The Art and Science of Drinking Beer
Is there a right and wrong way to drink beer? Does the type of glass you use matter? Does an ale taste the same in a bottle and in a sophisticated snifter? Why are pilsner glasses tall and narrow? For these and other important beer questions, I turned to my friend Geoff, a self-proclaimed and dedicated “beer snob.” He and a few of my fellow craft beer-loving friends were more than happy to oblige when I suggested we have an afternoon beer tasting to talk about the art and science of drinking beer.
The plan was simple: Geoff would bring some beer and his collection of glassware, my friend Catherine and I would provide food, and the rest of the spouses would enjoy the proceedings (while keeping mockery to a minimum).
Without getting too technical, the reason there are different glasses for different beers is because each type of beer has unique characteristics. The glasses enhance these characteristics and help you enjoy the flavor. Beer Advocate sums it up nicely: “As soon as the beer hits the glass, its color, aroma and taste is altered… Hidden nuances become more pronounced, colors shimmer, and the enjoyment of the beer simply becomes a better, more complete, experience.”
Each glass is also designed to enhance the foamy head of the beer, which in turn captures all the unique characteristics and makes the beer taste better. More sage wisdom from Beer Advocate: “As varying levels of head retention and presentation are desired with different styles of beers, different styles of glassware should be used accordingly.”
So first up, the old standby, the pint glass. Some pint glasses are tapered at the top, some have a ridge. The ridge makes the glass easier to hold and it also helps retain the all-important head. The glass is versatile in that you can use it with most beers.
For a higher alcohol content beer like an IPA, a snifter or tulip is a good choice.
The wide base on a snifter keeps the volatiles happy. Volatiles are the byproduct of the hops and yeast which give the beer its signature flavor. You can easily see the happy volatiles at the base of this glass.
And in this look from underneath.
Geoff poured a dark ale into this scored snifter. Not only is it nice to look at, but the ridges encourage the flow of carbon dioxide and guide the bubbles to the top to help retain the head.
Wheat beers and pilsners benefit from tall narrow glasses. This Weizen glass has ridges which showcase the variations in the wheat beer’s golden hue. The tall shape supports a fluffy, frothy head.
Though we didn’t drink out of these, steins, like pint glasses, are a versatile serving glass as well and are good for holding a large quantity of beer. They are especially appropriate for a light beer or something with a low alcohol content.
And any serious beer connoisseur probably has a beer flight in their collection as well. Geoff used the flight to demonstrate the range of colors in different beers. Here, two ales, a pilsner and a porter on display.
So how about you? Do you collect specialty glassware for drinking beer? Have you noticed differences in taste?