For all of beer’s approachability, glassware matters. There’s a reason specific designs have evolved for specific styles. Pilsner glasses took shape in 19th-century Bavaria to flaunt the beer’s radiant clarity with their tall, slender silhouettes; seidel mugs, preferred for sessionable German lagers and English ales, evolved from tankards and steins, whose handles kept the beer cool; chalices, goblets and tulips met the sophistication of Belgian ales, and offered smaller sizes in keeping with their beers’ higher alcohol content.
Even today, there is merit to choosing the right glass for what you’re drinking. A glass’s shape significantly impacts a beer’s aroma, and since so much of a beer’s volatile aroma compounds exist in its head, you want a glass that will help a beer hang onto that head, which is why you’ll notice a common in-and-out taper across designs.
Of course, there’s a line between heightening your beer-drinking experience by amplifying the flavor and aroma through glassware, and spending an obscene amount of money on different shapes that probably can’t fit on your kitchen shelves anyway. But understanding the function of each style will help inform your choices. It starts with one basic rule: Avoid shaker pints. What most people refer to simply as pint glasses are by far the most ubiquitous beer vessels in American bars, but they are also incapable of retaining head and aromas. Stick to the recommendations here, and you can confidently enjoy anything from a West Coast IPA to a rauchbier at its best.
The Willi Becher
If you could buy only one style of beer glass, this would be the one. Named for its inventor, Willy Steinmeier, and becher, the German word for cup, the traditional style has been kicking around since 1954, but more recently has become widely adopted by breweries and beer bars as a workhorse glass that’s approachable, comes in multiple sizes and—the deciding factor—sports a subtle in-and-out taper toward its top, holding that head and supporting those aromatic compounds.
Keep it simple: Opt for a standard 16-ounce size, which, considering how many beer styles work with this glass, will return on its meager investment tenfold in no time.
Upgrade to the British pint: Since we are currently living under the tyranny of the 16-ounce beer can, it’s worth considering bumping up the volume of your Willi Becher to the size of British pints, aka 20 ounces. That way, even if you pour in a full 16-ounce can, there’s still that essential room up top for foam to hang out. This reliable Libbey set comes with four glasses and is priced at less than $10 per glass.
The tulip is a classic partner to Belgian ales; the pairing just makes sense—an elegant design, reminiscent of a wine glass, for an elegant beer. But throughout craft beer’s life span, a growing number of drinkers have embraced the tulip’s appeal for nearly every style, especially for mid- to high-strength varieties like IPAs, doppelbocks and porters. The shape is perhaps better than any at keeping those aromas front and center for every sip. Plus, the stem provides a place to grip the glass without warming the beer.
Classic: Spiegelau is a trusted brand in beer glassware, and its tulip glass is an archetypal example of the style. Keep in mind that its capacity is 15.5 ounces, so don’t try to dump in a 16-ounce can—remember to leave room for the head.
Modern: The Teku glass became prolific on Instagram amid the stratospheric rise of hazy IPAs from 2016 to 2018, thanks in no small part to its tall, sleek, angular and photogenic appearance. But it’s no fad. The Teku is like a modern twist on the tulip, its sharper taper arguably even better at buttressing aromatic foam. You can order one or a set from its sole manufacturer, Rastal.
The snifter might be better known in the spirits world, but it’s a necessity for anything beyond the most casual craft beer consumption. It’s the glass to have on hand for any tasting experience at home. Giving yourself a smaller pour of a stronger beer? Snifter. Splitting a 13 percent ABV barrel-aged stout four ways at your bottle share? Snifter. Creating your own mini-flight? Snifter. The shape of the snifter allows you to swirl the beer to better activate the aromas, which are further enhanced by the warmth of one’s hand.
Go-to: Historic glass producer Libbey makes a set of four 8-ounce snifter glasses that will make those at-home flights and shares even easier and more polished. Don’t be dissuaded by their branding as whiskey glasses: The same quality that makes the glass perfect for spirits—a narrow neck that draws aromatics upward—applies to beer, too.
Splurge: The snifter is a logical place in your beer glass portfolio to invest a little more. It’s not just versatile across beer styles, it expands to spirits, offering an opportunity to get more mileage out of your investment. Treat yourself to a beautifully sculpted, $115 pair of crystal brandy glasses from Waterford. With their larger size, these are less “DIY flight” and more “sit and savor a nice pour of barley wine.”
Few beers are better suited for leisurely at-home enjoyment than the crisp, refreshing, lower-ABV styles that fall under the lager umbrella, and a good beer mug is the key to getting the most out of your pilsner or helles. Not only are mugs big enough to accommodate a 16-ounce pour, but their handles help keep the beer cool. English-style dimpled mugs are common enough and do the trick, but the Tübinger Kugel, originating in Germany and more popular today in the Czech Republic, is the gold standard, thanks to its more rounded silhouette that will, again, support a head and concentrate aromas. Perhaps that’s why you’ll regularly find the Tübinger at breweries appreciated for their traditional lagers, like Wayfinder and Human Robot.
English Approach: If you prefer the look of the classic English style, the brand Pubpara offers a set of four picture-perfect, reliable mugs. They’re less curved than the Tübinger, but still help a lager, or really any beer, remain at its peak. Plus, they’re roomy, with an imperial-pint capacity of nearly 20 ounces.
Czech, Please: As standard as the Tübinger is for styles like the Czech pilsner, and as trendy as that style has become, it’s surprisingly tricky to order your very own in the States unless you happen to run a bar and would like to order them in a quantity of 144. This is where brewery merch comes in—pick your favorite lager brewery and they’re bound to have a Tübinger you’d be proud to sip from, like the aforementioned Wayfinder or Human Robot iterations, or this one from Threes Brewing.
Get Specific With It
Once you’ve secured your core collection of essential glasses, you’re free to build from there. A set of four pilsner glasses, with their distinctive clarity-flaunting, head-supporting hourglass shape, is a classic choice, or you can find out what the fuss is about with a Spiegelau IPA glass, engineered specifically to maximize those hop aromas. Want to get really true-to-style? KegWorks makes it easy to stock up on sleek stange glasses, made specifically for throwing back a kölsch.