There's a popular bar in my neighborhood that is perfectly passable except for the fact that it serves beer in plastic cups. Not the flimsy red cups native to every college party, but the sort you'd expect to find at a local Salvation Army or a barbecue joint; opaque and pebbled, in mismatched colors. Sort of like this.
Is it whimsical and fun? Maybe to some (this bar is in Brooklyn, after all). But to even a casual beer enthusiast, the practice should be verboten.
The characteristics of various beer styles are best displayed, and enjoyed, in a range of beer glasses, each tailored to showcase particular facets of a given brew. And it's not just snobbery; it's science. The appearance of a beer can impact your perception of its taste, while the design of a glass can influence what part of the tongue does most of the tasting.
So what beer glass should you be using? To the cupboard!
As the name suggests, this glass is designed specifically with weizen — German for "wheat" — beers in mind. These tall glasses start narrow and bow out, leaving ample room for the voluminous heads common to wheat beers. Thin walls allow for maximum light penetration to highlight the sparkling yellow-orange hues. And as a bonus, since wheat beers are often low in alcohol and quaffed in warmer months, these glasses typically run on the large side (0.5 liters) to hold more thirst-quenching liquid.
Best for: Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, anything with "weizen" in the name, American wheat ales
The tulip glass may be the most versatile vessel of the bunch. Like their namesake, these glasses feature a bulbous body that tapers near the top, then flares back out to create a little lip. That subtle swoop aids in head retention, keeping a fluffy layer of foam atop the beer, while the mini-bottleneck traps "volatiles" — the compounds, like hop oils and spices, that give a beer its aroma. The little stem isn't just a nod to the eponymous flower either. It facilitates swirling, which reinvigorates the head and releases more aromatics. Traditionally used for flavorful Belgian and Scotch brews, the style suits most anything you pour in it.
Best for: Saison, Belgian strong ale, barleywine
With its narrow, conical shaft , the pilsner glass is perfect for showcasing the effervescence and clarity of pilsners and other similarly light-hued beers. The narrow neck keeps bubbles and aroma from escaping too quickly, while the slenderness lets more light cut through to make the beer appear far more appetizing than it would in a scuffed chrome can. It's like drinking out of a medieval herald trumpet, though with less saliva. There are a few variations on the standard glass, with some featuring a taller, more rounded shape, like a weizen glass. Slap a little stem on the bottom (a la Stella Artois glasses) and you've got another variation, the Pokal.
Best for: Czech and German pilsners, blonde ales, American adjunct lagers (Bud, High Life, etc.)
Ah, the tried and true pint glass. There are a couple of variations on the same design. There's the nonic pint, with a ridge near the top to facilitate stacking and to give drinkers a little handle of sorts. And, of course, there's the standard, ubiquitous conical pint glass, which tapers uniformly from top to bottom. So what are the pint glass' benefits? For drinkers, there really aren't many. Nonics tend to hold 20 ounces (an Imperial pint) so you get the benefit of more beer. And the larger size helps keep fizzy beers from foaming over. For bars, though, the benefits are twofold: Pint glasses are cheap and incomparably easy to stack. There's a reason your average bar slings suds in these guys and not in an esoteric, cumbersome cup like this one.
Best for: stouts, porters, pale ales
Suitable for: most anything, in a pinch
A regal glass for regal beers. Or, at least, a regal glass for looking regal while you drink. But goblets have a legitimate purpose, too. These typically come in smaller sizes (10 ounces) to hold strong beers. Sure, you may want to chug a 10 percent ABV imperial stout, but should you? And the bottom of their bowls are often etched on the inside, which gently nucleates the liquid to create a steady stream of bubbles that then form a constant, perfect head. Science!
Best for: Belgian abbey beers (Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel)
Impractical? Maybe. Entertaining? You bet. There are a couple of benefits to these vessels. They're comparatively enormous, so you can get a load of beer at once. And they're so thick you can clink them together without worrying about them shattering all over you — unless you're this unlucky/freakishly strong couple. Bad job, you two.
Best for: liters of German lager, but realistically, since these glasses are all about sheer volume and toasting, any beer at all.
There are plenty of other styles and sub-styles of glassware out there. Some breweries have even devised their own proprietary glassware for everything from stouts to IPAs; Sam Adams has a laser-etched "Perfect Pint Glass."
If you're a beer fan, please use the proper glassware. And if you aren't a beer fan, enjoy your corn water. I know a bar that will even pour it for you in a plastic cup.