Beer Geek

Taste-test: Do beer glasses enhance the brew?

June 20, 2012 at 7:29 PM ET

Jim Galligan /
Jim Galligan tests out beer glasses tailored specifically for different types of brews.

Of all the lessons I’ve learned about how to select, store and serve beer, the one area where I’ve slacked a bit is using the proper glassware. The glasses I use most often are a set of stemless wine tumblers. Sure, they might not be purpose-made for different styles of beer, but am I really missing out on that much?

 

The plan was simple: I’d pour the same beer into a wine tumbler and into one of the fancy Spiegelau glasses, and taste them side-by-side to see if there’s difference.  And there was  — an enormous one.  It’s like the first time I watched TV in HD.

Tall Pilsner glass

This glass is gently tapered inward from top to bottom to promote a generous and long-lasting head, which helps to amplify the hop presence of the beer. The tall and narrow design also shows off the beautiful pale color of the beer and serves to chimney the hop aroma to your nose.

The beer I chose to test this glass is one of my favorite summertime treats, Victory Prima Pils. The tall pilsner glass delivered the beer’s aroma in a tight spiral to my sinuses, with a soapy blast of herbal lemon and just a hint of funk.  This amplified sense of hops continued as I tasted the beer, and hung in there through the finish, with the light malt backbone and sweet citrus notes fighting and mostly failing to get a word in edgewise.

When I tried the same beer in a stemless wine tumbler, everything was much more balanced and more pleasurable.  In the case of Prima Pils, the Spiegelau tall pilsner glass works a little too well for my tastes.  It made me think that maybe I need to find a new go-to pilsner, which wasn’t the outcome I was expecting.

Wheat beer glass

Wheat glasses are big, because wheat beers usually have a lot of carbonation and pour with a very foamy head.  I put this to the test with the Summit Brewing Company Dunkel Weizen, and I only got about eight ounces of beer on board before I had to stop and wait for the huge head to settle.

The tall profile of this glass certainly showed off the dark malty goodness of the Summit, and the gently tapered rim helped to hold the beer’s roasty aroma inside the glass, where it was fully appreciated by my grateful nose. This is the first time I’ve tasted this beer, and although I’m usually not a fan of wheat beers, this one is a sweet, toffee-flavored treat, especially in this shapely glass. 

By contrast, the Summit Dunkel Weizen just kind of laid there in the wine tumbler, which presented it in more of a take-it-or-leave-it fashion.  I think I’d probably leave it in that case, and miss out on this rather subtle and tasty treat. 

Lager glass

This puppy holds 20 ounces of beer, large enough to fit the contents of tallboy can of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA. The top of the glass tapers slightly outward to release the aroma of the beer and promote head retention. It also sharpened my perception of its contents, once again to the detriment of the beer it held.

I now realize that Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA is lacking a bit of the balance I look for in an IPA, venturing a bit too far into piney hop territory for my tastes.  The balance is better when I drink it from a wine tumbler, as the hop signature and the rest of the flavor is just a little bit duller, helping to mask the part of the flavor I don’t enjoy.  Bummer for my future with Torpedo, but I’m sure this glass will only heighten my appreciation of other, more balanced beers.

Stemmed beer tulip

I’m a sucker for a goblet or a tulip glass, because they are the proper vessels in which to serve the dark, malty brews I love.  The curved edge of this glass holds the rich aromas in place, and when you take a sip, you’ll find your nose tucked into directly into a cloud of perfumed wonder. 

I poured one of my favorite beers, New Holland Dragon’s Milk, in the stemmed tulip and it made me nervous. After all, the heightened sense of taste these glasses provide have made me reconsider my love for two very good beers up to this point.  I shuddered to think what it might do to my relationship with this amazing Bourbon-barrel aged ale. 

And then I took the first sip and was completely blown away by how wonderful this beer was.  It was like when I saw my wife come down the aisle in her wedding dress, her beauty and vitality somehow distilled into an even more potent form.

There’s been a flavor in this beer that’s eluded me for a couple of years, a sweet something playing just behind the barrel notes and the booziness that I adore but couldn’t put my finger on.  I took ONE SIP from the Spiegelau beer tulip and it leapt out at me – root beer barrel candy. I loved that flavor as a kid, and there it was clear as day. 

I took a taste of Dragon’s Milk from a glass wine tumbler and sure enough, the root beer barrel flavor was once again obscured.

You can get a set of beer glasses for around $40, and I can’t think a better investment in your enjoyment of good beer. But be warned - once you’ve had a beer from good glassware, there’s simply no going back.

Jim Galligan is co-founder of the Beer and Whiskey Brothers blog, where he and his brother Don cover the ever-evolving world of craft beer and distilled spirits. Follow him on Twitter. 

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