THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Does It Matter What You Drink Your Beer Out Of?

A piece of Weights and Measures legislation dating back to William III’s time in 1700 says that containers be they made of wood, earthenware, glass, horn, leather, pewter or of some other good and wholesome metal should be stamped with the monarch’s cipher. Only quarts and pints were mentioned at the time but down the ages halves were added and now third and two thirds are legitimate sizes.

Martyn Cornell in his Zythophile blog covers the history of the British pub glass in great and very interesting detail pointing out that a tax on glass was removed in 1845 and developing industrial processes ensured that the beer glass would reign supreme, making coopers redundant, cows kept their horns and hides and no one died of lead poisoning after drinking from a low grade pewter pot.

The mochaware pot loved by George Orwell while earlier examples are highly collectable

George Orwell who knew a good deal about pubs as he designed his own called the Moon Under Water opined “never make the mistake of drinking beer out of a mug without a handle” and declared that he thought beer tasted better out of a porcelain one. Not Stoke or Meissen’s finest but simple mochaware probably as made up to 1939 by T G Green near Burton on Trent. The semi hardened shape is splashed, painted, soaked or otherwise decorated with a dilute clay suspension called slip incorporating various minerals which will give colour on firing. Pleasing pastel shades of pale blues and strawberry pink samples survive and films taken of English inns towards the end of the War indicate that ceramics were not yet dead.

The ten sided lantern glass featured heavily in the 1930s Brewers Society Beer is Best campaign alongside Mr XXX

But Orwell was behind the times and pottery pots only survived in country areas and most preferred their beer in transparent glass although at the time most beer would have been dark mild so its clarity might have been difficult to discern. The lantern glass features strongly in the 1930’s Beer is Best campaign and as premium beers got paler were ideal at showing off their sparkling qualities. At sometime in the late 1940s the dimple glass appeared which Cornell claims refracted the light as if it had come through the stained glass windows of Chartres Cathedral! I found them rather heavy myself but less hazardous than a tray when carrying a round back to your table! As a young beer drinker in the 1960s I found dimples in the south and more tumblers in the north. Anywhere in between you were asked whether you wanted your pint in a straight or a handle. Before the advent of the under counter glass washer, pubs did not like dimples either as being difficult to wash in the sink and taking up space on the shelves.

Straight or handle Sir? Nonics and dimples

By then the Nonik glass with a bulgy collar about an inch and a half down from the rim was gaining prominence offering stackability when clearing tables and some degree of protection (hence no nicks!) to the rim by keeping adjacent glasses separate. For the drinker, his hand got colder but the bulge is said to have helped with his grip if the glass was wet! Since christened Nonics, you do not see too many of those today being superceded by the logised conical tumbler. Remember when branded lager glasses started to appear and publicans grumbled there was no room to stock different glasses? Today pubs are exactly the same size and they seem to cope with even smaller sized breweries promoting their own glassware.

A well decorated pint and the lantern makes a come back

The dimple slipped from the radar in the early 2000s when both manufacturers Ravenhead and Dema went bust. Thankfully perhaps as the weight of the dimple glass was not well distributed and women certainly did not like them but we are pleased that the Lantern Tankard has been reintroduced with a better designed handle and can be nucleated to liberate bubbles that can be easily spotted through the ten sided ‘lantern’. These glasses are made from the original moulds as produced by Bagley in Knottingley before being subsumed into Rockware Glass and closed in 1994. The resurrected glasses are distributed by Stephensons, the catering supplies company which worked with Brewlab at Sunderland to do some scientific testing which showed that after 50 minutes the beer in the lantern was at 17oC while the same beer in straight glass had reached lab temperature of 24oC presumably due to heat from the hand being transferred. While we cannot condone taking 50 minutes to finish a pint (why not have two halves?) it is an interesting observation and if the weight is better balanced I cannot wait to try one.

Readers will be aware of many different shaped beer glasses from around the world. It is moot point as to whether they were designed to highlight a particular attribute of the beer or simply evolved as different beer drinking cultures moved from using horns, leather and pottery. US beer blogging site BeerPro says there are 23 different types.

The shape of the glass can make a difference in the taste, aroma, and overall drinking experience of the beer. Why not try it for yourself. I was sceptical until I attended a tutored tasting by brewery giant Anheuser Busch but you can try it at home. Get your mates to rifle through all the beer glasses they have stolen over the years, buy a slab of beer from the supermarket and try it for yourselves at home. Dead easy and I believe very enlightening.

