Anyone with spare cash can purchase some inordinately ornate beer glasses. The beer you pour, however, will taste either no different, or worse than the same beer given a head in a pedestrian pilsner glass.
Belgian brewers issue glasses designed for their beer for a reason: each design optimizes the presentation of the desirable characteristics of the beer. In other words, the shape of the glass affects the flavour and aroma of the beer. The brewery selects the glass shape that will emphasize the beer’s strong points.
Several basic styles of beer glass have evolved over the past dozen centuries or so, but none will prove any good unless you clean them thoroughly by hand and leave them to be air-dried. Dishwashers leave a soap residue, and towels lint.
Professional tasters do not frost mugs. In theory, as the frost thaws, it dilutes the brew. Few folks notice.
Traditional Beer Glasses
Beer glasses need be nothing fancy. If you have one or two sets of the basic shapes, in clear glass, your starter kit needs little more.
The ribbed German Seidel or, in the US, a stein or mug, is familiar to anyone who has ordered beer in a bar. Historically, steins were made of stone rather than glass, and were lidded. Contemporary examples of these are easy to find, but the more generic glass mug, sans lid, is far more popular in the USA. A good stein is thick and solid.
The Pilsner and the Weizen
The Pokal, or Pilsner glass, is known around the globe. A pilsner is tall, slender, and tapered. Its straight sides make the glass look like an inverted traffic cone. Pilsners are similar to Weizen, developed for Weizenbier, or wheat beer, and originally made in Bavaria. Weizen have greater capacity, usually 16 ounces.
Both types of glass should be clear, to show off not only the color of the brew accurately, but also the beer’s carbonation, or bubble stream. The shapes permit the foam head to remain intact as long as possible. The head, of course, carries aromas right up to the taster’s nose to enrich his enjoyment.
The Becker, or Pint Glass
In the UK, the traditional glass for beer is the Becker, or Pint Glass. The Pint Glass is tall, round, and shaped like a tumbler. Its walls are thin. Its thin walls and wide mouth allow the beer to warm up. In England, that’s fine. At the local British pub, they serve beer warmer than in the US or South America. The wide mouth also discourages the retention of the foam head, and thereby the aromas dissipate more quickly.
Alternative Beer Glasses
Other beer glasses are less recognized, although used from time to time. The German Stange, for example is a tall straight cylinder on a stem. The Stange, says its fans, facilitates the tasting of very subtly crafted beer, where the interplay between malt and hops might hold some special quality for the seasoned taster.
Brandy snifters are sometimes pressed into service as beer glasses, for much the same reasons they are used for brandy: the shape concentrates the rising vapors and aromas and coaxes them close to your nose.