I can tell you now that the answer to the question of ‘whether beer tastes different in different glasses’ is a resounding ‘yes’. Here’s some thoughts on the topic from Andy Hamilton who’s got a new book out.
I can remember the first time I went to Germany on a beer tasting tour and I can remember how insistent the bar staff were about giving us the right glassware for every different beer, from massive two pint beer glasses in Munich to tiny (and frustrating) 200ml Kölsch glasses in Koln. And during the last decade or so I have noticed the same happening at the ale house I frequent. It seems that the days are numbered for our traditional pint glass, but do glasses make any difference or are they simply part of the marketing arsenal?
I think that glasses can make a huge difference and I’m often the ponce who will ask for the right glass when at a pub. Many landlords understand that beer in this country has changed beyond recognition over the last few years, yet the pint glasses they continue to serve beer in are the same as those we used when I first started drinking (illegally) back in the 1980’s.
The Germans have got it right. Take a classic German beer, for example, a pilsner. We often serve it in a pint glass but served in a classic pilsner glass – long, thin and tapered inward from top to bottom – the beer will keep its head, thus enhancing the hop aroma and extenuating the bitterness and the flavour. This can be subtle on a cold beer but it does make a difference.
For something altogether more British, think of a porter, full of strong malt flavours. These rich aromas need to be activated and then trapped in the glass. Therefore a tulip shape is ideal, bulbous at the bottom and with a smaller opening at the top. There is even a good Scottish version in the shape of thistle, perfect for a glass of 80 shilling.
I like these beers in their right glasses so I do my best to enjoy them the way the brewer intended. I seek out various drinking holes in my area that get it right, and many are. However, would I refuse to drink a beer served in the wrong glass? Probably not. Will I kick up a fuss the next time I get a stout or a pilsner in a pint glass? No, but I might tut to myself and mutter something.
Mind you, there are some companies jumping on the glasses bandwagon in order to market their beer. But if a beer is no good to start with then it will be no better regardless of whether you serve it in a golden chalice or a shoe.
Brewing Britain by Andy Hamilton is out now in hardback, priced £9.99