Have you ever been digging in your grandparents’ cupboard for a glass…and any normal looking glass will do…wait, why does this one have a handle? Why is this one flared at the top? Why does this one have a stem?
If your grandparents were anything like mine, a lifetime of enjoying fine beverages has caused a myriad of odd looking glassware to coalesce in their cupboards over the years. What are all these different shapes for? Is there a purpose?
Those aren’t grandma’s teacups! It sounds you’ve stumbled upon a collection of style-specific glasses designed for different varieties of beer. And yes, there is a purpose to all of those different shapes. Depending on which style of beer you’re drinking, a specially shaped glass will accentuate the best qualities of that beer and enhance the drinking experience. Don’t believe me? Just try drinking a beer out of a glass that is not recommended, and then follow it up by drinking from the proper glass. I promise, you will notice a difference!
Let’s go over just a few of the different types of beer glasses out there, what beer they’re used for, and what makes them special.
A mug is a beer glass that is set apart by five attributes: a handle, a wide mouth, a flat bottom on the inside, sides that are straight or nearly straight, and it is made from thick glass. Each attribute is designed for a particular purpose. The handle allows the drinker to enjoy their beer without warming up the beverage with body heat. The wide mouth is a sign that this glass is for beers that do not possess an expressive aroma that would benefit from focusing the bouquet up towards the nose. The straight sides are another indicator that this glass should not be used for aromatic beers. As to the thickness of the glass, the school of thought is that thick glass permits bar goers to clink their glasses in a cheers with confidence. The flat inner bottom is a feature that I hope you never need to benefit from. The story goes that the flat bottom permits the drinker visibility of their surroundings while lifting the beverage to their mouth. In case you find yourself in a bar fight, you can see what’s coming at you…! Mugs are best used for beers that are crisp, dry and without strong aromatics, like lagers and American ales.
The stein is similar to the mug in every way, except that it is made out of stone instead of glass, and it has the added benefit of a retractable lid, usually made out of pewter. Steins were first created in Germany and often feature colourful images of drinkers enjoying Oktoberfest in Bavaria. The retractable lid is thought to have been an innovation dating back to the Black Plague. The lid could be closed between sips to keep disease carrying flies out of your brew! Like mugs, steins are best used for lagers and American ales.
A Hefeweizen is made from thin glass, is tall, and features a flared bottom and a wide top. Hefeweizens are designed to accentuate wheat beers. Wheat beers are bottled unfiltered which means they will be cloudy because they contain residual dead yeast cells. The tall, thin glass showcases the colour of the beer and its carbonation. The glass is flared at the bottom to trap some of these yeast cells apart from the rest of the beverage. The flared head of the glass is designed to focus fruity aromas up toward the nose, and also allows space for a foamy head that serves to lock in flavour and aroma.
A tulip is recognized for having a short stem, a bulbous body, a narrow waist, and a flared opening. This style of glassware is best suited to IPAs and Belgian Sours—beers that are aromatic and benefit from having a head. The stem allows for easy swirling which will open up the aromatics in the beer. The narrow waist helps to hold in the aromas and then focus them up towards your nose as you take a sip. The flared opening permits a foamy head to develop which will help lock in flavours and aromas until you begin drinking.
The next time you’re enjoying a beer from one of Niagara’s many microbreweries, give consideration to the glass that it is served in. Niagara’s brew masters craft their suds with a lot of tender care and hard work. Using style-specific glassware is a way to best appreciate the beverage and to pay homage to the brew master’s creation. And don’t forget to share with Grandma. Cheers!
By: Michael Twyman, Sommelier and Wine Smart Guide for Niagara Vintage Wine Tours and Bootleggers.