You wouldn't serve soup on a plate, you don't serve sandwiches in a teacup, and you wouldn't dream of serving a Russian Imperial Stout in a pilsner glass. All right, maybe that last one didn't make quite as much sense as the first two. That's okay; this guide will boost your beer I.Q. and help you figure out what glassware you need to stay at the HEAD of the pack!
Why The "Head" Matters
The formation of a head of a beer is caused by carbon dioxide bubbles surfacing on the top of the liquid portion of a beer. This CO2 is present either naturally from the fermentation process in the beer's production, or by manually adding CO2 to the beer. The head's greatest function is to create that striking visual presentation of a newly poured beer. This could create a sense of freshness or signify what kind of beer is being served. In addition, head can also trap in aromas and flavors that are essential to getting the most out of your beer. Ingredients like malt, barley, hops, wheat, and other grains are a huge part of what kind of head a beer has, but the type of glassware a beer is served in also plays a large role.
Remember to keep drinkability in mind, i.e. a glass that is designed for sipping strong, malty beers versus a glass designed for healthy gulps of light, refreshing beer
Residual oils, grease, or detergents can subdue the carbonation of a beer, even in small amounts. Check out our cleaning guide to find some tips on how to avoid this by using the proper cleaning tools and chemicals.
Brewers are usually proud of the products they produce; don't be afraid to find out information about ingredients, production methods, and serving recommendations for the beers you serve. A little digging will probably leave you with a much better idea about what glassware is optimal for your beers.
There are countless varieties of beer and plenty of conflict and overlap with how beers are categorized. Get a sense of what glasses go with what beers, then just have fun creating the visual presentation you think looks best!
These types of beers boast complex tastes and aromas are often darker and heavier than other varieties. They also tend to have a thick, heavy head, and are often consumed at a slightly slower rate than lighter beers. All of these factors mean that a glass with a bulbous, sometimes tulip-shaped design is ideal, since it will help trap the flavors and aromas inside the glass. Less gulping and more sipping means that the glass shapes are sometimes smaller too and can have more intricate designs than other beer glass styles.
These beers are in the mid to high levels when it comes to color and alcohol content. Flavors of these beers have some depth and fragrance to them, but not intense hoppiness. These beers should have a medium-sized head that still needs a relatively large opening on the top of the glass to accommodate it. A glass shape that is more slender and tall than a standard goblet or snifter works best.
These beers are in the mid to high levels when it comes to color and alcohol content. They have medium to large-sized heads that still require relatively big openings on the tops of glasses. A glass-shape that is taller and more slender than a standard goblet or snifter works best with these.
These beers include traditional, medium alcohol-level ales and lagers that are not as filling as heavy stouts or Belgian beers. Although plenty of beers in this category have strong, hoppy attributes, they still have more straightforward, bold tastes rather than complex, multi-faceted smells and flavors. Since there doesn't have to be a focus on retaining understated smells and flavors, glass-shapes can be more simple, open, and cylindrical. These beers are typically served in glasses that are durable, have a large capacity, have handles, and have large openings for sizable gulps; they can be served in large quantities without sacrificing taste-quality.
Beers in this category include traditional, medium alcohol-level ales and lagers that are not as filling as heavy stouts or Belgian beers. The glasses that these beers go in are the most common beer glasses on the market, serving as an old standby when a versatile glass is needed. The heads on these beers should be small to medium, so the glass-shape need not promote the carbonation. Although plenty of beers in this category have strong, hoppy attributes, they still have more straightforward, bold tastes rather than complex, multi-faceted smells and flavors. Since there doesn't have to be a focus on retaining understated smells and flavors, glass-shapes can be more simple, open, and cylindrical. These beers should be served in glasses that are durable, have a large capacity, and have large openings for sizable gulps; they can be served in large quantities without sacrificing taste-quality.
Beers in this category include low to medium alcohol-level pilsners, ales, and lagers that are light, low on hop flavor, and refreshing. Heads on these beers are deep, but also airy and foamy. Carbonation and sparkling colors should be shown off with long slender glasses that highlight the bubbles rising from the bottom to the top. This beer is best served in a glass that tapers gradually as it reaches the top, lending itself to smooth, easy drinkability.
The sky is pretty much the limit with specialty glasses. Yard glasses, boots, and other giant glassware are, as you might expect, typically used for serving large quantities of beer (often at special events and parties). Generally, you want to stick with beers that are suitable for consumption in large volumes that won't have excessively thick heads or overly malty/hoppy flavors. Many of the beers you might serve in mugs, steins, and pint glasses (such as ales, lagers, and pilsners) are your best bets here.
Sample glasses can also be nice option for those serving fine beers, several reasons include:
Helps avoid excessive alcohol consumption while still allowing drinkers to try out several beers.
Breweries and specialty bars often offer a sampler option with all of the beers they are currently producing, increasing public knowledge of the products they offer.
Samples help avoid drinkers paying for a full beer that they are dissatisfied with.
Serving style is not quite as important as there is less liquid and carbonation to deal with. In addition, samples probably won't last long enough to worry too much about glass style. Still, there are stylish sampler glasses available as visual presentation is always important.