Tell me what glass of beer you have and I will tell you what you’re drinking!
“What matters the jug, if drunkenness be within?” But with regard to beer, it's more a question of finding “the perfect match”. Although the principle of matching a beer to a particular type of glass is fairly recent in Belgium.
In fact, the beer glass itself only appeared in the nineteenth century, when the art of perfectly shaping glass started to develop. Before then, beer was enjoyed in terracotta pots that flared out to a greater or lesser extent, then in tin, stoneware or ceramic tankards. It is only after the war that, little by little, brewers started matching their different drinks to particular types of glass. This trend has grown these last few years, sometimes under the impetus of shrewd marketing, so much so that these days, it is difficult to find two glasses that are alike…
However, the main aim of the brewer in choosing the shape of the glass is to amplify the flavours and aromas of the beer. The shape also helps the best head to be poured for each specific beer. The head is important because it protects the beer from oxygen and accentuates a mouthfeel that is much loved this side of the Channel.
It’s impossible to discuss here all of the types of glasses that are available on the market, but let’s try to categorise them to a certain extent…
The straight-sided glass: Inherited from the tradition of Irish pubs, this simple glass shaped like a large beaker was originally used for bitter. In Belgium, it has become taller and narrower at the base, and given grooves to become the typical pils glass. (Our French friends prefer a tulip glass.) A slightly sturdier model is used for a good Gueuze, or a Kriek, the flagships of the Timmermans brewery. When it bulges out slightly near the top, it is excellent for pouring Guinness and getting a nice creamy head.
The tulip glass: This long and slim tapered stemmed glass is ideal for blond beers which, as they have a high gas content, need a high top so that the bubbles can escape. In Germany, the shapes of some glasses are accentuated to form a flute. The tapering of the tulip glass also helps to concentrate the lighter nose of the blond beer. It is also great for showing off certain characterful blond or bitter beers, like the Gordon Finest Beers range which are served not in a 'tulip' glass but in a 'thistle' glass, the brand symbol. Many brewers have also used it to exalt the aromas of fruity beers that ferment spontaneously (Kriek, Framboise, etc.) or special beers.
The chalice:: this glass with a sturdy foot is widest at the top. It is typically used for trappist and abbey beers. Apart from its shape obviously evoking religion, the chalice glass helps these beers, with their broad palettes of aromas, to release their aromas more fully. Furthermore, brewers sometimes get very creative with these glasses to give them an exclusive touch. For example, the Diabolici, a triple blond beer produced by the John Martin family brewery, displays its ‘infernal’ character in a chalice glass with a metal base.
The snifter: This rounded squat stemmed glass not unlike a wine glass is particularly appropriate for serving brown beers such as Bourgogne des Flandres which are low in carbonation. Its narrowed top helps to concentrate the bouquet.
The bock glass: This is the most popular glass for white beers. This sturdy flat glass that fills your hand is wide so that aficionados can add a slice of lemon to increase the beer’s acidity.
A little tip to conclude: whatever the glass you choose to enjoy your beer, check that it’s clean. A beer glass has to be scrupulously clean and not show any traces of grease (from fingers, for example). A perfectly clean glass also has the advantage that it maintains the head better on the beer, whereas the presence of grease considerably reduces it. To make sure that it’s pristine, all you have to do is rinse it in cold water before use and leave it to dry naturally.