The sense of smell, like a faithful counsellor, foretells its character.
— Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste: Or, Transcendental Gastronomy
This chapter may be brief, but it is—in many ways—the most important of them all; everything you have done until now has been in service of this very moment. Every malt, hops, yeast cell, and hour, and every piece of advice have been there to get you here.
This is when you taste your beer. And unlike tasting any other beer in the world, you can use what you taste now to affect how it could taste in the future.
This is not a book about glassware, but if you always gravitate to that conical frustum we call the Shaker glass (or Shaker pint), consider affording your choice a little more thought. After all, there’s a reason that certain beer styles have come to be associated with certain glasses. Some glasses really do add to, complement, and improve the experience.
Chances are you already own a number of Shaker glasses. Spend enough time visiting breweries, and you’re bound to come home with a few. Here are a few others to look out for.
- Nonic pint glasses (1) are the norm in English pubs and feature a slight bulge in the glass near the top to make them more stackable. Most hold an imperial pint, or about 19 fluid ounces (and many have a fill line to prove it). The classic glass for bitter, pale ale, brown ale, porter, and stout, this is my favorite beer glass for classic English styles and their American descendants.
- Pilsner glasses (2) are obviously well suited to Pilsner, but they work well with lagers of all types. Pilsner glasses are tall and narrow, with straight, sloping sides and a sturdy flat base.
- IPA glasses (3) are designed to release and concentrate hops aromas. The narrower base provides a convenient grip and a strategically designed surface for generating more head and releasing more hops aroma as you pour.
- Tulip glasses (4) have become almost ubiquitous among craft brewers, although their popularity is far greater than it perhaps ought to be. These are great for most Belgian styles, as well as for imperial IPA, imperial stout, barleywine, and a wide range of sour beers. I think the tulip is the new Shaker: ubiquitous but not necessarily the best one-size-fits-all vessel.
- The relatively new Teku (5) glass may look comical at first, but it’s well suited to a broad range of styles. I particularly like it for sour ales, imperial stout, and Scotch ale.
- Snifters are reserved for the strongest of beers such as barleywine, imperial stout, and Belgian strong ales. The wide bowl is perfect for cupping in one hand, which warms the beer and enhances the sensory experience.
- Stange glasses are not very common in North America, but these diminutive 200 ml (6.8 fl oz) cylinders are the traditional delivery devices for Kölsch. They’re also well suited to Altbier and smaller pours of most German lagers.
- The Willibecher is my favorite all-purpose glass for standard-strength ales and lagers of all geographical origins. The 500 ml (16.9 fl oz) Willibecher holds a generous measure and maintains a good head of foam from the first sip to the last. If I could keep only one glass in my collection, it would be this one.
- Weissbier glasses show off the fluffy white head of a well-brewed German Hefeweizen and accentuate the complex banana and clove notes so intimately tied to the style. They’re without a doubt the sexiest beer glasses out there.
- Dimpled mugs are wonderfully frumpy and just the thing for serving a wide range of German and English styles. When you just want to drink some beer without thinking about it too hard, the dimpled mug is there for you. It’s a classic for a reason.
- The 1-liter (33.8 fl oz) Masskrug, sometimes called a stein in North America, is the only acceptable vessel for drinking German lager at Oktoberfest.
The standard serving temperature for draft beer in the United States is 38°F (3°C), which is just right for mass-produced lager and much too cold for everything else. Generally speaking, the stronger and darker the beer, the warmer it should be served. The table on the previous page shows some rough guidelines, from coldest to coolest.
Naturally, your personal preference trumps anything you’ll find in a chart. If you like your Pilsners at room temperature and your imperial stouts ice cold, be my guest! The point is to make serving temperature a conscious choice and not simply a by-product of whatever your refrigerator happens to be set at.
Pouring Your Beer
Pouring a glass of homebrew is the same as pouring a glass of commercial beer. Tilt the glass at about 45° and pour beer until the glass is about two-thirds full. Then hold the glass vertically and fill it the rest of the way. This goes for both bottled and kegged beer.
If you’re pouring from a bottle of homebrew, take care to leave the last few drops in the bottle. There’s a small amount of yeast in homebrewed beer that usually settles to the bottom. Unless you’re pouring Hefeweizen (in which case dump it all in!), try to leave that sediment in the bottle.
Sensory evaluation is a crucial step in understanding how the decisions you made along the way translate into what you observe in the final glass. I recommend maintaining a journal—it need not be fancy—in which you can jot down your thoughts as you sample each batch of beer you make. Ideally, keep your impressions in the same place you write down your recipes so that you can make intelligent changes to your formulations.
- Appearance: Is the beer clear or cloudy? What color is it? What do you see in the glass? Is there a thick layer of persistent foam, or does the head die immediately? As you drink the beer, does lacing stick to the sides of the glass?
- Aroma: Swirl your beer gently in the glass and give it a good sniff. What do you smell? Grainy malt sweetness? Toast? Biscuits? What about hops? You might pick up pine, grapefruit, passion fruit, or even garlic. Yeast-derived esters may come across as fruit, while phenolics could come through as pepper, cloves, or smoke.
- Flavor: What do you taste? How do the flavor components parallel the aroma? How do they depart from it? How does the flavor change as the beer warms? Where do you notice the bitterness on your tongue, and how long does it last?
- Mouthfeel: How does the beer feel in your mouth? Is it smooth, crisp, warming, carbonic, or flabby? Do you notice lingering alcoholic warmth after the beer goes down?
- Overall impression: What do you think of the beer overall? What do you like about it? Do you enjoy drinking it? Would you make it again, and if so, what would you change about it? What might you keep the same?
You don’t need to make this too complex. Just make some observations. Let your impressions guide your next brew day. The more you can identify what you experience with all five senses, the better equipped you’ll be at designing your next beer. A flavor wheel (at right) is a great way to build a vocabulary of tasting terms that can help you organize your thoughts.
Congratulations! You’ve followed each of the eight phases of brewing beer, just like the pros do it. But these past few chapters have been more about explaining the why. In the next chapter, we’ll put it all together and walk you through all the hows of brewing and serving your own beer.
This is an excerpt from our Illustrated Guide to Homebrewing by Dave Carpenter. Want to read the whole thing? Download it here.