You’re at your favorite watering hole, parched from a hectic day of work and you just want one thing.
An icy cold one.
The waitress brings it to the table. You watch as the dew begins to form on the outside of mug. It beads up and begins trickling down the glass.
You reach your hand towards the container in quiet anticipation.
Your mouth begins to salivate. You can’t wait until that cold bliss hits your tongue.
The glass finally touches your lips and the golden liquid cascades into your gullet. Ahhh, refreshment.
But have you ever thought about the container that brought you this nectar of life? The common beer mug, glass, stein, tumbler, or goblet?
Believe it or not, there is quite a bit of science and no small amount of art involved in the design of these containers to make sure that the blast of life-giving nourishment tickles your palate in just the right way.
It turns out that there are practically as many types of mugs and such as there are styles of brew. We’ll explore their history and current designs, and then we’ll touch on some of the most popular sets sold on the market for home use today.
History of Beer Drinking Vessels
The first beer mugs, or any kind of drinking vessel really, were made from clay. It certain parts of the world (dependent on resource availability), wooden and horn mugs and cups became the norm.
AleHorn Handcrafted Extra Large Viking Drinking Horn Tankard available on Amazon
The downside of drinking anything out of wood for long, though, is that the wood begins to take on the flavor and aroma of the beverages being drunk.
Wood also has a tendency to grow bacteria in the tiny cracks and crevices that appear after prolonged use, giving off a rancid smell and altering the taste of the drink.
As such, in the 14th and 15th centuries, pewter began to replace wooden tankards for those who could afford them.
Unfortunately, any metallic drinking vessel is going to give a metallic tang to the liquid being consumed. Even worse, at that time a primary component of pewter was lead, leading to far too many cases of lead poisoning.
It should be pointed out that most new “pewter” on the market today made for food contact is lead-free but always check the product description carefully. You can also find products like the one from MyFancyCraft featured above, which are lined with stainless steel.
As soon as manufacturing reached a point where it was inexpensive enough to make that even the poorest could afford it, pewter was phased out, and rightfully so.
Since that time, glass has been the primary material for drinking vessels, and with beer it works especially well.
The clear substance allows for the best appreciation of the many colors you will find in the different styles of ales and lagers as well as a good view of the effervescence that typifies certain varieties.
Not only that, but glass will never alter the flavor or aroma of the drink.
Further, since the material can be formed in pretty much any shape you can think of, manufacturers can make mugs in shapes that are very specifically designed for each style of brew.
Why would the shape matter?
To answer that question, first let me go over a couple of terms.
Most people are familiar with the word “head” when it comes to talking about beer. For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, the head is the foamy white or cream-colored substance that forms on the top of the liquid as the beer is poured into the drinking vessel.
The head is important because it acts as a sort of lid to trap the volatiles in the beer.
“Volatiles” is the other term that I wanted to cover, and I’m certain that most lay people are unfamiliar with the word in this context. Hops, specialty grains, and other compounds in the beer release volatiles, which evaporate as they meet the air and form the aroma.
We all know how important smells are to what we taste. It’s essential that the head is retained as long as possible to trap those volatiles in so that we get the full effect of the drink’s aroma as we are drinking it.
With all that being said, if a certain shape of glassware was designed to maintain the head, now you should understand why the design is so important.
Not only that, but other shapes are made to increase or maintain the carbonation of fizzier lagers, and still other designs are made in a special way to allow for better appreciation of the actual color of the drink.
So what type of glass is best for your particular favorite? I’m glad you asked.
Types of Beer Glassware
Similar to the champagne stem of the same name, the long, narrow body of this drinking vessel helps to keep in the bubbles and enhance that carbonation for the lighter, fizzier lagers.
It also allows a faster release of volatiles to give a stronger upfront scent, which works to the benefit of lighter-flavored varieties. This type of glass is best for bocks, pilsners, and other light lagers.
What to Buy: Schott Zwiesel Tritan Crystal Set
Made in Germany of fine crystal, this set will never haze or discolor. Thick bottom and but a thin lip means that this set will have the durability to last for years and will assist with keeping the brew colder (the thin lip minimizes heat transfer).
Have you had bad luck with breaking crystal in the past? This set is made of tougher stuff than the ordinary type.
