Apparently, there’s quite a debate in the beer world about whether glassware matters. I’ve read several blogs lately that fall all along the spectrum of opinions. Those who believe it matters tend to fall under the “tradition” spectrum with the logic that the beer developed in concert with the appropriate glassware for a reason. This is a fairly legitimate argument, although not 100% fool proof. Certain traditional styles were designed to highlight other attributes than just flavor. The traditional tall weise beer glass was designed to build a huge, fluffy head, build long streamers of carbonation, and highlight the elegant cloudiness and “glow” of the light passing through the beer. Visually, it makes for a striking presentation. Additionally, it will taste good; partially because of the experiential factor and partially because of the significant head.
The other side of the debate rebels against specific glassware because is smacks of snobbery, and dare we say, WINE snobbery. The world of wine is filled with dozens of different glasses supposedly designed by style experts to highlight and properly present the wine in its best light. Surely, this can’t be right! It’s just a way to sell more glassware. It’s probably a little of each. Sometime, try taking a wine and drink it from different shaped glasses. There is a perceivable difference. I’ve done it. I feel that many beer people have this inferiority complex when it comes to wine people. Beer, in the United States and other countries, has long been the crude little brother of wine. Beer was for swilling while wine was for sophisticated enjoyment. I’ve run into both sides of this argument. Certain segments of the beer world feel that they have to rebel against wine snobbery by being extra “blue collar” in their approach to beer. Sure, they want to drink great tasting beer but they don’t want to do “wine-y” things like put it in a glass other than a pint or pair it with amazing food. On the flip side, some wine people still view beer (even craft beer) as less sophisticated and complex than wine, usable only for casual drinking. It’s a culture class in which beer and glassware have become pawns.
But Really, what is the purpose of a beer glass? The first answer is simple: getting beer into your mouth. But what’s the deeper purpose of a beer glass? It should allow you to be able to get the full expression of the brewer’s intent. The brewer wants the beer to taste as it was designed to be tasted. For more details on what’s going on with your tongue and taste, check out my post: “The Myth of the Tongue Map and Other Tasty Bits.” In reality, taste only amounts to 6 different stimuli that are sent to your brain. The majority of what you taste is actually what you smell. The human nose and brain can perceive approximately 10,000 different aromas. Flavor is aroma. But how do we get the aroma from the beer to our nose to our brains? Carbonation.
Now we’ve covered what carbonnation itself does, what does it do for the other ingredients in the beer? You have to be able to smell the aromas in the beer to “taste” the beer. Short of snorting the liquid, you need something to carry the aroma from the liquid to your nose. Again, the wonder gas CO2 comes through! The air releasing from the beer takes with it molecules that you’re able to sniff in and smell. When you drink the liquid, the carbonation helps carry the aroma up into your retro-nasal allowing you to get the full impression of the beer all at once. Finally, the carbonation helps scrub the tongue clean allowing you to taste your next sip of beer or bite of food fully.
But what does this all have to do with glassware? Well, glassware is the prime instrument of carbonation release (assuming our bartender poured with proper technique and a beer clean glass). The classic shaker pint glass is one of the worst shapes for beer. The upward sloping walls don’t retain aroma well and allow for very quick head dissipation which means your beer will oxidize, and you’ll not be able to get the full depth of the aroma. Additionally, its harder to swirl so you can help release fresh carbonation and aroma. Well, if the standard pint isn’t what you want, what do you want?
Well, this may annoy some beer people, but a wine glass. The round bowl allows for room to swirl and release some aroma, and the closed top allows for the aroma to gather in the top of the glass without escaping. The stem allows you to hold the glass without smudging it and ruining your view and also keeps you from prematurely heating up your beer. Conversely, the large surface area of the bowl allows you to warm up the beer with both your hands if it’s too cold. If you don’t want to use a wine glass, the beer tulip is becoming a very popular alternative. It provides all the same functionality of the wine glass, but in a package that looks more like a “beer glass.” So…..
Taste equals aroma which is carried by carbonation which is managed with glassware, therefore glassware DOES affect the flavor of a beer.