I’m not, when I’m in a pub, a great worrier about what shape of glass my beer is served in, unlike my father, who would only drink out of a thin-walled straight glass – he said he couldn’t stand the feel of the thick-glass “mug” against his lips. The straight-sided, or slightly sloping-sided pint beer glass has been around from the early 20th century at least. But the authentic English “four-ale bar” (public bar) pint mug up to the end of the First World War was actually a china pot in a bizarre shade of pink with a white strap handle – see George Orwell’s classic “Moon Under Water” essay from the Evening Standard in 1946, where Orwell, always the inverted snob, complains that this working-class mug was getting hard to find.
The usual sort of glassware in Edwardian pubs was a handle-less sloping-sided, thick-walled “straight” pint mug (pewter was restricted to the saloon bar). Around 1928 the 10-sided or “fluted” handled glass pint mug came in, and this is the pint glass seen in all the “Beer Is Best” advertising put out by the Brewers Society in the 1930s (it is also, in this drinker’s opinion, the finest glass to consume English ale from).
The “dimple” pint arrived about 1948, and eventually drove out the “fluted” glass in the handled pint field (although 10-sided pint glasses were still being made as late as 1964): the arrival of the dimple coincided with the triumph of bitter over (dark) mild, and amber beers look better in dimpled glasses than in straight-sides ones: the light shining through a pint of bitter in a dimpled glass is the beery equivalent of the windows of Salisbury or Chartres.
Meanwhile in the early 1960s the major problem of “straight” glasses – their tendency to chip or nick where the rims rubbed together during washing and storage – was solved by the invention of the “Nonik” (no nick) glass, with its strengthened bulge about an inch or an inch and a half down from the rim, where the glasses could rub together without harm. Unfortunately, it might last longer, but the “Nonik” has to be the ugliest, least attractive container to drink beer from ever forced upon a sullen public – it does nothing at all for the aesthetic qualities of the liquid it contains.
A variation, the “waisted” thin-walled pint glass, which pulled the rim in slightly to avoid the possibility of “nicks” , has been take up most enthusiastically by stout brewers, and as a result since the 1970s it has become the classic Irish/Guinness pint glass. It is also used extensively in the North of England for serving Yorkshire-style “big head” pints.
Now the “Nonik” appears to be disappearing, replaced by tall, narrow, only slightly tapered thin-walled pint glasses. However, beerglass forms can be very conservative: the “tulip” half-pint lager glass, as lusted over by John Mills in the film “Ice Cold in Alex”, is now at least 60 years old.