Beer has a bit of a journey to make to end up in your stomach. In fact, it has to pass some pretty rigorous and protective barricades — our sensory shield — before it's allowed in.
The senses are the messengers to the control room we call the brain, and choosing a specific glass for different styles of beer can greatly enhance the sensory experience.
The same goes for wine; you've maybe seen folks swirl their wine glasses and take a good smell before taking the taste. Very similar tasting techniques and practices allow you to get the most out of your beer — and the glass it's served in makes the first impression.
The first step in whetting the appetite comes through the eyes. That means that the glass the beer is in must highlight the best of that beer. Most places that serve beer in glasses use clear glass. So, first and foremost, you can see the color. Next, you'll want to see a clean, white head and nice carbonation bubbles. The eyes see this and tell your brain that this looks good.
The next step is the aroma. As you bring the beer toward your mouth, the natural intake of breath will provide what is called the "nose" of the beer. If this "nose" bouquet, or smell, is pleasant and approachable, then the brain says "Get this into my mouth."
The shape of the beer glass plays a big part in this step, and different beer styles require different glasses to highlight the aromas. Once it's in your mouth, hopefully the eye and the nose were right in their assessment, and the taste buds agree.
That was a fairly simplistic explanation of why glassware matters, but it is a great starting point to highlight glassware styles and the beers that work best in them.
The No. 1 rule for glassware is it must be clean, free of any kind of sanitizer odors. Most breweries rinse their glasses after washing to ensure the chemical notes are gone, so taste and aroma are pure.
The size, shape and, most importantly, the way the beer glass highlights the beer and fits in your hand is the reason the glass was designed. Here's a list of simple glass styles and the beers they traditionally transport.
• Straight-sided glass: 10-20 ounces. Usually a lager or Kolsch glass, these are straightforward in the presentation of the beer contained. The glass highlights the colors and helps to send aromas to the drinker.
• Goblet: A glass that screams "I want an interesting, complex Imperial stout or crazy Belgian style beer in me." Goblets help the aromas and flavors in these beer styles shine.
• Snifter: 10 ounces. A small glass that highlights the flavors and smells of strong beers. The glass fits the style and strength of the beer.
• Pint glass: The tulip shape of the glass is designed to allow the beer's nose to meet the nose of the drinker, while the shape of the glass highlights the beer structure.
• Taster: 3-5 ounces. Designed for a small taste that helps determine if the drinker wants a larger pour. Tasters are great; I often use them.
• Wheat beer glass: These are always oversized, as the classic wheat beer pour has a 3-4 inch head of foam. German style wheat beers are highly carbonated and because of this they have a rich, white, ropy head when poured. Wheat beers will almost always have wonderful notes of banana and clove when poured, and the extra high foam highlights these aromas immediately.
From the 33.6-ounce "mas" glasses at the famous Oktoberfest in Munich to the tiny tasters at most of the breweries in America, the glass you request often enhances the sensory experience and the enjoyment your beer. Ask questions about why a certain beer is being served as it is. You might learn new things and or maybe dispense some of your own insights to your barkeep.