Learning the correct way to serve beer is probably the quickest and easiest thing a person can do to enhance their drinking experience. Ever remember being at a bar and getting handed an ordinary pint beer with absolutely no foam and the beer poured right up to the lip of the glass? If not, I don’t blame you, since I’m sure the experience was not memorable. On the other hand, can you remember being given a truly beautiful looking beer? Perhaps it was a wheat beer served in a tall, curving glass with a huge head of foam, and maybe a wedge of lemon placed on the rim? Or was it an ornate chalice filled with ruby red Belgian dubbel? Maybe it was a bright pilsner served into a tall, thin glass with a dollop of white foam on top. Chances are, those experience come more easily to mind. And while the beer itself may not have been different from the first scenario to the next few, the serving technique was, and it most likely had an impact on you whether you realized it at the time or not.
Most beers have an ideal serving temperature. There’s a chart below outlining which styles are served at what temperature, but as a general rule the temperature at which to serve a beer is correlated to the strength of the beer. As beers go up in alcohol, they are generally drunk at a warmer temperature. This is because stronger beers often are sipped slowly, and enjoyed for their complexity of flavor and aroma while weaker beers are often consumed for refreshment. For no style is this more apparent than American macro lagers, which are generally drunk so cold that you can’t taste them. There’s a reason those big brewers want people to drink their beers at tongue-numbing temperatures. As they warm up, they don’t taste very good.
Very Cold: 35-40 degrees
- American Adjunct Lagers (“Macros”)
- Malt Liquors
- Light or low alcohol beers
Cold: 40-45 degrees
- Light-bodied lagers
- Belgian Wit
- Berliner weisse
- American Wheat
Cool: 45-50 degrees
- American Pale Ales
- Medium-bodied lagers
- India Pale Ale (IPA)
- Irish Stouts
- Sweet Stout
Cellar Temp: 50-55 degrees
- Sour Ales
- English Bitter
- Strong Ales
- Baltic Porters
- Scotch Ales
- Belgian Ales
- Trappist Ales
Warm: 55-60 degrees
- Imperial Stouts
- Belgian Quads
- Belgian Strong Ales
- Barley Wines
- Old Ales
Beer glassware comes in many shapes and sizes. In Belgium, it’s common to have a different glass for each brand of beer! While breweries may claim that the glasses were designed specifically for their beer, and there’s no arguing the fun in drinking a beer from its own specific glass, the fact of the matter is that there are really only a few types of glasses you need to know about, in addition to a couple general principles about beer glassware.
When drinking beer, the size of the glass matters. As the strength of the beer you are drinking goes up, the size of the glass you are drinking it from should go down. The reasons for this are pretty obvious. First, you generally drink strong beers in smaller portions, so you want the glass to be full at that portion size. That way, you aren’t drinking your 6 oz. tasting of English Barleywine as a thin film spread across the bottom of a 2 liter German boot, although that would be pretty awesome. Second, in big glasses, gravity aids in getting the beer to your mouth quickly. When taking a sip of that refreshing pilsner, as you tilt that long, tall glass up into the air, there’s a lot more beer being pulled towards your mouth. This accelerates the beer and makes taking big, satisfying sips easier. Try doing that with the English Barleywine and it will be half gone by your second sip. And since the Barleywine is likely two to three times the strength of the Pils, you’ll be half gone too!
Shape matters too
As you most likely already know, there’s a wide variety of shapes for beer glassware. Usually the shape of the glass will highlight the defining feature of the beer that should go in it. With wheat beer glasses, for example, the tall, thin, lower portion of the glass highlights the striking color of the beer, while the bulbous top portion leaves plenty of room for a large fluffy head of foam. The overall size of the glass also makes it easy to drink large, thirst-quenching sips.
Glasses that curve inwards toward the top, such as snifters and tulips, focus beer aromas at the rim of the glass. This is perfect for beers with complex noses, like Belgian Tripels or Imperial Stouts.
Overview of glassware types
As was mentioned above, there are many, many types of glasses that you can pour beer into. Below are some of the main glass types you might want to know about.
The Shaker Pint was originally designed for bartenders to mix drinks in before serving. But the extremely sturdy – and cheap – shaker pint quickly became the glass of choice for beer in America. This glass lends little to the drinking experience.
The Nonic pint is basically the Shaker pint’s European cousin. The glass of choice in the UK, the Nonic has rounded flares at the top, presumably to help grip the glass, and is more visually appealing than the Shaker pint.
Despite the name, Pilsner glasses are great for any light or medium bodied lager, such as Helles, Vienna, Dortmunder, and of course, Pilsner. The fluted shape of the glass promotes head retention and allows the delicate aromatics of lager to be released. They are also designed for drinkers to take large, refreshing gulps. Prost!
The tall, thin weizen glass is sure to get some ooh’s and ahh’s when served at the local pub. The lower portion of the glass highlights the striking color of the beer, while the bulbous top portion leaves plenty of room for a large, fluffy head of foam. The overall size of the glass also makes it easy to drink large, thirst-quenching sips.
Tulip glasses are perfect for a wide range of craft beers. The stem at the bottom keeps your hand from prematurely warming the beer, the inward curve toward the top collects aromas, and the oversized height of the glass above the bulb allows for plenty of foam. The most famous, and perhaps most beautiful tulip glass is made by the Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat for their signature beer Duvel. When in doubt, reach for a tulip glass.
Goblets are most often associated with Belgian Abbey style ales such as Tripel or Dubbel. The heft of the glass matches the heft of the beer within, and the wide mouth of the glass allows for generous sipping. Goblets can be quite striking, and the custom versions of the glass for Trappist breweries such as Chimay and Orval have become synonymous with their beers.
Snifter glasses are best used for strong, highly complex beers such as Russian Imperial Stout or Barleywine. The inward curved glass concentrates the aromas of the beer towards the drinker’s nose, and the large bulb allows room to swirl the beer, helping release the aromatics.