Not one person voted for "No. I don't mind what glass is used" when asked the question "Does the glass a beer is served in affect its flavour?" This surprised me, but also bolstered my faith in the readers of this blog as a discerning bunch!
Also interesting is that there is an even split between the two answers: "Yes. It affects its aroma." and "Yes. It affects its flavour and aroma."
With the answer "No. But I prefer a nice glass." Coming close behind. I asked people to put the psychological effects of the glass aside for the survey, but this answer was there for people who thought the only effect of a glass on the drinking experience is psychological.
So on to the important question, which of the answers would I have given? Well first of all, I'm not claiming to be the expert here, or to give a completely difinitive answer. This is very much a discussion and if you agree, or don't, please comment below. That said, I would have voted for "Yes. It affects its flavour and aroma." But I also think that the people who answered "Yes. It affects its aroma." were, strictly speaking also correct. But I'll get to why in a bit, first lets look at what the glass shape physically does to the beer.
I believe the shape of a glass mainly affects the beer in two ways: It dictates how the head on the beer forms, and it controls how much of the volatile compounds in the beer escape in the form of aroma.
The glass shape can affect how the beers head is formed in a number of ways, take for for example the well known dumpy tulip Duvel glass pictured left: The extreme tulip shape first pushes the bubbles in the head together, forcing any large bubbles to burst but smaller bubbles to pack tighter together, giving a smooth tight head. The shape then opens back up at the top giving the head something to 'sit' on top of, helping the head to stick around.
This is important as the head itself releases a lot of the aroma, which makes sense when you think about the increased surface area that the frothy head has compared to the flat surface of beer itself. It's mostly the hop aromas that come through in the head but often the head tastes dry and hoppy in itself, showing a beer with a head does taste different to one without (Lets not get into a debate over sparklers, i.e. the north/South divide here!)
As I mentioned, the glass shape can also effect how much of the volatile compounds in the beer escape as aroma. A wide brimmed glass allows more surface area for the beers aroma to escape, and something like a snifter glass (like a big brandy glass) allows you to swirl the beer to release more of the aroma. It has also been argued that a brandy snifter allows the volatile compounds to escape the beer but then 'traps them' inside the brim which is relatively narrow compared to the main body of the glass. Although I have to say I'm dubious that this is possible. Anyone got a suggestion on this?
Ok, so you may be thinking now that the glass just affects how the head is formed and how much aroma is released from the beer, and doesn't affect flavour at all, right?
Well, in my opinion, no. Because flavour and aroma are so intrinsically linked that it is impossible to seperate the two when drinking. (Which is why I earlier mentioned that I think both answers 1 and 2 are strictly speaking correct.) Try drinking a beer with a peg on your nose and tell me what it tastes like. Not alot right?
What I'm getting at is that as well as smelling the beer before you sip it, the aroma affects how the beer tastes during your sip. The aroma comes in as you breathe, and even circulates through your nasal cavity from the inside as you swallow. The aroma is hugely important to the overall flavour of your beer, and thats why serving your beer in the right glass which will showcase it's flavour is much more than simply branding, or a psycholigcal benefit. It's the way that brewers deliver their vision of what their beer should taste like.
So please, respect the glass people!
I've tried to keep this as readable and "un-sciencey" as possible, but please if you have any further info feel free to comment below and add to the discussion.