I’m not a beer snob. I’m really and truly not. I’ll drink it from the can, from a bottle or straight from the keg if you’ll let me put my mouth under a tap. I’ll drink almost any type of beer that you’ll send my way and I’ll generally be very happy for the chance. I sometimes drink mass-produced beer, other times I drink local and have a decent collection of craft beer from places I’ve visited through work and other travel. And, while I have my favorites, I’m generally very adaptable!
About ten years ago I met a different kind of beer drinker; one who deliberately chose each glasses to match the style of beer that was served and one that knew more about beer than I could have imagined. I probably tried to write these people off as beer snobs at the time but they were too friendly to be snobs and curiosity got the better of me. Before long I found that I was hooked on learning all I could about beer (my biggest learning so far is that there’s so much more to know than I’ll ever have a chance to learn!)
I’ve never been overly picky about matching beer glasses to the specific type of beer but I really do think it makes a difference. Similar to wine, different glass shapes will alter the flavors of the beverage although I think it’s for reasons that are different than most profess.
Take, for example, the tulip-shaped beer glass:
Before sharing why I love the Tulip glass (and what I drink in it), allow me to share my two hesitations related to the amount of different beer glasses (and there are many) on the market today:
- There is no question that part of the push for glassware companies to make different glasses is sell more glassware. If you don’t have a cabinet full of custom glass, there’s no need to run out the door and buy a bunch of glassware. Having different glasses is a nice luxury but is often one I save for the experience of consuming a beer at a beer bar (I often drink beer from a mason jar at home).
- Different glasses will have a subtle change on the drinking experience but I’m very skeptical of the claims that different glasses project beer to different parts of the tongue (this is a standard claim with wine glasses). Even though many schools (including cooking schools) continue to teach about the ‘tongue map’ (where each part of your mouth has different taste receptors), the tongue map has been scientifically ‘disproven’ (the link is not a citation but reference to an article we shared in 2011; it includes a link to one of the academic studies that this claim is based on).
The shape of the glass does alter the experience (and I believe the taste) in other ways. In the case of the Tulip Glass (its wide on the top, narrows almost immediately and then widens into a bulbous form atop a stem which is often short), the following things happen:
- The shape of the glass supports and encourages the endurance of the head (‘foam’). Tulip-shaped glasses are great for beer with intentionally large head (such as a Belgian Dark Ale) as the head has less surface area than the liquid below it (as the glass widens as you drink) and this reduced surface area mean the head will be forced vertically. A large head is desirable on most strong beer which is why it’s often served in a Tulip Glass (of course there are exceptions).
- The bulbous bottom of the glass allows for a relatively wide surface area and can promote the aroma of the beer. Much like drinking wine you will likely notice a significant difference in flavor of the beer if you avoid sipping from the rim and, instead, place your nose inside the glass as you drink (of course you can’t do this on your first few sips!).
The most common beers served in tulip glasses are strong ales, quads and lambics. You’ll also find many Saisons are also served in these as well.
At the end of the day, if you’re enjoying your beer, you’re using the right glass. But if you haven’t experimented with different beer styles (and the ‘proper’ glasses) perhaps you’d have fun experimenting! until then, CHEERS!