The patented, lead-free manufacturing process utilizes titanium and zirconium oxide to create a vessel that resists scratches, scuffs, and breakage. This is one of the most beloved sets on Amazon and is also manufactured in other patterns.
This type of receptacle is specifically engineered to preserve the head with its wide bowl and mouth. Manufacturers often also score the bottom of the inside of the goblet, which keeps the carbonation flowing, continuing to contribute air to the head.
The wide mouth of the goblet is also perfect for deep, quenching swallows of your drink. Use a goblet, or chalice as they are also called, for serving Belgian IPAs and Belgian strong dark ales specifically, and any other beer with a thick head.
What to Buy: Amici Bier Sommelier Goblet Set
The Amici’s Bier Sommelier goblet sets are the perfect choice and should be in every beer drinker’s arsenal. Made in Italy, they are the ideal stemware for making the most of your preferred craft or home brewed beer.
The circular edge of the cup assists in the enhancement of aroma derived from the many volatile compounds as you savor the beer.
The walls are shaped to permit a proper flow of the brew to your taste buds, which boosts the aromatic compounds that rest in between the brew and foam.
The inward sloping sides of the cup guide the brew’s fragrance to the side of the cup and the bulge within the bottom section of the goblet permits the foam to last longer.
Mug (Seidel, Stein)
Here in the US, a container with a handle that is thick walled and can hold a large volume is called a mug. In Germany, this type of drinking vessel is called a seidel. If your seidel also has a lid, then it’s called a stein.
The Man Mug – 16.9 Ounce Double Walled Stainless Steel available on Amazon
The lidded stein was invented first, during the Black Plague, to prevent flies from dropping into the drink. Over time, the attached lid was phased out, resulting in today’s mug.
Steins have experienced a resurgence, though, and are now increasingly popular, especially in Europe.
With a lid or without, the two main things about mugs are they can hold a lot of your favorite brew, usually 20 ounces, and they are good and thick, so you can clink them and toast in a celebratory manner without worrying about breakage.
What to Buy: Libbey 4-Piece Heidelburg Beer Mug Set
The ubiquitous beer mug in a 4-piece set could not get any cheaper, so if that’s your main desire, this is definitely the collection for you.
These mugs are really thick-walled, and that, combined with using a handle, means that that your beer will stay cold for a good while. A mug is just fine for serving all of the basic styles of beer, so this might be a good option for you.
A tall, slender container, usually designed to hold 12 ounces, a pilsner glass tends to be trumpet-shaped, narrow at the base and gradually flaring out as it reaches the lip of the vessel.
These are made to highlight the bubbles and color of a traditional pilsner (also spelled pilsener) as well as maintain its head.
As the name suggests, this receptacle was designed originally for pilsners, but really, any light, fizzy lager works well in this particular vessel, including your typical adjunct lagers like Coors, Budweiser, and the like, as well as Mexican favorites like Dos Equis and Corona.
What To Buy: Du Vino 16-Ounce Pilsner Glasses, 4-Piece Set
Perfect for your favorite pilsner and other light lagers, this is a very economical and well-reviewed set. A set of Pilsner cups are the perfect second set to acquire once you’ve got your basic mugs or pint glasses.
Made with a laster-etched nucleated base to ensure a steady stream of bubbles to promote better head retention and experience the very best aroma and flavor, you are sure to enjoy sipping from these. Plus, they’re made in the USA.
Like a mug, the slightly tapered pint glass has a nice, wide mouth and holds large volumes, usually coming in either a 16 or 20-ounce size.
A little better for beers with big, foamy heads, these containers really aren’t made for any one style, and their main selling point is that they are easy to store, being stackable. This is the main reason this is the drinking vessel of choice at any bar in town.
Plus, they’re cheap.
Again, like a mug, you can really drink anything in one of these. If you drink all different types of ales and lagers, never sticking with just one favorite, this would be a good choice to have on hand at home.
What To Buy: British Style Imperial Pint Glass Set
For us Anglophiles, this is a perfect choice. Great for serving any of the traditional pub offerings, this set has the official crown pint seal of authenticity.
Another plus to this set is the heavy glass, making them resistant to breakage. They are also stackable for easy storage.
Alternate Recommendation: ARC International Luminarc Pub Beer Glass
If you don’t care about any special features, or you don’t share my love of Guinness (Arc International also makes a Guinness branded set – see below), these basic pints are the absolute best choice in the realm of beer glassware.
