The Beer Snifter or Large Cognac Glass

Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout in a Beer Snifter
Pumpkin Stout in a Beer Snifter

The beer snifter is short, stemmed, glass featuring a wide round bottom and tapered top.  You can find snifters in sizes ranging from six ounces up to 22 ounces.  Beer snifters are typically in the 12- 16 ounce range.  These glasses are often made of thinner, more delicate glass but some glassware sets will have thick-walled sturdy versions as well.

This glass is also often referred to as a “balloon glass,” or over-sized brandy / cognac glass.

Benefits of the Beer Snifter

The beer snifter excels at holding some of a beer’s more ephemeral aromas and flavors in a tight space.  Its wide round base and tapered top trap everything in a space where it can be delivered directly to your nose while sipping.  This is especially true for beers with little to no carbonation.

The glass’ shape also helps with heat transfer.  As you hold the glass, warming your beer slightly, more delicate scents and flavors become unlocked.  Cold, dark beers might initially taste “like a stout” from the glass but as the beer warms and you inevitably swirl it around you’ll start to get those hints of cocoa, mocha, peet, or fruit that were hidden away.

How to Drink from a Snifter

The iconic image of a snifter typically involves a Bond villain swirling the glass between sips, maybe holding it up to the light to look inside and admire the color of what is almost certainly an evil cognac.

This is exactly how you want to drink from your snifter.  As you work your way through the beer swirl the glass slowly aerating your beer.  Take a sip, enjoy, swirl, sip, repeat.  For a good beer you’ll notice that the flavor starts to shift the more you drink and the more you swirl.

It’s very much like drinking good scotch or brandy … which brings up another point.

When pouring into a snifter keep the liquid portion of your pour (not counting the head) to just around the part of the glass where it begins to curve back in.  Yes, you may end up pouring a 12 ounce beer into three or four glasses but over-pouring kind of works against this glass’ benefits.

What Beer Goes with a Beer Snifter

You can use a beer snifter for any beer which has been aged, especially when aged in barrels. Similarly, some beers that you chose to “cellar” might be worth pouring into a snifter.

I’m also partial to using the beer snifter for dark beers that mention chocolate or coffee in their billing.  Stouts and Porters that are higher ABV (Imperial Stouts for example) will also find typically end up in a snifter.

If you’re a big hop-head you might also look to a snifter for some lower carbonation IPAs.

Where Can I buy a Beer Snifter

I’d recommend looking for snifters or cognac glasses in the 12- 20 ounce range.

A four piece set of 12 ounce cognac glasses sells for around $15.  While a four piece set of 16 ounce glasses is more like $30.

You may also find a few tulip glasses, like the one included in the Libbey set we’ve reviewed previously, are close enough to snifters to fit the bill.  Just under-pour the beer as mentioned above for best results.