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If you want to taste a beer in all its glory, you should pour it into a glass before drinking. (There is an iconic brewery that recommends otherwise, but, well, they’re wrong.) Your tongue isn’t the only part of your body that contributes to your experience of a beer, and drinking from a glass gives your less celebrated senses a seat at the table. (Important caveat: when I’m drinking in the great outdoors, I leave my glassware scruples behind and just go straight for the can, usually with a koozie upgrade.)

But not all glassware is created equal. How do I know? Science. If all you’ve got is the standard American shaker pint, fine, but you should consider upgrading your hardware. They are sturdy and easy to stack, but they don’t do your beer any favors. Still, there are a lot of options beyond the shaker pint. Which is the right choice?

The usual advice is to try to match the style of beer with the glassware that best lets that style shine. There’s the curvaceous weizen glass to show off the enormous yeast-drizzled head, the tall and skinny pilsner glass for admiring clarity and effervescence, Belgian tulips and goblets to highlight esters and phenols, not to mention the traditional cylindrical stange for a kölsch or even the custom-designed Spiegelau IPA glass courtesy of Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada.

The problem with the usual advice, though, is that cupboard space (and the patience of spouses) is limited. I love drinking a wide variety of beer styles, but what if I don’t want to collect the whole panoply of so-called appropriate beer glassware?

Here’s an alternative solution inspired by beer writer Michael Jackson: instead of selecting glassware based on beer style, select it based on drinking occasion.

The most common occasion in my house is simply the after-work, time-to-unwind-and-watch-Netflix pint. On these occasions I’m most likely drinking something I’ve had before, and I don’t want to fuss over the details, so I need an unpretentious glass that still gives the beer an opportunity to shine. Call this one my session glass. For this occasion I’d choose something stemless yet with curves, like the Sam Adams “perfect pint” glass. But other glasses would work just fine, too, like the subtly curvy imperial pint glass from Aslan. (The extra 4 oz. of volume is a bonus for a session glass.)

The second most common occasion is when I’ve just picked up a few new bombers from Elizabeth Station, and I want to really explore some flavors I haven’t experienced before, often sharing with friends and family. In this situation, I want a taster glass. No, not the sort of glass you get in a tasting flight at a brewery; I mean a glass that is designed to gather the aromas of the beer and deliver them straight into your nose when you drink. (Flavor, after all, is mostly aroma.) This is where tulip glasses really shine, like this one from Wander. I’m also partial to the Teku glass, which Aslan uses for some of its beers (like 10 lb hammer). The standard Duvel glass might be the best of both worlds, though.

And you know what? Just those two types of glassware – session and taster – would be sufficient for nearly all of my drinking needs. I get to enjoy my beer to its fullest while at the same time saving on cupboard space, and simplifying my decision-making process. Plus, thinking of beer in the context of the occasions I have for drinking it helps to remind me that beer can be an integral part of a life well-lived, rather than simply an artisanal product to be examined and judged.

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Neal Tognazzini

Neal splits his life between the classroom and the taproom. He has a PhD in philosophy and is an associate professor up at Western, where he teaches courses on ethics and critical thinking, but he is also a homebrewer, BJCP National beer judge, and Certified Cicerone®. When he’s not teaching, brewing, or judging, he’s probably discussing princesses and unicorns with his 6-year-old daughter. You can contact him at nealabram@gmail.com

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