Beer School: Glasswear

Sometimes the right drinking vessel can bring out the best in a beer

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We’ll often have a favourite beer glass at home that we just use for everything, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But many beer styles – traditional and modern – have their own associated style of glass.

Whether it’s the American shaker glass, the British dimpled ale glass or the earthenware German stein, a lot of these glass styles are deeply ingrained in the historical beer cultures of their homeland, and are instantly recognisable.

Others still have more obvious practical benefits, thanks to their ability to show off a beer style's specific selling points, whether clarity, head, carbonation, flavour or simply the brand’s logo.

Here are just a few of the most common beer glass styles for you to consider when you reach into the fridge…

Shaker pint glass

This sturdy, straight walled, stackable pint glass is probably the most common glass for beer in the United States at least (see below for the shaker’s British counterpart). You’ll find this 16oz (455 ml) glass exists in most bars or restaurants for serving up a generic ale or lager. Its name, shaker, comes from the fact that it’s the bottom half of the Boston cocktail shaker, and it became popular in the US after Prohibition, when the beer available was nothing special - so why have a special glass?

Use for: anything you like, including IPAs, stouts, porters, but especially for making up a negroni.

English pint glass

Also referred to as an Imperial glass, this tapered cylindrical glass has a slight lip near the top, to prevent chipping when stacked or washed together. It holds a precise 568ml (or a pint, for the Imperial-minded), is cheap to make, cheap to buy and easy to drink from. They’re also very simple to clean and, like the shaker glass, they stack, saving on space behind the bar. Watch out for those that are laser etched on the bottom - that’s a nucleation point for making your drink that extra bit bubbly.

Use for: a pint of mild or a classic brown ale.

Beer mug

These sturdy vessels are common in England, Germany and the United States, where their robust nature and ready-made handle makes them perfect for chinking together to toast another happy beverage. Typically thick-walled, their insulating nature keeps your beer cold, and the handle keeps your natural body heat away from your chilled brew. The dimpled variety of the beer mug, first made in Britain in 1938, looks more interesting, and some claim that the dimples help a drinker appreciate the overall color and clarity of their beer. According to historian Martyn Cornell, the arrival of the dimple coincided with the triumph of the lighter-coloured bitter over the darker mild, and amber beers look better in the refracted light of dimpled glasses than in straight-sides ones.

Use for: red ales; robust stouts; impersonating Thor.

Beer stein

What makes a stein a stein and not a mug? It’s the hinged lid, equipped with a handy thumb lever for opening. Steins can be made of more than just glass, so you’ll find varieties made from porcelain, stoneware, pewter, silver and wood. Originating in Germany, “stein” is an abbreviated form of Steinzeugkrug, the German word for stoneware jug or tankard. In the early 16th century many communities throughout Europe passed laws stating that food and beverage containers must have lids, and historically, steins were preferred because some believed they could prevent the spread of disease. Today, decorative steins have become collector’s items and are generally regarded as ornamental.

Use for: prettifying your shelves; warding off bubonic plague; session lager.

Goblet and chalice

The most iconic chalice is that of Stella Artois, thanks to billboard advertising demonstrating its long, thick stem, and tall, curved bowl. Goblets are much the same, though tend to be thinner and lighter than chalices with a shorter, wider bowl for analysing the complexity of a beer’s aroma. According to Stella’s marketing spiel, the chalice’s curved shaped was designed to enhance the beer’s flavour by releasing aromas when the liquid is poured. The stem is useful for keeping warm fingers off the cold glass, maintaining the beer’s chilled temperature. The round shape also maintains a consistent carbonation and foamy head, which is often sliced off with a knife after pouring if it rises above the level of the rim, which is often silver- or gold-coloured. This is pure bling.

Use for: heavy, malty beers, such as Belgian ales and German Bocks.

Pilsner glass

Designed for, well, pilsners, this glass is tall and skinny with a lightly nipped-in, low waist. For the most part, they hold slightly less beer than a pint glass, although size does vary. When the beer is poured in, it smoothly skirts the side of the glass until it reaches the kink, which tumbles the liquid into the wider bottom, nucleating it into a cascade of bubbles.The slender design also allows you to gaze upon the colours and carbonation, while the slightly wider top of the glass helps with foam retention, bringing out the drink’s true flavour profile and aromas. It’s very popular in both America and Europe.

Use for: pilsners, bock or kölsch.

Weizen glass

Very similar to pilsner glasses, these glasses have a strong, narrow base, a curve inwards, then outwards, then round at the top, the curvature of which marks them out from pilsner glasses. They are much taller than pint glasses, but hold about the same volume. Designed for use with aromatic wheat beers, the curved lip at the top helps to trap bubbles to form a thick foam head, allowing you to fully appreciate their aroma and flavour. Sometimes fruit is served on the rim of wheat beers, which is a bit of a no-no for the beer aficionado, since the acidity and juice of the fruit could destroy the foam head.

Use for: wheat beers and fruit beers.

Snifter glass

Typically associated with cognac and brandy, these glasses are great for releasing volatile aromas in a drink. The rounded bowl is perfectly shaped for cupping your hand around, where the urge to swirl your drink around with a thoughtful look on your face is irresistible. This stirs up the flavour and aroma compounds in your beer, sending them into the atmosphere ready for your nose to capture, bringing out the full bouquet of your brew. As such, don’t fill your snifter to the brim, or you’ll end up with some suspicious looking wet patches on your trousers.

Use for: stronger beer such as Double or Imperial IPAs and Belgian IPAs; quads; wee heavys; barleywines; and being Winston Churchill.

Tulip and thistle

Probably the most interesting shaped glasses on this list, they have a small stem and footer with a unique, bulb-like bowl on top, shaped like a tulip or a thistle, hence their names. The tulip glass has a top rim that curves outward, forming a lip that helps ensnare the foam head, enhancing the flavour and aromatics of hoppy and malty brews. The thistle glass resembles a stretched-out version of the tulip, but it’s slightly taller and has less of a curve around the lip. As per the snifter, the bowl allows you to liberally swirl around your beer, releasing the full aromas, and so long as you don’t fill it to the brim, there’s room to stick your nose in for a good sniff.

Use for: Scottish Ales, if you’re drinking out of a thistle glass, since it’s Scotland’s official flower. The tulip glass is commonly used for stronger brews, such as Double IPAs, Belgian ales and barleywines.

Stange glass

This is the glass of many names, including the strange glass, stick glass, pole glass or rod glass. Some are misnomers (and mis-spellings), but some are spot on, since the word “stange” is the German word for rod - which is exactly what it looks like. The stange glass is straight up and down, and generally, it will hold around 6.5 fluid ounces (185ml), but the size can vary and recently larger ones have been appearing. The firmer concentration of the important volatile compounds within the beer allows you to get a real sense of its flavour. Stangen are carried by slotting them into holes in a special tray called a Kranz (German for "wreath").

Use for: delicate beers, such as German Kölsch or Altbier, to help intensify the flavours and aromas.

Teku glass

A relative newcomer to the world of beer glassware, the Teku is similar to a tulip glass but with a longer stem, wider bottom bowl and a small chimney-shaped upper bowl. It’s an elegant and functional beer glass, designed by Italian beer experts and engineered by legendary German glassmakers inspired by the ISO glass used in wine tastings. People rave that they make beers taste better than they really are, thanks to the radial curvature which traps the aroma and the thin rim for the best possible exposure to the beer as it touches your lips.

Use for: sours; lambics; gruit, fruit, or heather beers.

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