If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve advanced past the stage where plastic Solo cups serve as “glassware” for all your beer-drinking needs. Maybe you bought a six pack of some pretty nice beer, and you want to know how best to serve it. Or maybe you’re trying to figure out why certain bars keep giving you certain glasses when you order certain beers. Is there something you don’t know?
It depends on how much you really want to know. Most beer is best served not in a bottle or a can but poured into a glass, so factors like color, aroma, and head actually have a chance to influence your experience. But the kind of glass you pour your beer into can also vary.
That’s because over the years, different shapes and styles of glassware have been developed to enhance the experience of different beer styles. In fact, some breweries will develop glassware specifically to go along with a certain beer, which is why some bars might even have as many styles of glasses as they do styles of beer. Over time, a suspicion cropped up that this was more a marketing ploy than a necessary factor in the enjoyment of beer, which is probably true to a certain extent. But there’s also no doubt that a few different kinds of glassware will serve best for different beers.
Among the most basic—and most ubiquitous—types of beer glasses you’ll see out there are pint glasses. American or European, clocking in at 16 and 20 ounces respectively, they’re medium cylindrical glasses with a moderately narrow body that opens up toward the top, releasing aromatics and holding a large amount of head, where applicable, and serviceable for many types of beer. Pilsner glasses are like narrower, sloping pint glasses (and developed, clearly, for Pilsner-type beers), while Weizen glasses have a sort of tulip shape at the top, are usually larger (holding ½ liter of beer), and were developed to play up the head and flavors of wheat beers. The stange (German for rod or stick) is less than half the size of a pint, resembling a Tom Collins glass, good for magnifying the flavors of a more delicate beer.
Anyone who’s ever done a hearty “cheers” knows the mug shape, which is most often some variety of thick (sometimes textured) glass cylinder with an accompanying handle, while a stein is basically the same except it can be made out of other materials (think pewter, porcelain, etc.) and was developed with a lid as a means of keeping out flies carrying the Bubonic plague. The lid remains, but more for style than plague-readiness.
Deeper into beer appreciation you’ll find things like goblets, tulip glasses, and thistle glasses, all of which have stems and some form of bulbous shape to gather and enhance aromatics and allow for things like swirling and foam retention, often for higher alcohol and/or generally power-packed beers. But if you’re just starting out, your best bet is to keep it simple, tasting a variety of beers in one fairly basic glassware type, and saving those Solo cups for a picnic.