You might think it contained fine VSOP cognac, the way some people delicately sip from their snifter glass. But it’s beer – and not just any beer. Snifter glasses are the beer connoisseur’s choice for sampling high alcohol beers (over 8% ABV). Beers this strong are typically served in smaller quantities than lighter beers like lagers. The total alcohol content consumed stays at a reasonable level as beer drinkers enjoy strong Belgian ales with their Tripels and Quadrupels, as well as Barleywines, Scotch Ales and Imperial Stouts.
By enveloping the rounded base of the snifter glass with your hand, you can coax out more and more of the subtle volatiles of barrel-aged beer. Gentle swirling also helps release new components of the aroma. Although the snifter has a stem and a foot at the bottom, the stem is often deliberately made so short that the only way to hold the glass is by cupping it in your palm. The inward turn at the top of the glass helps to concentrate them within the bowl of the glass. History, culture, tradition, brewing art and great taste are then all yours as you enjoy your beer.
Try the Snifter Experience for Yourself
Don’t go thinking that snifter means snob! Sincere beer lovers drinking from a snifter take their beer seriously and know how much it has to offer in both taste and smell. Ask them about the experience and be prepared to hear some truly lyrical responses. Then see which of the snifter glasses below could bring you the same experience.
Luigi Bormioli Michelangelo
To get the most out of your Belgian sour or dark ale, the Luigi Bormioli Michelangelo is designed with smooth rims and edges and a titanium-reinforced stem. They sit low on the bar counter or table with considerable stability, with a balance between delicate elegance and durability.
A broad bowl and matching top opening for aroma capture without impeding drinking – that’s the nature of the Susquehanna snifter glass. Resisting chips, clouding and dishwashers, this glass holds 12 ounces and can do justice to the most complex of beer malt and hops combinations.
Spiegelau works its glassmaking magic once again on these large snifter glasses, each with a 29 ounce capacity but with thin walled, lasting elegance. This glass deserves a big hand – both figuratively for its polished brilliance and literally to hold it and use palm warmth to unlock the secrets of the beer you’re sampling.
Also a big snifter glass, the Waterford Marquis holds a practical 26 ounces (and a theoretical 32 ounces, filled to the brim). The quality of Waterford’s lead crystal shines through and the broad base lets you appreciate the colors and hues of your beer while you revel in the scents that escape from it.
Schott Zwiesel Tritan Crystal
These glasses are admirably suited to Belgian beers, not least because they are close to the design of the traditional Belgian goblet. Beer surface area is maximized and aroma optimized, while the addition of titanium and zirconium to the glass enhance its strength and clarity respectively. A sculpted shape and rim fineness add to an excellent beer drinking experience.
Luigi Bormioli Crescendo
More snifter glasses from the house of Luigi Bormioli, with this time the Crescendo that offers exquisitely thin edges with no lip. Italian designers and sensory experts have collaborated to produce a glass that sits comfortably in your hand and offers brilliant transparency for a full appreciation of whichever barleywine or Belgian ale you might be drinking.
The Libbey Embassy glass is a practical combination of a good snifter glass for sampling complex beers and robustness for everyday use – and the dishwasher afterwards. With a little more heft to them than some of the other snifter glasses, the Libbey Safedge Rim and Foot Guarantee indicates that these glasses will last a long time so that you can work your way through all those different brands of Belgian ale for instance!
Drinking edge (fineness, lipped or unlipped), overall capacity and hand size will probably be major criteria in your choice of a snifter glass. Once you’ve found the snifter that matches your expectations, you can get down to the serious work of checking out all those great, stronger beers and ales. Expect to keep busy for a good while to come!