Did you know that each type of beer glass affects the taste, the aroma and the appearance of beer? And that each type of beer, whether a German Pilsner, a Belgian Abbey Ale, an Irish Stout or an American IPA, is often ideally suited to just one kind of glass? Yes, those differences in shape and volume can give you a variety of beer-drinking experiences. Subtle or significant, it’s worth knowing what your choices are. It could mean the difference between beer boredom and beer nirvana!
Why should the design of a beer glass have such an effect? One big reason is the presence of ‘volatiles’ in beer. These natural substances evaporate from beer when it is exposed to the air. Hop oils, fusel from fermentation and even spices all mix together to form the beer’s aroma. The depth and width of the beer glass will concentrate their smells either more or less. The presence or absence of a stem will determine to what extent the warmth of your hand encourages them to emerge from the beer itself. The nature of the glass itself may also encourage streams of tiny bubbles that help maintain a good head to the beer, and in turn prevent the volatiles from escaping too fast.
Since the Sumerians invented the first ale about 6,000 years ago, there’s been ample time to diversify types of beer and types of beer glasses – not to mention types of beer drinkers. Novelty beer glasses aside (and there are a lot of them), you might even guess the personalities of people drinking beer simply by looking at the type of glass they choose. For example…
A goblet or chalice glass goes with a sense of tradition and perhaps a slight penchant for opulence.
Beer mugs on the other hand are more for the socially active to chink together before they drink.
Pilsner glasses and weizen glasses bring tall, cool elegance to the party – you might find artists, designers and fashion followers using these.
And the snifter? That’s for the discerning drinker for whom a good beer is as rich and complex as any vintage wine or liqueur.
But to get the lowdown on the main categories of different beer glasses, what better way than our handy beer glass chart below, with at-a-glance information on 13 different types of glass?
Once you know a little about the history of these glasses and the reasons for their different shapes and designs, you’ll see how to make better choices about a glass to go with a given beer. Let’s delve into some of the more popular types.
Goblet and Chalice Glasses
1,000 years ago the biggest producers of beer were the medieval monasteries in Europe. These bowl-shaped goblet glasses with their stems hark back to the artefacts of that age. Where goblet glasses are thinner and more delicate, chalice glasses are heavier with thicker glass walls. In both cases the stem helps the beer to stay at a constant temperature without being affected by the warmth of the drinker’s hand. They suit beers that are rich in malt and barley wines. India pale ales, heavy Belgian ales and German bocks are also good choices. These beers also typically have modest heads – some chalices are etched at the bottom to generate a stream of bubbles to help maintain the level of foam.
Mug glasses have one thing that almost all the others don’t – a handle. They are also typically robust in construction, built to take constant manual washing and a certain amount of being knocked together (‘cheers!’). The dimpled mug was a common site in English pubs, until machine washers were introduced in the 1960’s and straight thinner-walled glasses became more widely used. But the dimpled beer mug never went away and recently has been making a comeback. The thickness of the glass helps keep beer within a narrower temperature range. The versatility of mug glasses is such that you can reasonably drink a variety of beers from them – American lager, English bitter and Irish stout are all possible.
Especially suitable for beers that are both translucent and light in hue, pilsner glasses are tall and slender and let you see the bubbles rising against the light. The slimness also keeps the beer’s head intact for longer. This is important for lighter beers like pilsners, lagers and certain red ales with a delicate head that also contains a large part of the beer’s aroma. The elegant shape of the pilsner glass is typically balanced by a heavier base to give better stability. It also exists in a shorter form with a stem, known as a pokal glass.
Pint (Nonic) Glasses
Why ‘nonic’? Simply because these glasses have been designed to be ‘no-nick’, meaning to resist ‘nicks’ which are chips or fractures in the rim of the glass. The trick is to make the glass conical with a wider mouth and a slimmer base, and to put a slight circular bulge in the glass an inch or two from the top. The bulge is there for three reasons: better stacking of pint glasses, easier to hold and as an aid for foaming to produce an attractive head. Dark, red and cream ales all do well in a nonic glass. Lagers and lighter beers are possible too, although the straight pint glasses (no bulge) may be a better choice. Pint glasses, as their name suggests, hold one imperial pint of beer, which is 568 milliliters or about 1.2 American pints.
When you look at snifter glasses, you might immediately think of brandy or other high-octane drinks. They have a similar shape to brandy glasses with a round, somewhat spherical body drawing in at the top to a narrow opening. Beer snifters are also aimed at beers with higher alcohol content – say 7%, instead of the 4% of ‘standard’ lagers for example. And like brandy glasses, while they have a broad base connected to the round glass by a short stem, the natural way to hold the glass is to slip the stem between your fingers and hold the bowl of the glass in the palm of your hand. That encourages the release of the volatiles in the beer, which then rest longer within the bowl thanks to the narrowness of the opening at the top. Belgian ales, wheat wines and barley wines are all examples of higher alcohol content beers that are appropriate here.
