Gone are the days of asking for a beer at the bar and routinely getting a pint glass filled with light beer. Today, good bars have nearly as many glasses as they do beer styles. It begs the question: Does the glass you drink your beer in really matter?
The easy answer is yes. As with wine, different glasses bring out and highlight different flavors in a beer. No one is saying that you need to seek out the perfect lager glass for your Miller High Life, but when you’re spending money on a good craft beer, you want it to reach its full potential.
“Temperature matters the most,” Quinn Fuechsl, a brewer at Goose Island, tells me. “But glasses can accentuate certain characteristics.” He added that while glassware isn’t at the forefront of his thoughts, there’s just something wrong about getting Goose Island Bourbon County Stout or Gillian in a plastic cup.
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“Using the proper glassware shows that you care about service, and it’s indicative of a place overall,” Fuechsl says.
The Brewers of Pennsylvania lay out two key ways that glassware impacts your beer. First and foremost is aroma. Most of taste relies on smell, and the right glass will make sure you’re getting all the aromas that the brewer intended. The aroma is largely trapped in the head of the beer and can bubble right off if you let it sit in a wide-mouth pint glass.
A tulip-shaped glass with either with smooth curves or hard angles retains aroma in the bowl of the glass. Big hoppy beers with plenty of strong aromas can benefit from these types of glasses by giving you a lot of space to stick your nose right in there.
Glasses aren’t just for noses, though. Perhaps the most important thing the right glass can do for beer is affect its taste. Glassware won’t magically make bad beer become good, but it will encourage you to pick up on the full experience of a beer. A pint glass or mug is made for gulps of low-alcohol session beer, while a smaller-mouthed glass forces smaller, more concentrated sips.
In the end, if you’re served a beer out of the proper glass, that likely means you’re at a proper beer bar. We suggest doing yourself the same service at home.