One of the most subtly important aspects of drinking a beer is the vehicle of the beer itself. While beer is drunk predominantly from cans, glass bottles, glasses, and even plastic cups, most beer drinkers can agree that the method of drinking is crucial to the enjoyment of the drink itself.
I will ignore the divisive can versus bottle debate for now because that’s a topic for an entirely different blog post. Another debate I cannot focus on will be the type of material the vessel is made out of. For example, I think a plastic cup should be used solely for utilitarian purposes; a topic I am open to debate but remain quite firm in my convictions. However, I will focus on the glassware associated with drinking and enjoying beer. Specifically for today, I want to talk about the New England IPA/IPA glasses that are designed to enhance the flavor of an IPA.
Before I being, it is important to note that pairing a beer with its “proper” glass is not absolutely crucial and can quickly fall to pretension. I have enjoyed all matter of beers in the standard American pub glass, from the bottle or can, and, at some gatherings, from a solo cup. There were even a few times in college when, for the sake of discretion, I used travel mug. Yet, there is a whole culture of glassware that grew up with the styles of beer we so often enjoy. These glasses are special and, I think, add an additional layer to the great fun that already is drinking a beer.
For those of us who don’t know, IPAs are versatile beers. Some are incredibly bitter with high ABVs, while others are juicy, sweet, and light. They are a form of ales created back during the British colonization and occupation of India. The standard British ales could not last the long trip sailing from England to India, so the British added more hops and alcohol to preserve the beer during shipment, thus creating the IPA style. They have since received a new life in the craft beer movement, and cover such a wide range of flavor, IBUs, and alcohol level that it’s almost impossible to pin down exactly what an IPA is “supposed” to taste like. That being said, they are brewed from pale malt and are often “hoppy.”
Another important subset of the IPA family is the New England IPA, a relatively new style of IPA that is sometimes referred to as a “hazy IPA.” The haze comes from allowing the yeast to remain free-floating in the beer for added flavor rather than being filtering out. That being said, New England IPAs are more than just a hazy IPAs, New England IPAs are often juicier and sweeter than their often bitterer counterparts. Gotbeer’s very own Nate Reynolds wrote an incredible introduction to the New England IPA style here. Despite IPAs varying in taste and even clarity, all are nicely drinkable with a specific style of glass: the IPA glass.
The IPA glass has ridges on the bottom and opens up to a small chalice like shape on top. The chalice, however, tapers and angles in slightly so the top is narrower than the body of the glass. The ridges help aerate the beer, and the narrower opening helps ensure the head of the beer remains a little longer. The IPA glass looks incredibly similar to a stout glass, though the stout glass does not have the aerating ridges.
Most importantly, the shape of the glass itself helps to direct the aroma of the IPA straight to the nose, rather than, in say a pub glass, dissipating it on the high surface area. Smell is the key to flavor, and the IPA glass helps create a pocket of aroma to ensure the smell doesn’t waft away. The IPA glass acts similarly to a sniffer chalice in this regard, and is even surpassed by the sniffer in the case of drinking double or imperial IPAs.
IPA glasses, however, are often not commonplace in many standard bars nor households. Another far more available alternative would be the Willi Becher glass. The Willi Becher glass functions similarly to the IPA glass, though without the aerating ridges at the bottom. The glass itself is simple, a wider pilsner-esque style bottom that curves outward and back in again creating a narrower top. This top, again, helps preserve the aroma of the beer and helps to form a head.
It is largely due to the curved-in mouth and body of the Willi Becher and the IPA glass that make them ideal for IPA drinking. The design that encourages the head to stay on the IPA, paired with the design of trapping the aroma of the beer in the top all add to the drinking experience of the IPA that is unfortunately lost if drunk out of a pub glass or straight from the bottle or can. So, next time you find yourself grabbing a Brown's Coast-to-Coast or an Ithaca Flower Power, I’d tempt you to reach instead for the Willi Becher or the IPA glass and see if this resonates with you.
Regardless, please feel free to let me know your glass of choice when drinking an IPA. I’m curious to see how far these glass specific trends have gotten over the course of sipping on an IPA, and I’d love to hear from all of you about it.
Steve Pendergast is a beer and food enthusiast. After going to school in Albany, he's split his time between drinking beer and writing about it. He's always searching for a new craft beer to try, and loves finding the local brewpub to immerse himself in the unique taste that each town develops. When he's not writing or reading, you can be sure to find him sitting by a campfire with a bottle of Green Blaze in hand or hiking whatever mountains are close at hand.