Straight to the Point
The best beer glass depends on a lot of factors (brew style, personal preferences, etc.), though we like tulip glasses for most brews.
About six years ago, my boyfriend (now-husband) John fell in love. We were moving in together and went shopping for furniture at a few local roadside antique shops. Our list had chairs, a couch, side tables, and maybe some tasteful decor.
But as I dragged a table across the gravel parking lot at one antique store, I saw John with something strange in his arms: a giant glass bottle. My first thought was: it’s a giant ugly vase. But then I saw him grab some gallon buckets with plastic tubes dangling from them and realized, this was not decor—it was a brewing kit.
For something like 20 bucks, my partner began his beer and brewing love affair, one that has endured as long as our relationship. And throughout these past six years, through him, I’ve learned a whole lot about brewing and drinking beer. One thing he’s taught me is the importance of the beer glass; as with wine, the glass you choose for a pilsner versus a dry-hopped IPA can actually make a difference. I consulted beer and brewing expert Randy Mosher (one of my husband’s beer heroes) to learn more about beer glasses (misconceptions, truths, fallacies), and how the shape of the vessel shapes your drinking experience.
First, Let’s Talk The Shaker Pint—And Why You Shouldn’t Use It to Drink Beer
Head to any dive bar (or just bar in general), order a beer, and there is a high probability you will be sipping your brew from a 16-ounce shaker pint. This ubiquitous glass has its origins as the glass half of a Boston cocktail shaker; it was never meant to be a beer glass. The shape, which is tall with a slight taper towards the bottom and a flat, wide rim, does a poor job of retaining and channeling flavor and aroma; the wide opening also causes the frothy beer head to dissipate faster than a curved option, like a tulip glass. But, as Mosher notes, it’s here to stay. “I call it the ‘cockroach of beer glasses,’ since they're going to be with us forever,” he says. “They're cheap, too, and stackable, which is essential in bars.”
But beyond affordability and storage practicality, why this became the quintessential glass for serving beer is unclear—though there are a few theories: some suspect it has to do with the rise of big beer, which didn’t require a particularly fancy glass to “enjoy,” since the beer itself wasn’t that remarkable (sorry). Mosher postulates that it was the closest thing we Americans could get to a British “nonick” pint glass without having to put in a special order.
Regardless of how it came to dominate the beer glass scene, we humbly ask you to leave the shaker pint for the mixologists and only use it in cases when whatever you’re drinking doesn’t have much in the way of flavor. To savor a good brew, we instead suggest you grab one Mosher’s favorite glass styles: the tulip.
The Case for a Tulip Glass
A Classic Tulip Glass: Spiegelau Beer Classic Tulip Glasses
A Modern Tulip-Inspired Glass: Rastal Teku Glass
The tulip glass is lovely in name, form, and function; these upside-down bell-shaped glasses capture and channel aroma into your mouth, not unlike a wine glass. “I really like a kind of tulip glass, about 12-ounces, where there is a bulbous lower half, and the rim flares out gently,” Mosher says. And while you can drink, say, a lager, in a tulip glass, they’re really great for beers where you really want to just luxuriate and appreciate all the flavor happenings going on—think complex stouts, IPAs (unless they’re hopped into oblivion, in which case, it might emphasize the flavors in an overwhelming way), and Belgian beers. My husband and I particularly enjoy savoring Belgian Flanders Red Ale style beers (like the almost cherry-cola/vermouth/wine-like Duchesse De Bourgogne, one of our favorite brews) in a tulip glass.
It should be noted, however, that this style of glass isn’t meant to be filled to the brim, just like you wouldn’t fill a wine glass to the top with wine; it defeats the purpose, negating the capture and directing of aroma and instead releasing it into the air.
Similar to the tulip glass is the Rastal Teku glass, which has gained popularity along with the rise of craft beer. This vessel takes the general shape of a tulip glass (though it’s a bit more angular) and pairs it with the stem of a wine glass (keeping your hand from warming the contents), combining the best of both worlds. Mosher notes they are “especially good for pure tasting (as opposed to drinking) since the widest spot is so low, and it doesn't take much beer to fill it to the widest point.”
Mosher also likes to use a smaller, snifter-type glass for stronger, special brews—think a rich, almost syrupy old ale, or a barleywine, which can clock in as high as 11% ABV (let’s just say you wouldn’t to slug a pint of it, or at least, you might not feel too good after if you do).
The Case for Using a Wine Glass to Drink Beer
Our Winning Universal Wine Glass: Riedel Vinum Zinfandel/Riesling/Chianti Glasses
Before you cry foul, know that this tip is Mosher-approved. “For conducting tastings, I often use wine glasses,” he says. “I always get a few raised eyebrows and an ‘Ooooh, beer in a wine glass?’ Yes, beer deserves respect, and a wine glass is generally a really good vessel for tasting, provided you don't fill it above the halfway mark.” The tapered bowl shape, which captures aroma, and the stem, which keeps your hand from warming up the beer, are features that lend this glass style to tasting beer—and it doesn’t hurt that you probably already have a few kicking around in your cabinets.
What About Pretty, Specialty Glasses? Are They Functional?
An English Dimpled Pint to Get You Started: British Pub Imperial Pint Dimple Glass
A Pretty Chalice-Style Glass for IPAs: Spiegelau Craft Beer IPA Glass
A Hefeweizen Glass: Spiegelau Hefeweizen Glasses
A Pilsner Glass: Libbey Stockholm Pilsner Beer Glasses
Some beer glasses just look stunning. Take Bavarian seidels or English dimpled pints, for example: both feature imprints on the sides that, for me, are reminiscent of the glass block walls that people installed in their homes in the 80s; they possess a sort of aquatic beauty, as if you are looking into the glass through ripples. I was curious if the looks have any practicality—do they affect the drinking experience? According to Mosher, it’s all purely aesthetics.
“They’re there just to look beautiful and visually amplify the colors of beer,” he says, noting that many dimpled glasses today are “mass-produced versions that were apparently inspired by hand-cutting/polishing on hand-blown ones from the 19th century, especially English ‘pillar’ ale glasses used to showcase the newly popular pale ales circa 1830.”
But just because a glass looks nice doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid drinking vessel. Mosher notes that oftentimes beer glass styles are more of a cultural tradition than anything. “While ales and lagers have a technical difference, [for drinking glasses] it’s more cultural, really,” he says. “I really do like a tall, conical pils glass, as it really shows off the golden shimmer. Chalice-type glasses really do make a Belgian abbey/Trappist beer feel special; Kölsch has those paper-thin 0.2L stange (cylinder); weissbier has the graceful vase. Those are all great, and each enhances the experience in its own way.”
And while certain glasses can enhance the drinking experience, in the end, Mosher recommends having fun with how you serve a pour. “I have a circa 1830 gorgeous, Irish cobalt blue chalice with hops and barley engraved on it, but any beer besides a stout or porter looks absolutely hideous in it,” he says. “Whatever makes you happy, just go for it. There's lots of great things at antique malls, flea markets, and on eBay that have more personality than what you can get off the shelf.”
What is the best beer glass?
There really is no right answer to this question, though, like Mosher, we like using a tulip-shaped glass or wine glass for most brews.
What glass should I use to drink an IPA?
The answer depends on the style of IPA you’re drinking—a double IPA is probably best served in a short and stout snifter, while a West Coast IPA is fine in a Teku or tulip glass.