Tulip glasses are also well-suited to ‘bigger’ beers and ales. They tend to be smaller than other beer glasses, but then you’ll probably drink less of a higher-alcohol beer. They also have a rounded body to concentrate aromas in the beer below the ‘waistline’ of the tulip glass, before continuing upwards to flare gently out again. This design encourages larger heads with firmer foundations. The attraction of a tulip glass is therefore in the look as well as the smell of the beer.
If pilsner glasses are elegant, weizen glasses are downright slinky. Tall, narrow at the base and slightly wider at the top, the weizen glass has an ‘S’-like curve to it compared to the more conical shape of the pilsner glass. Weizen glasses are used for wheat beer that typically produces a generous head of foam and that may also have some sediment. They often widen slightly just before the base in order to contain any cloudiness. Don’t be surprised if your weizen glass is handed to you either wet or with a little water in the bottom for wetting the rest of the glass. This helps reduce excessive foaming when you pour your beer into it.
From the German word for “stick” comes the Stange Glass, sometimes referred to as the “champagne flute of the beer world”. The stange features a tall, thin cylinder—an elegant glass for your more subtle and delicate beers. Designed to bring out the flavors and aromas of beers such as Kölsch, bocks, and some pilsners, the thin glass and perfect cylindrical shape amplify nuances one might miss in a thicker, curvier glass. Basically, if your pilsner glass isn’t quite getting everything out of your beer, that’s when you bring in your stange.
The Flute Glass is another piece of glassware inspired by the champagne world. In fact, the untrained eye will often mistake a beer flute for a champagne flute—though the only time this will ever cause major problems is if you’re playing a heated game of “guess the flute glass”. The beer flute glass offers slightly thicker glass and a slightly shorter stem to account for the minor differences between the beverages, but the purpose of both flutes is identical. This is a glass designed to retain carbonation, show off your beer’s color, and ensure that your beer keeps its bubbles. Take this glass off the shelves for your lighter ales and lagers, or for when you get adventurous and sample a Biere de Champagne.
The Thistle Glass is one of the most unusual glasses in the glassware collection. Introduced by the same country that gave us golf, bagpipes, and haggis, the Thistle Glass is essentially a Tulip Glass modified to resemble the national flower of Scotland. The glass tapers evenly from the top until erupting into a globe-like bulge just above the glass stem. Naturally, the glass is ideal for your Scotch Ales, as the glass is designed to trap the foam and flavor and preserve the volatility of the drink.
Oversized Wine Glass
The Oversized Wine Glass is obviously one of the few glasses in this list not meant for beer—though no one’s stopping you if you insist on filling it with lager. This is a wine glass made for wine drinkers, not wine tasters. The smooth glass and bowl shape help to project the aroma and flavor of the wine, but the uniqueness of this glass lies in the quantity that it holds. If you plan on downing an entire bottle of wine in one sitting (or sharing a glass between friends), the oversized wine glass ensures that you only have to pour once, and most easily hold the contents of an entire bottle of wine.
Stein Mugs, to be completely accurate, don’t belong in a list of glassware, but in a list of stoneware. Derived from the German word for “stone”, Stein Mugs were originally crafted from a mixture of calcium oxalate, protein, and sugar—creating a smooth, study finish that could be used repeatedly without regular cleanings. Modern Stein Mugs, however, tend to be made from glass, porcelain, or silver, and most feature a traditional pewter lid—ideal for keeping bugs out of your ale while drinking outside. While primarily decorative or nostalgic, the steins do come in handy when drinking the thicker German lagers.
The Schooner Glass is another glass ideally suited for darker or thicker beers—such as German wheat ales. The thick glass bowl is kept away from the drinker’s hand by a glass stem, which helps the beer stay cooler longer and thus preserve the taste. Schooner Glasses are also traditionally thick and sturdy, despite the elegant stems, and were built with pubs, rugby, and rowdy toasts in mind. Durable and efficient, this is the beer glass for strong drinkers and their strong beers. However, if you happen to order a Schooner while wandering through Australia, you may wind up with something completely different—as a Schooner there is considered an element of measurement (like a “pint”) and not a type of glass.
Now You Know!
With these pointers, you’ll be well-prepared to pick the right glass to go with your favorite beer. If the fancy takes you, why not choose a range of different types for drinking a variety of beers? Another option is to use an ‘all-round’ beer glass in the first instance (beer mugs and tulip glasses are good for this), and then take a little more time to decide on others to add to your collection.