Class in a glass: Beer glassware

Norman Miller

01 March 2016

Glassware can make a big difference to the flavour and theatre of your beer serve. Norman Miller unveils the four glass types that should be on every customer's lips

There’s an unkind joke about the difficulty of naming five famous Belgians. Turn the subject to Belgian beer glasses, though, and savvy drinkers could probably reel off five favourites from the array beloved of our beer-worshipping Euro neighbours.

Glassware really does affect the experience of different beers. As soon as a beer hits the glass, its colour, aroma and taste are altered, while visual perceptions are shaped before you taste a drop as a glass highlights nuances such as colour, bubbles and head. The enjoyment of a beer simply becomes more complex and complete.

‘There is no better way to express the flavour, taste and variety of beers than glassware,’ says chef Sriram Aylur, whose Michelin-starred London restaurant Quilon is famed for five- and eight-course beer and food matching menus that use different glasses for each course.

Aylur bypasses the need for extra storage by using glasses traditionally deployed for wines and spirits – martini, brandy balloon, champagne tulip. ‘When a nice clear beer like Kasteel Cru is served in a champagne tulip it looks beautiful,’ he says. ‘The shape of a brandy balloon helps express the “weight” of a beer – serving beers with high alcohol content in the balloon encourages the guest to drink slowly. And when a dessert beer is served in a martini glass it expresses the colour and makes the beer look more sophisticated.’

‘The rim is especially important,’ says Jane Peyton, Britain’s Beer Sommelier of the Year 2014, who is also UK ambassador for Friends of Glass, a community of people supporting the use of glass packaging. ‘Narrow-mouthed rims encourage sipping, so the beer reaches the front and sides of the tongue first, where sweetness and acidity register. A wide-mouthed rim encourages glugging, which directs the beer to the back of the tongue where bitterness registers.’

There is no better way to express the flavour, taste and variety of beers than glassware

Sriram Aylur

The design of a glass also significantly affects the all-important level of carbonation. ‘On the tongue, carbonation adds acidity, a spiky texture, and also bitterness,’ explains Peyton. ‘Depending on the shape of the glass these characteristics can be enhanced, or dulled.’

Head development and retention also affects how a drinker will experience volatile compounds in a beer – hop oils, fusels (some of the alcohols that carry aromas) and fruity esters, which impact on taste and perception.

Here, Peyton picks out four glasses that will help to improve your beer serve, whether you run a hipster bar or fine-dining restaurant. We can’t help with the five famous Belgians, though...

Looks like: Stemmed glass with a bulbous body, where the top of the glass pushes out a bit to form a lip in order to capture the head.
Jane Peyton’s USP: ‘To me this is the most perfect shape for a beer glass. It turns drinking the beer into a ritual. The shape of the mouthhelps retain a foamy head.’
Best for: Belgian pale ale, saison, stout, IPA and other pale ales

Looks like: Tall and slender, with a flared top.
Jane Peyton’s USP: ‘Specifically produced to take on volume and head, while locking in the banana-like and phenol aromas that are associated with the style. This is perfect for accentuating foamy heads. As the name suggests, it suits wheat beers, which typically have a big head – but other styles can be served in this glass too.’ This classy glass, with its thin walls and length, showcases a beer’s colour and allows plentiful space for the fluffy eye-catching head associated with the style.
Best for: Wheat beer, bock, Berliner Weisse

Looks like: Wide-rimmed glass on a stem.
Jane Peyton’s USP: ‘The design permits a big foamy head and complex aromas to develop. It encourages sipping – and that means the beer hits the front of the tongue first where sweet flavours register. Plus a chalice suggests a bar gives the beer due reverence!’ This majestic glass ranges from delicate and long-stemmed (goblet) to heavy and thick-walled (chalice). The more delicate ones may also have their rims laced with gold; a device aimed at delivering a smoother pour. Some have microgrooves scored in the inside bottom of the glass, creating a CO2 nucleation point that creates a continuous stream of bubbles and well-retained head.
Best for: Abbey beers, porter, English strong ale, dubbel, tripel

Looks like: Large and narrow at the rim, with a footed stem.
Jane Petyon’s USP: ‘Easy to swirl so the beer releases its aromas; and it’s elegant.’ The wide bowl and tapered mouth of this glass is perfect for capturing aromas. Volumes range, but they all provide room to swirl and enhance the hit of those all-important volatiles.
Best for: Bière de garde, frambozen, kriek, stout, eisbock, red ales, gueuze, fruit lambic, scotch ale/wee heavy

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