Beer — Bottled or Not?

by Dennis Mayer | September 13th, 2012 | Ask the Bartender

I always drink beer out of the bottle; no pilsner glass or whatever needed for me.  However, when I have guests at my house, I always offer the choice of using a glass or not.  Is there any advantage to drinking it one way or the other or merely a matter of personal preference? (There’s a bet riding on your answer!)

The glass wins. While there’s nothing wrong with drinking your beer from the bottle, there’s a clear advantage to using glassware, for the same reason wine is better enjoyed from a glass than from the bottle. The taste might not be much different (though drinking from a glass is, arguably, a bit easier than drinking from a bottle, since you can better control the amount you drink.) But we drink with five senses. In a glass, we can see the beer much more clearly, and can enjoy the aroma of the malt and the hops — and let’s not forget how alluring the sound of a pouring beer can be.

Visually, a glass allows you to judge the beer and appreciate its color, opacity, body, head, and carbonation. You can see the brilliant sunflower yellow color of a good Hefeweisen, or the rich head on a good stout. (A proper beer glass allows room for that head to develop as well.) A good beer glass channels the aroma of a beer as well, allowing the drinker to appreciate the beer’s full bouquet . Some glasses are even designed to release more aroma and carbonation — witness Sam Adams’ custom-designed glass, which is specifically designed to showcase the company’s flagship lager, but will make any beer poured into it look and smell its best.

Using a glass instead of a bottle can help to avoid some of the less savory aspects of beer as well.  Some kinds of unfiltered beer — Belgian ales and other strong ales especially, along with anything that has a secondary fermentation in the bottle — might have some lees, or some other sediment in the bottle. Pouring the beer carefully from the bottle will ensure that your last mouthful of beer doesn’t contain a teaspoon of bitter, slimy yeast.

Of course, the benefit you get from pouring a beer into a glass depends entirely on the beer. Any mass-produced domestic pilsner won’t have much flavor or aroma to highlight, so you might as well leave them in the bottle (or the can.) Even a better, higher-end pilsner like Stella or Pilsner Urquell would be almost as good from the bottle as the glass, despite Stella’s campaign to fetishize their beer chalice. And if you’re doing anything that would make drinking from a can or bottle easier — barbecuing, tailgating, dancing, sneaking a beer at your desk while you work late — you can use the bottle with impunity. But beer is definitely better from a glass.

I don’t know if you bet on the glass or the bottle, but I hope whoever wins the bet uses the prize to buy the loser a set of good beer glasses.

  1. J Frazzetta says:

    I have to agree that using glassware, proper or not, is always much better for enjoying beer. I have a selection of glasses I like to use before I start to review any beer and I’ve been known to use red wine glasses from time to time. If it is a hot day and I’m outside by a swimming pool then just give me the can or bottle. If I’m inside and have some time to sit down then I’ll get a glass for my beer.

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