Why Your Beer Glass Matters

Photo: fmpgoh

In the past, we've talked about California's great canned beers, and waxed poetic about where to find some of the best bottled brews in Los Angeles. But if you've ever sat down for a session at one of the craft beer havens throughout Southern California, you might be surprised at the array of glassware available for your freshly-poured libation. But, really, what's the difference? Besides the obvious issues of pure volume, who cares if my amber ale comes in a pint glass or my fruity lambic arrives in a snifter?

A lot of people care, and you should too. Why take all the time to source your beer, fan through pages and pages of craft options, and often pay a premium for the brew, if you're not going to care how it's handled right before it gets set in front of you? If plating is important in a restaurant, pouring matters at your local watering hole. And, beyond the pure aesthetics and presentation, there are plenty of sensible reasons to pick the perfect glassware.

For most of us, the common unit of beer measurement is the pint glass. In America, that equates to 16 ounces of volume, with a mostly cylindrical shape and a large, open mouth at the top. For lots of beers, these will do just fine, as they're sturdy enough to handle heavy use, and the open top provides plenty of real estate for carbonation to take effect. The resulting glass is popular with many lower-alcohol 'session' beers, for their drinkability and gentle nature with a beer's foamy head. Variations on the traditional pint glass include the UK's 20-ounce Nonic version, with a slightly bulged ring towards the top (think of a traditional Guinness, and you'll start to understand), which acts as a grip for the larger pour and helps to corral the beer's head. Taller, more slender versions, such as Germany's thin, almost perfectly cylindrical stanges or the popular wheat beer glasses you might recognize from Blue Moon's ad campaign, offer a larger volume while slimming the opening, allowing many of the aromatic properties of the more delicate beers to be retained in the brew itself.

While it may seem unnecessarily jaunty to parade around the bar with a tulip glass or its squat cousin the snifter, these glasses are vital in helping to protect the integrity of your beer. For snifters, the wide mouths work wonders for heavier, stronger Belgian tripels and dark ales, as they don't require as much interaction with a large, foamy head. Additionally, the rounded, tapered corners are meant for swirling, to rustle up some of the beer's hidden aromatics. The more slender tulip has a tapered opening to allow for more head room, but otherwise maintains many of the taste-capturing qualities found in snifters. Both glass types also normally hold a smaller volume, which can be crucial for high-ABV beers that aren't meant for fast drinking.

Finally, the big boys. Mugs, steins, goblets, oversized wine glasses and -- yes, even boots -- all have their place. Traditional glass mugs and capped steins work well for two very simple reasons: they don't break when you clink them heavily around the table, and they've got tons of volume. Granted, you won't get all of the creamy head and fruity nose with the right beer in a smaller glass, but for pure fun-time drinkability, there's almost nothing better. Stemware like goblets and large wine glasses not only hold a larger volume than average tulips or snifters, the large open top provides plenty of room for carbonation to release the wonderful smells of a beer opening up to the elements. And boots, well, those are for the nights you don't want to remember, with enough photos to ensure that you never forget.

So there you have it. Don't be fooled by just any glass, and don't settle for less than the best when you belly up to your next bar. Your glassware matters; now all you have to do is find the perfect beer to drink. Easy, right?

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About the Author

Farley Elliott is a freelance food writer and comedian. He currently writes for KCET.org, SeriousEats.com, LAist.com, and L.A. Weekly. You can catch Farley doing comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Hollywood.
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