Not to be a major pain in the glass, but it turns out that the vessel from which you sip a tipple can influence your drinking experience. There’s myriad glassware out there for boozy beverages, so how do you know which particular option may be best suited for any given drink?
Glassware comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes for seemingly every category of libation. A discussion of beer or wine glasses alone could comprise a pretty lengthy blog post. But since Shaker & Spoon focuses on cocktails, I’m gonna stick with a brief overview of popular cocktail glasses by first differentiating between stemmed glasses and tumblers, then covering a few specific types of each (namely, the martini, coupe, lowball, highball, and collins).
Generally speaking, stemmed glassware not only gives you something to hold onto, but also helps regulate the temperature of your drink. When gripping a glass by its stem, you avoid transferring heat from your hand to the liquid inside it. This is especially important when some or all of a cocktail’s ingredients are chilled, like those in a martini (and less of a consideration when drinking, say, red wine).
The inarguably sexy martini glass is most appropriate for drinks served “up”: shaken or stirred with ice first, then strained (sans ice) into the glass. The conical shape of a martini glass also helps to prevent cocktail ingredients from separating, and provides significant surface area for inhaling a drink’s aroma, an important part of the flavor for gin-based cocktails often served in martini glasses.
As elegant as it is, a V-shaped martini glass is pretty easy to knock over, especially if you’ve already knocked a few drinks back (so easy that the glass is rumored to have increased in popularity during Prohibition, when you could discard its contents in a snap if you got caught boozin’). Enter: the coupe. This glass is similar to a martini glass in its stem/bowl combo and 3–6 ounce capacity, and was formerly a preferred method for sipping champagne a few generations ago. But its wide, rounded bowl isn’t really effective for containing effervescence, so now it’s considered an acceptable go-to for pretty much any mixed drink, including sidecars, daiquiris, and Manhattans.
A tumbler is a flat-bottomed glass that’s wide enough for you to sniff the liquid it’s holding. Unlike a wine glass, though, it’s not curved to help trap those vapors in the glass. Lowball and chimney-style glasses are both types of tumblers, but with noteworthy differences and their own variations.
The lowball glass is alternatively known as both an old fashioned glass and a rocks glass, and is meant to hold—you guessed it—rocks (aka ice in the cocktail world, but you knew that). Both old fashioned and double old fashioned glasses exist: the former holds 4–9 ounces, while the latter can hold 10–14. Large cubes will fit in either, while still leaving ample stirring room. And the wide opening also accommodates a sniff before you sip. A lowball glass is recommended for spirit-forward bevs and drinks built in the glass—those that you mix in the same glass you serve it in. Old fashioned glasses are great for things like Negronis and mint juleps, in addition to their namesake cocktail.
Chimney-style glasses include highballs and collins glasses. A highball is essentially a taller version of the lowball, and holds 8–12 ounces. It’s ideal for mixed drinks that include carbonation, since its narrow opening minimizes how much liquid is exposed to the air (the more exposure, the quicker the carbonation evaporates and the sooner your drink’ll be flat). Also cylindrical in shape like a highball, a collins glass is even narrower and more elongated, and used to serve 10–14 ounce cocktails. It promotes even greater bubble retention via its more slender shape.
Historically, the highball and collins were used to serve different types of cocktails, but these days they’re usually interchangeable. Aromatics in the cocktails typically served in chimney-style glasses tend to be less important than they are in drinks that should be served in glasses with a wider opening. Chimney-style glasses are great for gin fizzes, gimlets, gin and tonics, and anythings-with-soda.
One more thing to note! We’ve established that a well-mixed cocktail deserves to be served in a visually appealing and sensible way—we eat and drink with our eyes before anything else, after all! And a 4–6 ounce cocktail served in a 12-ounce glass may look a little, well, empty. But it’s especially important to also consider the good ’ole olfactory sense when keeping proper cocktail presentation in mind.
Smell and taste are closely connected, so the elements of a drink that contribute to its smell, and therefore its taste, shouldn’t be overlooked. This includes optimal glass selection for proper garnish accommodation and presentation, too. While a sprig of fresh herbs always looks pretty, it’s also usually intended to contribute an aromatic quality to the sipping experience. So make sure to show your garnishes some love by picking the right glass for them—and preventing them from descending too deeply into the glass in question.
Whether you’re feeling cordial or old fashioned, want to w(h)ine, or think you may just wanna give something a shot, it’s worth considering the glass you’re sipping from, and whether or not it’s half empty or half full . . . but maybe I’ll save my philosophical discussions for whoever pulls up to the bar stool next to me 🙂