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Which Beer Glass?

August 1, 2014

I’m going to be honest – I had no idea why beer glasses come in different shapes until I got bored and looked it up this morning. I just assumed they were made up by snooty connoisseurs claiming the shapes were important when they’re really just for dramatic flair. Turns out the snobbish charade is partially true, but there is legitimate science behind the shapes. For you indiscriminate beer lovers, any concave object will suffice to transport the nectar of the gods into your belly. But for those who are curious about the science behind the wacky glassware, read on!

First of all, let’s talk about presentation. We all know food presentation is important because when meals look beautiful it tricks our brains into thinking they’re more appetizing. Same goes with beer! In fact, many scientific studies have been conducted on appetite and shown that color and presentation are crucial parts of the sensory experience of eating and drinking. Therefore, designing beer glasses that make beer look sexy is just good science.

Examples of such sexiness would be the color of the beer as light shines through the glass, the streams of bubbles rising through the brew, and the all important foam head on top. Science alert: did you know the foam adds more than just aesthetics? When beer is poured it releases tiny volatiles – molecules that allow you to smell and genuinely enjoy the full flavor. The foam traps the volatiles in its bubbles, and they’re released when you sip the beer. Scent comprises the whopping majority of your ability to taste, which is why things taste bland when you’re stuffed up. So don’t despise the foam on your beer… embrace the flavor-trap!

Now, obviously the color, flavor, and carbonation characteristics are intentionally different between types of beers (think of the range from pale, crisp lagers to heavy, creamy stouts). The glasses are designed to showcase them for each beer. For example, more carbonated beers often go into taller glasses that allow for continuous nucleation and flow of bubbles. Sometimes these glasses are even scored on the bottom to aid bubble formation, which has the added benefit of constantly replenishing the flavor-trap foam. They can have bulbous shapes that trap the volatiles and allow you to stick your shnoze right into a tasty cloud of beer smells. They can also have wide mouths to allow for deep sips (the term quaff has a nice ring to it) or special shapes to maintain temperature. It’s all very fancy, and probably not 100% necessary, but in any case here are more detailed descriptions of some common glass shapes.

Chalice or goblet – Probably most of you recognize this type of glass from that obnoxious Stella advertising campaign… “it’s not a glass, it’s a chalice.” In any case, this shape is very nice because it releases carbonation steadily and traps volatiles with the taper.

Great for Belgian IPAs.


Pilsner – Shaped like trumpets, these tall glasses showcase color and maintain head. They’re nice for beers that have a lot of clarity, as the light shining through will make you drool with anticipation. Or something.

Obviously for Pilsners but also good for Hefeweizens and Blonde Ales.


Tulip – Similar to the chalice, the shape of this glass traps volatiles to enhance flavor. The flared mouth simultaneously promotes formation of and supports an extra foamy head.

Good for Belgian IPAs and Saisons.


Thistle – This is a modified version of the Tulip… the Scottish apparently wanted it to look like their national flower. My main reaction to this glass is, “eyeroll…” but maybe that’s just me.

Pretentious. For pretentious Scotch Ales.


Flute – Less dainty than a champagne flute, this glass releases volatiles quickly for a stronger flavor experience.

It’s apparently used for a bunch of foo foo beers I’ve never heard of including Bière de Champagne, Dortmunder, Gueuze, Schwarzbier, and Vienna Lager


Snifter – Like the chalice, it traps the aroma of pungent brews. Not meant for chugging, but enjoying slowly with a lot of sniffles.


Used for Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, Double IPAs, and Tripels.


Pint – Easy and cheap to make, easy to stack, easy to wash. Functional rather than fancy.

Basically for everything served in pubs.


Beer hat: For when you don’t have time to waste.

The straws enhance carbonation for maximum belch potential.


The Beer Belly – Take your public daydrinking to the next level. They also have a lady model called the Wine Rack.

Perfect for anything because it will get you drunk.

Please for the love of science someone get this for me.



Well, there ya have it. Making beer even better with the help of science, who can resist that? I advise you head to your nearest watering hole and try out every type of glass immediately. When the cops show up, kindly explain that you’re conducting valuable scientific research.


From → Biology, Physics

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