It’s Friday evening, you worked hard all week, and there’s a beer in the fridge. Before you drink, you have to pour. And before you pour, you have an important decision: what glass do you use?
“Beer is a very casual thing that you can just drink without thinking about it much,” says Chris Reynolds, co-owner of Stillwell Beer Bar on Barrington Street. “But if you’re a fan and you realize how much work has gone into it, the right glassware is the only way to really appreciate it.”
With the rise of craft beer came the rise in craft-beer glassware. You’ll find them at department stores, dollar stores and your favourite brewery, but choosing the right glass is more than esthetic.
For most beer drinkers, the most recognizable glasses are the shaker and nonic (AKA the classic English pint) glasses.
The shaker is a workhorse of a bar glass, used to shake cocktails, serve water or soda, and almost as an afterthought, hold beer. The nonic, the shaker’s curvy 20-ounce elder sibling, is probably the most iconic beer glass in the world. But when it comes to craft beer, these glasses aren’t ideal.
Reynolds says the nonic is perfect for a traditional English ale. Stillwell uses them as a nod to tradition for cask beers, never for aromatic or high-alcohol beers.
Wide-mouthed glasses encourage the aroma to escape from the top of the glass. Science tells us that 90% of what we taste is derived from a food or beverage’s aroma. Using a wide mouthed glass lets the aroma evaporate. Instead, try a tulip or a Belgian glass.
Tom Adams is owner and president of Jym Line Glassware Ltd. in Elmsdale, N.S. If you have a local brewery’s branded glass or growler in your cupboard it’s probably one of his. “A good Belgian style is a bubble shape,” he says. “It comes in and then flares out a little bit. That is a great glass for any beer, not just Belgians. It’ll channel the smell and the flavor to the palate, all focused at this one point.”
Adams is an IPA man; his go-to glass is the Spiegelau IPA glass developed especially for the style with Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada breweries. It features a very narrow cylindrical base that widens into a white wine glass-style shape. This design channels the aroma of hoppy beers while preserving the head.
“It’s absolutely a stellar glass in terms of lip feel,” says Adams. “It’s thin, almost like crystal and the bonus is … [it] can hold a 473-ml can quiet nicely.”
Reynold’s current go-to, which he notes changes as he tries new glasses and beers, is the Becher, also known as the Willi Becher. (You’ll sometimes see it simply called the “craft-beer glass” too.)
It’s tall and slim, with a flare in the top quarter of the glass that narrows in before the lip. Like the Spiegelau, it accommodates a tall can.
Cleanliness is as important as the type of glass.
Adams washes his beer glasses at home in hot water only, with a cool rinse and drip-dry. Reynolds swears by his dishwasher for his home glasses. (Glass cleaning at Stillwell is a far more elaborate affair due to health regulations).
Before you use a glass out of the cupboard, regardless of how you washed it, both experts suggest a cool rinse.
“It chills the glass slightly, if the glass is warm it’ll immediately start to warm the beer,” he says. “The main reason is to make sure the glass is completely rinsed of dust. Beer also flows really nicely into a wet glass without foaming up.”
All this being said, there’s no reason to run out and buy a dozen different beer glasses.
If you want to, our local breweries have plenty in most of the popular styles. If you’re looking for one glass to pour them all, Reynolds offers a surprising suggestion, and you probably already have it in your cupboard.
“If I’m sharing a bottle with my partner or we have some people over, I’m always reaching for the white wine glasses,” he says. “It holds a portion of a bottle really well. It’s got the stem so if it’s the right temperature you don’t have to touch it, or if you want to warm it up a little you can cup your hand around it and warm it up in no time.”
Must-try beers: Strong beer edition
XXX IPA (Extra strong beer)
Garrison Brewing Co.,
Released to celebrate the brewery’s 20th anniversary, this 9% ABV beer is very sweet, but within the sweetness lies it’s beauty: 100 IBUs worth of hops, including boil-added hops for a bold, bitter taste and dry hops to amplify the aromas. Drink it out of a Spiegelau to appreciate the range of aromas.
Tatamagouche Brewing Co.,
The latest in Tata’s Giant Beer Series (read: high alcohol) stars a blend of malts that lend it a thick, sweet flavor with dried fruit and chocolate flavours and a slightly spicy finish. This abbey-style ale is remarkably smooth considering it’s 10.3% ABV, so sip with care. Better yet, share with good friends.