What is the Best Glass for IPA Beer?
You’ve likely seen beer glass guides that help bar owners know which type of glass is most appropriate for each variety of beer. But did you know that there are even different kinds of glasses that are specifically best for different styles of IPAs? Let’s explore some of the thoughts behind different glass styles, how glass shapes impact the beer drinking experience, and which glasses are best for each type of IPA.
What is an IPA?
Before we dive into exploring all the different types of IPA glasses, let’s first discuss what defines an IPA. In a nutshell, an IPA is a beer that contains more hops, and therefore features a stronger hoppy flavor, than other styles of beer.
Some sources believe that this style of beer was developed in the 1800s as a means to preserve the flavor of beer being exported from England to India. The aromatic flavor of the hops proved to be so delicious that it didn’t take long for IPAs to become a popular style of beer that’s still being made today.
Types of IPAs
If we’re going to talk about which style of glass is best for each type of IPA, it makes sense for us to first review the features that define each type of IPA and figure out what elements make them unique.
- English IPA - The original IPA known for its dry and earthy flavor. These beers taste like golden ales brewed with British hops for subtle citrus notes.
- West Coast IPA - These beers span a wide range of flavors and styles, but are basically English IPAs that have been made with California hops, which have a stronger citrus and almost pine flavor.
- East Coast IPA - Building on the West Coast style of brewing, East Coast IPAs tend to include more yeast, which gives brewers more to play with in the flavor department.
- Double IPA (DIPA) - This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like… a stronger, hoppier beer with a higher alcohol content.
- Triple IPA - For beer drinkers who simply cannot get enough hops, there’s the triple IPA. They are pretty much as strong as a beer can get (clocking in around 13% ABV).
- Session IPA - The best of both worlds, Session IPAs have a strong, hoppy flavor and low alcohol content.
- Black IPA - If you assumed that a black IPA is a dark beer, you are right! This beer sits somewhere between an IPA, featuring a smooth and deep flavor, while highlighting hoppy notes as well.
- Belgian IPA - The word “Belgian” here refers to the type of yeast that’s used and implies that the brewer used yeast to manipulate the flavor of the beer.
- Grapefruit IPA - While there are all sorts of fruity concoctions out there, the grapefruit IPA seems to stand out as a summer favorite. Grapefruit brings out the citrus flavors in the hops to deliver a flavor that’s wonderfully fruity and slightly sour.
Why It's Important to Choose the Right Glass for IPAs
The type of glass you choose to serve beer in not only has a huge impact on the visual presentation of the beer and the first impression a customer gets, but it also affects the way that the aroma and flavors reach the pallet.
The shape of a beer glass will impact the foam or “head” that forms at the top of the glass after the beer has been poured. The thickness and retention of the head has a huge effect on the aroma of a beer because it captures compounds such as fermentation byproducts and hop oils. Just as with food, our sense of smell is activated before we taste anything and is an important part of the tasting experience.
What is the Best Glass for an IPA?
A great IPA glass will capture the aromas and help deliver them to the nose, so any glass with a bulbous shape that tapers inward at the top will do that. Another consideration is the depth and life of the head (or foam) that forms at the top of the beer after a perfect pour. Some glasses are designed to maintain that head for longer than others, and the longer that foam lingers, the better the drinker will experience the aromatics of the beer. Because aromatics are so important in IPA beers, you'll want to preserve the head of the beer for as long as you can.
Common Types of IPA Beer Glasses
While there's really no wrong way to enjoy beer, many beer experts have found that the shape of the glass does impact the way the beer behaves after it's been poured and certain styles of glasses lend themselves better to certain styles of beer. There are even specific glasses that are more effective for the subgenres that live under the overall IPA umbrella. Let's examine a few of them.
Goblet or Chalice
- Double IPAs (DIPAs)
- Triple IPAs
- Belgian IPAs
The bowl shape of stemware glasses, such as a goblet or a chalice, will preserve the aromas and carbonation of the beer. A large opening on the top accommodates a medium-sized head and options with taller bowls help to show off the color of the liquid.
- Imperial IPAs
- Other strong brews with a high ABV
This category includes tulips, and Belgian glasses that taper at the top. The pear shape of these glasses trap aromas to preserve them.
The Spiegelau IPA Glass
- West Coast IPAs
- East Coast IPAs
If you tend to frequent microbreweries, you may come across custom glasses that are designed by the people developing the beers themselves. One example of this is a Spiegelau IPA glass, which features a wide, hollow stem with an elongated bowl that tapers slightly at the top. This glass was specially designed through collaboration with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada to balance hoppy beers and create the best tasting experience for the drinker.
The unique shape of the Spiegelau IPA glass takes elements from existing beer glasses and combines them into one perfect vessel that’s designed to help beer drinkers experience American IPAs in the best possible way.
The owners of Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada experimented with different shapes of glasses for years and aimed to find the perfect shape that would bring the aromas of the beer straight to your nose.
Ridges in the hollow stem help to aerate the beer. They create more surface area and more friction, which helps to break up the aromatics as the liquid makes contact with the solid sides of the glass. The length of the bowl on the top of the glass helps to push the aromatics in a focused stream towards your nose, instead of dispersing them into the air, as you’d see with a standard pint glass.
What is a Nucleated Beer Glass?
Nucleated beer glasses have a ring etched into the bottom that gives the carbonation a point to form. This feature is beneficial for propelling the aromatics upward to enhance the aromatics. However, nucleated beer glasses are also known to expel carbonation more quickly, which can make beer go flat if it’s sitting around for too long. For this reason, nucleated glasses are mostly used for lighter, aromatic beers, and darker, heavier beers are best served in snifter glasses.
Nucleation at the bottom of the glass helps release CO2 bubbles and is perfect for American IPAs. For this reason, you’ll notice that the Spiegelau IPA glass does feature nucleation. So, if you’re looking for the best IPA glass, keep in mind that Spiegelau worked directly with brewers to design their glass.
Glasses That Are Not Recommended for Serving IPAs
Even though pint glasses are a go-to choice for many bars and pubs around the world, aromas escape from the open top too quickly and can weaken the impact of the IPA's flavor. With that being said, the appearance of a pint glass has a classic look that’s familiar and appealing to customers and they are easy to stack, making for easy storage.
Beer Mugs or Steins
You’ve also likely seen beer mugs, which are designed to prevent the warmth of a customer’s hand from heating up their beer. While it’s not very common for IPAs to be served in a mug, the same principle of preserving the temperature still applies. Just keep in mind that beer mugs are better for beers with bold flavors, rather than beers with complex flavors and aromas.
Clearly, there’s more to choosing the best IPA glass than you might think. But while there may be some overlap between beer styles and glass features, and you’ll even encounter opposing opinions as to which glass is best for a beer, taking the time to do some research, talk with brewers and learn more about different beer glasses can go a long way towards improving the experience for your customers. Most beer lovers appreciate knowledgeable bar staff and will love to learn about the science behind IPA glasses too. So, don’t be afraid to get excited about new barware and try tasting your favorite IPA from different glasses to see if you notice the difference for yourself.