The pint and the Willi Becher

A pint glass with a slightly tapered shape and wide mouth is suitable for serving draught ales and lagers. The Americans call them shakers. It allows for a good head formation without wasteful over foaming and helps release the aroma of the beer. There may be an etched logo cut into the base of the glass which helps gas to break out and maintain the level of foam. Some glasses have nucleation areas down the side as well but bar staff need to be trained to aim the beer from tap over them. On the continent, the Willi Becher glass, named after the designer, has slightly inward-curving rim which traps aroma and helps with head retention and the relatively narrow diameter of the glass shows off the clarity.

Tulip, goblet and snifter, with or without a flared lip

Next try the tulip glass which is very different due to its stem and bulbous base concaving inward, with perhaps a flared rim, this will concentrate the aroma and taste of Belgian ales and other higher alcohol aromatic beers. The shape of the glass helps concentrate the aroma while the stemmed base promotes swirling to agitate some flavours upward and direct it towards the nose, enhancing the drinking experience. Variations on the tulip theme would be the snifter or goblet perhaps wider and squatter made with lots of thick glass at the bottom which slows the warming up process. The Teku glass has a much longer stem but does the same thing. Aromas are concentrated upwards which enhances the properties of stronger beers and allows for a slow sipping experience.

The Weizen glass has a narrow base and a wide, flared top, which is ideal for wheat beers. The wide top allows for a thick head to form and helps release the beer’s aroma.

A pilsner glass, with a tall, slender shape, narrow mouth and sometimes a heavy glass base, is designed to keep the beer cool, showcase the clarity and effervescence of pilsners and other light beers. The narrow mouth helps preserve the beer’s carbonation, allows your nose to discern the nuances of noble German hop aromas and directs the beer towards the front of the tongue, where delicate sweetish flavours can be detected. The stange, the 200mL straight sided glass from Cologne similarly highlights the clarity and foaming of the German ale, Kolsch.

The ‘jelly glass’ which reminds me of school dinners many years ago is used for Belgian wit beers served in cafes, it is chunky so keeps beer cool while the wide brim helps to get the aroma up your nostrils. Hoegaarden tried these extensively when trying to give the brand a bit of a push in the UK a few years back.

There is no need to try your yard of ale or any elaborately decorated steins with or without hinged lids, or the bulky German mass supposed to present you with a litre but they usually arrive with several inches of froth. With beer at the Munich Oktoberfest costing €14 a time, there is money to be made in short measures but the huge bulk of glass does help keep the beer from warming up and lusty barmaids can carry twenty of them at a time!

The A-B tasting went on to describe some of science behind different glass shapes. The design elements include the base width and angle, the glass height, the mid body and throat angle as well as the lip and opening. These affect the surface area of beer foam and volatile development, the balance of volatile trapping and releasing, defining where the beer hits the tongue and the velocity of the sip across the tongue.


Thus wide glasses ‘pull’ a beer accentuating fruity, malty, yeasty and bready flavours but do allow the foam to dissipate more rapidly. On the other hand, thin bases ‘push up’ a beer accentuating spicy, citrus and hoppy while replenishing the foam. When it comes to drinking taller thinner glasses, they need to be tipped up further which speeds the beer across the tongue accentuating tart, acidic characters. An inward angled mid-body and throat traps more delicate aromas and the foam is held more firmly sometimes to the point that volatiles are released more slowly only as the bubbles pop. An outward angled top will allow aromas to dissipate and the trumpet lip focusses the beer on to the front of the tongue giving a CO2 burst and highlighting acid and citrus notes. Of course the width of the top affects ‘nose access’ and too thick a rim can detract.

So that sums up the science. Word got around and US craft innovators Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head got together with glass maker Spiegelau to produce a glass to emphasise the hop forward IPAs they were making. Through a series of design and tasting workshops, in collaboration with other industry professionals they came up with the IPA glass. The result looks a bit unsteady on its feet but the glass base has finger holds and the bulk will keep the beer cold for longer. The wide body and inward curve emphasises the aroma and there is plenty of room to get your nose in. Some examples as from Boston Beer have a flared lip to work on the tongue. In Spiegelau’s opinion, these Craft Beer glasses ‘successfully deliver the complexity of aromas on the nose, while delivering the optimum texture, balance, and intensity of flavour on the palate’.

BeerPro has 23 styles of beer glass, Bevel Brewery in Bend, Oregon only needs four types to showcase its beers, smart
Peroni half pint, a flight of 4oz straights and the famous thistle glass for 8%ABV Gordon’s Highland Ale brewed in Belgium

So, using the appropriate glassware for your beer can enhance your enjoyment of the beer’s aroma, taste, and appearance.