Nothing beats a beautiful glass of beer. It can set a good tone for an entire guest visit, and it shows your customers you care about all the little details that add up to a wonderful dining experience.
“The beer is often the first thing on the table, so it’s a chance to make a good first impression—or a bad one,” says Ray Daniels, the founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, an organization that has taught more than 10,000 servers the art of presenting beer in the best way possible.
“Too often, a great beer is ruined in the last 10 yards—the distance between the keg and the table,” Daniels laments.
Once it leaves the confines of the keg, a beer is vulnerable to the whims of tap line sanitation, the temperature at which it is served, and the kind of glass the bartender chooses to put it in.
“All of these things ultimately affect how your beer-drinking customers feel about their visit to your restaurant,” says Daniels.
While many restaurants and bars keep their tap lines clean, fewer have caught on to the nuances of serving craft beers at the right temperature and in glasses that bring out the best in these brews.
The choice of glass determines many things—how a beer tastes, what impression this important part of the dining experience makes on your guests, and how much profit you make from each pour.
“At minimum, you need to have the right size glass for the beers you serve,” Daniels tells FSR. “A keg of high ABV imperial stout is going to cost you a lot more than a keg of lager or pale ale,” he says, “and you can’t take the same approach to selling both.”
While many styles and brands of beer call for their own unique glasses, three or four basic glass shapes—a pint, a pilsner glass, a tulip, and perhaps a snifter—are all you really need to handle any style of beer.
A 16-ounce or 20-ounce pint glass is an indispensible tool for serving lower-alcohol beers, like IPA’s, pale ales, amber lagers, and English stouts. These beers are typically cheaper to stock and won’t leave your patrons bleary-eyed, so it doesn’t hurt to be generous with your pour. While the traditional shaker pint is easy to store and relatively cheap, higher-end restaurants may want to invest in the classier English pint glass, which has a more graceful profile and thinner walls to better maintain a beer’s temperature.
A tall and slender 14-ounce pilsner glass brings out the best in crisp and refreshing European beers like pilsners and kölsches, providing good head retention to highlight their hop profile, and allowing them to show off their sparkling yellow bodies. These glasses are just the right size for holding a 12-ounce bottle of beer while leaving enough headroom for a couple of finger widths of aromatic froth.
A 16-ounce tulip glass, with its curved sides and a short-stemmed bottom, is perfect for capturing the aromas and artfully showcasing the hues of Belgian dubbels and tripels, as well as heavier IPA’s, stouts, and other dark aromatic beers. A typical pour into one of these glasses will be 12 ounces, leaving enough room for the beer’s head at the outset, and for swirling the contents to reignite the aroma after a few sips.
The boozier the beer, the smaller the glass you’ll want to use, both to be a responsible server and to control costs—“big” beers like barleywines and imperial stouts don’t come cheap. Serving them in a 9- or 12-ounce snifter will allow your customers to enjoy the beer’s nuances, and allow you to charge a per-ounce premium for these more expensive brews, without pricing them out of reach for your guests.
You should also consider having a supply of 4-ounce tasting glasses on hand, which allow you to pour sample-sized servings and create flights of beers. These little glasses allow you to charge more per ounce than a standard-sized glass and can provide your guests with a low-risk way of finding (and ordering) a beer that they love.
Of course, the glass isn’t the only thing that affects how a beer tastes – temperature plays an important role as well.
“Many places serve all of their beers at 37 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the right temperature for macro lagers like Budweiser, but is too cold for most everything else,” says Greg Engert, beer director for Birch and Barley, a beer-centric fine-dining restaurant in Washington that offers an amazing array of 555 brews: 500 in bottles, 50 on tap, and 5 on cask.
“If a beer is too cold, it numbs the aromas, a critical component of a beer’s taste.” Engert says. “The heavier a beer’s body, the more warmth is needed to release its aromatic qualities, which in turn have a deep influence on how the brain processes the beer’s flavor. “
Depending on the style, Birch and Barley serves its beers at one of three temperatures to bring out the best in flavor and aroma.
The coldest temperature used is 42 degrees Fahrenheit, reserved for beers that are meant to be refreshing, like pale lagers, pilsners, and kölsches. This temperature is cold enough to make these styles crisp on the tongue, and warm enough to allow for the proper aroma to rise up from the beer.
You’ll find beers with a bit more molecular mass on the next step up in the serving temperature spectrum—like porters, stouts, IPA’s, pale ales, and Belgian tripels and dubbels. Birch and Barley serves these beers at 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
The biggest, heaviest beers—like barleywines, dopplebocks, and Belgian strong dark ales—are served at the warmest temperature, 54 degrees. These beers are presented in snifters, which allow the beer to be swirled to release aromatics and limit the serving portion of these higher-alcohol offerings.
If all of this seems a little too complicated—serving different styles of beer in different glasses and at different temperatures—ask yourself this: Would you do it for wine?
“Restaurateurs should really be applying their wine service principles to beer,” says Matt Rutkowski, a craft beer enthusiast and vice president for Spiegelau, which manufactures both wine and beer glasses for fine dining.
If you’re not ready to do it for the love of craft beer, Rutkowski says, then do it for the profits.
“I do a lot of traveling, and I’ve seen a trend where craft beer is becoming a featured item at fine restaurants that I visit around the country, “ Rutkowski says. “You’ll attract a whole new customer if beer is served right—I’ve seen it firsthand.”
While you might not be ready quite yet to serve an imperial stout at 58 degrees in a 9-ounce snifter, understand that consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated when it comes to how craft beer should be served.
Doing things the right way can increase guest satisfaction and loyalty. Doing them wrong could send a good customer down the street.
“For a craft beer aficionado, having their beer served freezing cold and in the wrong glass is like being served a lukewarm rack of lamb on a paper plate,” warns Rutkowski.