Pilsners have a special relationship with glass because the beer we know and love today is directly related to our scientific advancements in glassware that occurred around the 19th century.
Glass was, back then, used almost exclusively by the very rich to drink wine. Beer was more often served in meeting houses and pubs and served in horns, ceramic, pewter, or wooden mugs. The beer of antiquity was usually dark and murky, and no one could really see the beer they were drinking due to their mug's material. Taste was the only factor that played a part in the brewing process, and that wasn't very consistent either.
However, according to material scientist Mark Miodownik in his book Stuff Matters, a region of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, developed a way to mass produce glass. This mass production of glass made it economically feasible to sell beer from clear glass in pubs. “As a result people could see for the first time what their beer looked like, and they often did not like what they saw. The so-called top-fermenting beers were variable not just in their taste, but in their color and clarity too” (Miodownik 152).
All of a sudden, beer presentation became a huge factor in the drinking experience. And, because of the new emphasis on look, “a new beer was developed in Pilsen using bottom fermenting yeast. It was lighter in color, it was clear and golden, it had bubbles like champagne – it was lager. This was beer to be drunk with the eyes as much as with the mouth, and these light golden lagers have continued in this tradition ever since, being designed to be served in glass” (Miodownik 152).
This beer is none other than the Bohemian Pilsner, first brewed in Pilsen, Czech Republic, in 1842, and what we affectionately know today as the Pilsner Urquell.
The creation of mass produced glass and subsequent Pilsner Urquell did nothing short of revolutionize the way beer is brewed. Other than the few beer styles, such as the NEIPA, beers are prized for their clarity, shape of bubbles, and consistency. However, it's the pilsner that started the presentation factor of beer.
Given the pilsner's unique relationship with glass, and specifically with presentation, it's no surprise then that the pilsner flute was designed to highlight the clarity and bubbles in a pilsner.
So, let’s look at it. A pilsner flute is a tall, thin glass that's slightly conical. It tapers ever so slightly down the length of the glass to the base, which could have a stem. The height and narrow mouth is designed to primarily preserve the head on a pilsner. Further, the height and shape ensure the bubbles put on a “show” as they float to the top.
The flute is designed to be showy, and it's perfect for any pilsner or light lager. The shape allows the pilsner to brag about its clarity, while also ensuring bubbles rise slowly up the length of the glass. Its narrow mouth also preserves a head, which acts to capture aromas and flavors in the beer. The pilsner flute is a perfect marriage of form and function as it shows off the beer, while complementing its flavor.
Let me know what you all think about the supermodel of the beer glass world, the flute, and if you're going to be using it in the future.
For those of you who plan to, be sure to enjoy your Pilsner Urquell in its proper flute and remember the unique piece of history captured in your glass. Prost!
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.