For a set of 10, you will pay a rock-bottom price, and this is a #1 best seller, so you really can’t go wrong if you are just looking for the basics at a good price. These look pretty thick, too, so they will be durable and last a long time.
Similar to a goblet, only rounder, a snifter is a wide-bowled, stemmed vessel with a slightly tapered mouth. Really strong ales do well in this style as the wide bowl allows lots of aroma to escape, enhancing the taste of the ale.
Imperial IPAs and Stouts, Scotch Ale, and Barleywine are some classic examples of what to serve in a snifter.
What to Buy: Libbey Belgian Beer Glass
Another heavy duty set that will survive a tumble or an accidental drop on most things other than concrete. This set is a little more pricey, but the robust construction makes up for it.
The design is especially suited for concentrating and forcing the aroma out via a chimney effect. This set is highly recommended and garners lots of positive reviews on Amazon.
This is a traditional German drinking vessel, tall and thin, whose name translates to “stick.” The stange is also known as the “champagne flute of the beer word” due to its lightness and shape.
This form helps to amplify the flavor of light and delicate beers, and the narrow opening allows for a higher concentration of the most important component- volatiles.
When you get a stronger burst of scent as you go to take a sip, it gives the flavor a boost as well, which is helpful when drinking a very light brew.
Best known for serving the famous Kolsch beer of Cologne, Germany, they are are also great for serving Altbier, Bock, Pilsner, Faro, and Rye.
What to Buy: Stange Kolsch German Beer Glass
This European made set is true to form and is just like those found in Cologne sans any local logos. Since Kolsch is served in a highly carbonated state, these are a bit smaller than the average beer glass to accommodate the foam.
Expect to fit about six ounces in each with a strong head. Two of these are perfect for splitting a 12 oz bottle.
“Weizen” means wheat, and so a weizen glass is simply one that is designed for wheat beers. An authentic Bavarian drinking vessel, these were created to support the thick, foamy heads typically associated with those wheat brews and are ubiquitous throughout the Munich Oktoberfest.
American wheat ales as well as Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, and Weizenbock are the styles you would serve in one of these.
What to Buy: True 23-Ounce Clear Wheat Beer Glass Set
Want a cup that you don’t have to refill very often? Try these large 23-ouncers on for size.
With a solid build, these are the perfect containers to satisfy your wheat beer cravings. Heck, they are built so strong that they are even dishwasher safe!
Branded Drinking Vessels
For the most part, the types of drinking vessels listed above are all of the ones you can find for serving beer. I do want to point out, though, that most large breweries have now started creating their own special receptacles specifically catered to their style of ale or lager.
What to Buy: Samuel Adams Boston Lager Sensory Pint
Sam Adams and Stella Artois are two that immediately come to mind. Sam Adams in particular put a great deal of thought into the design of their popular glassware, and I would definitely suggest you purchase a set if you are a fan of their many brews.
Additional Recommendation: ARC International Luminarc Guinness Gravity Glass
You know I couldn’t put together a list of glassware without including this collection with the Guinness logo.
These pint glasses have a little bit of a flare to the base that makes them a little different as well. I think I’ll order these for myself soon!
More Notable Options
Libbey Craft Brew Sampler 6-Piece Set
If you don’t have a favorite beer and are always trying something new, this is the perfect set for you. You’ll have a glass for any kind of ale or lager you buy!
Of course, assuming you aren’t drinking alone all the time, you will need to buy more than one of these bundles, which could add up pretty quickly. It’s a pretty neat package, though, and one grouping is very reasonably priced.
Spiegelau Beer Classics IPA Glass, Set of 6
With the soaring popularity of craft beers in general and IPAs in particular, I thought it would be fitting to include this set.
It’s pretty cool actually that this manufacturer partnered with two of the leading breweries for craft beers, Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, to come up with this design catered to IPAs.
Created to enhance the volatile experience and maintain a frothy head, this is the perfect set for you IPA lovers.
Obviously, this is just a small sampling of what is available to you, but each of these sets has lots of reviews, and lots of good reviews at that. Also, these are all a good value for your money as well. Hopefully I’ve given you a good place to start your search.
About Ashley Martell
Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.