Glassware used for beer drinking in various cultures has evolved
In England it will not be unheard of for a drinker standing at the bar to stick with the same pint glass all night long without so much as a drop of soapy water seeing the glass. This is a minimalist approach that would make a Belgian waiter’s moustache lose its waxed point. Belgium is the land of the beer glass fetish. In a Belgian bar or cafÃ©, each brand of beer must have its own particular glass, each with a unique size or shape. Germans still opt for traditional "mug" shaped beer steins that can hold as much as a liter when in full fest trim.
In the United States, the standard, straight-sided, 16-ounce pint glass has gained ground on the traditional 12-ounce pilsner glass. Here, the greatest concession to ceremony is usually reserved for imported weisse beers, often treated to a tall Bavarian weisse beer glass with a citrus wedge perched on the rim.
Beyond traditional practice, does glass shape and size actually influence the taste of beer when one is drinking at home? The answer is yes, up to a point. Conventional ales and pilsner style beers have no special requirement other than a glass that has an appropriate size to easily take a 12-ounce pour and leave room for the head. Life is too short to wait around for heads to settle before pouring the last dregs of the bottle. If you value a head on your beer, make sure that there are no traces of detergent in the glass. Detergent neutralizes head formation and will prematurely flatten your beer.
In the case of Belgian ales, there is no need to go to the extreme of having a different glass for each brand of beer. However, the Belgian approach is still useful when it comes to appreciation of Belgian-style beers. Belgian abbey ales and other Belgian specialty styles are meant to be constantly savored for their aromas as well as their flavors. The principal feature of specialty Belgian beer glasses is their wide, sometimes bulbous shape, with a tapered upper section that serves to keep your nose close to the beer and enveloped in aromas as you drink it. The glass must be big enough to accommodate the beer in the bottle in one pour unless you want yeast sediment clouding the second pour. If Belgian beers are going to be a part of your life, then by all means equip yourself with all-purpose Belgian abbey beer glassware.
Barley wines are best appreciated from a large brandy snifter that will capture complex vinous aromas while not making the necessarily small pours of such heady brews seem disproportionate to the glass.
Finally, the Bavarians figured out that their extravagantly frothy weiss beers need something tall to accommodate all the foam, not to mention wedges of citrus fruit beloved by Americans. If imported weiss beers are your potion at home, then the appropriately tall, slender glasses will be a wise investment.