side at the moment, but a set of these will make any hophead very, very happy.
Taster Glasses. Also known as flight glasses or sampler glasses, a set of these smaller 4-5oz glasses are becoming more commonplace in the beer enthusiast’s household. Quite often these are sold with notched serving paddle, which are great for tasting parties and bottle shares. This is a great gift to promote social drinking and beer culture.
In truth, it’s hard to go wrong with any beer glass. Every time I get one, I am overjoyed with the prospects of what delicious brews I might fill it with. For some extra fun, you could try pairing your gifted glassware with a compatible beer. Happy shopping!