Raise your glass to science - but which one?
As craft beer drinkers, we love a cupboard full of unique beer drinking vessels just as much as we love a fridge full of beers. Many breweries around the world now have signature glasses proposed to be suited for particular styles of beers. But does our glass choice have any impact on our beer experience? Is it just wanky nonsense? Maybe stubborn tradition? Or is there actually some scientific reasoning behind it?
Keeping up appearances
Firstly, some beer styles simply just look better in some glasses. For example, pilsner glasses are tall and tapered from the bottom, which is ideal for showing the light colour of a pilsner. The hazy hue of a wheat beer is best showcased in a weizen glass with its tall, thin walls. The ability to see the true appearance of a beer is important as it can greatly impact our perception of taste. We often associate certain colours and clarities with certain flavours, so it’s important to get the visualisation right. For instance, a dark beer will usually bring an expectation of a big roasty flavour. To read more about the science of taste, check out our recent blog “More than meets the tongue”.
Bursting your bubble
Many people believe that the iconic head of foam found on a beer is a sign of quality. But your choice of beer glass can also impact the carbonation and head retention of your beer. This can influence not only the appearance of your beer, but also the flavour and aroma (more on this later).
The foam on beer is caused by the creation of bubbles, a phenomenon known as nucleation. There are many proteins and polypeptides that can impact nucleation. One important protein is Lipid Transfer Protein 1 (LTP1), which is naturally found in barley. This protein is hydrophobic, which means it doesn’t like water, so it attaches to CO2 and rises to the surface with the CO2 bubble. Once at the surface, the LTP1 protein forms a coating on the bubbles which helps maintain the foamy head. This explains why beers form a foamy head of bubbles, while many other carbonated drinks don’t.
Certain beer glasses are designed to improve head retention for distinct styles of beer. Pilsners are typically high carbonation, so they pair best with a tall glass with wide tip and thin bottom to allow the head to form from the quickly dissipating bubbles. In contrast, low carbonation beers need a larger bottom to encourage the release of carbon dioxide. Some glasses are even etched at the bottom to provide artificial nucleation sites for bubbles to form, promoting a steady flow of carbonation and encouraging a replenishing head of foam.
The “nose” of a beer?
Not unlike wine, the strength and intensity of a beer’s aroma can be dictated by the chosen glassware. This is largely influenced by the size of the glass’ bowl compared to the size of the rim. In a beer, the head is where the odour compounds sit, rising from the carbon dioxide bubbles forming on the bottom of the glass. This means that carbonation and head retention can be important for maximising aroma which, as mentioned earlier, can be impacted by your choice of beer glass. The iconic donut-stack stem found on an IPA glass is designed to aerate the beer as you sip it, continuously releasing the volatile aromatics of a hop-driven beer. The angled ledge and narrow mouth found in a stout glass promotes head retention, preserving the rich aromas of chocolate and coffee.
However, even our brains can be tricked just by the shape of the glass. One study found that the side curvature of a glass also influences perception of a beer’s flavour and aroma. Participants were unknowingly given the same beer provided in two different glasses, one curved and one straight. The majority of the study’s participants felt that the beer was fruiter and more intense when served in a curved-sided glass, matching past research which found that people link fruitiness with curvature.
Sip or “scull”?
Your vessel of choice can also dictate how fast you finish your beer. Beer glasses with a wide rim will cause the beer to flow like a waterfall, while delicate, narrow rims will promote a steady, slower flow. Additionally, the shape of your glass could influence your drinking speed with participants of one study drinking alcohol more slowly from a straight glass compared to a curved glass. This appeared to be the result of participants misjudging the half-way point of a curved glass to a greater degree than that of a straight glass.
Keep it “beer clean”
If you’re a real beer nerd then you’ve probably heard of the term “beer clean” before. If not (or if you’re in denial) then it basically means that the glass is incredibly clean and free of any impurities, such as dirt, food or other disgusting remains. But a dirty glass is more than just a germophobe’s worst nightmare, it can also impact how you experience the beer through reduced head retention and compromised aroma.
A clear indication of a dirty glass is nucleation along the sides of the glass as the bubbles cling to those little fragments of filth. A dirty glass can also minimise “lacing” of the foam head down the glass as you drink, an aesthetically pleasing feature exhibited by many styles of beer. Essentially, just make sure you glass is beer clean, otherwise your choice of glassware is relatively pointless.
So which glass is best supported by science?
The consensus seems to fall with the Teku Glass, a universal, well-crafted fancy glass that ticks all the boxes mentioned earlier in the article. There doesn’t seem to a style that looks bad in the angular vessel - the bowl is tulip-shaped, and it features a flared rim, encouraging a foamy head and releasing those aroma compounds to enhance flavour. The delicate lip on the Teku glass also feels better than a thicker glass and as noted before, it encourages slower drinking, prolonging the enjoyment of your $30 craft beer. Plus, the long stem helps you avoid warming the beer with your hand as you drink.
However, it’s a good idea to have a wide variety of beer vessels on offer in your cupboard. This allows you to conduct your own experiments with style/glass combinations or tailor your glass to your mood at the time. But make sure you’re happy with your choice of glass, because at the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring you enjoy the beer to its full potential.