Cocktail Glasses: How glassware creates the perfect drinking experience

Louise McLoughlinArticles, Bar Talk, Classic Cocktails, Cocktail History

Cocktail Glassware matters

In the world of bar frequentation there are few things more disappointing than ordering a cocktail, only to have it presented to you in the wrong glass.

To many, the disappointment may seem irrational – does the glassware really make that much of a difference to the taste and experience of the drink? Or to put it more concisely: is the difference in the glass, or just in our head?

Luckily, your disappointment is neither irrational nor misplaced. Glassware affects the temperature, the aroma, and the taste of cocktails – all which culminate to create the drinking experience. Any bartender or bar worth their salt should be presenting their drinks correctly (especially when the customer is paying cocktail prices).

From newbies to seasoned cocktail drinkers, the majority of people automatically associate certain drinks with their intended glassware. One can’t think of a martini cocktail without picturing its classic martini glass, garnished with the iconic olive or a twist of lemon.

Every bar should be stocked out with a variety of glassware, but for higher-end bars the glassware options are vast and, at first glance, somewhat confusing. For the sake of this article, let’s keep it simple and look at the main kinds of different glassware, and why their design is so important to the overall drinking experience.

  • I already mentioned the classic martini glass, possibly the best-known of all cocktail glassware. Half of the appeal is its elegance, (and indirectly the perceived elegance and sophistication of anyone drinking from it), which is emphasized by the tall stem. The stem also functions to keep the drinkers’ warm hands away from the body of the drink, letting it stay chilled for longer. This glass – in both its V-shape and curvier ‘coupe’ varieties – is great for martinis, manhattans, daiquiris and margaritas, to name a few. However, the top-heavy style of the glass also means it’s notoriously easy to topple – definitely a drink for a night sitting at a bar or booth, and not for hitting the dance floor with one in-tow.
  • Second is the champagne flute – a glass equally as recognizable as the v-shaped martini. As the name suggests, it’s used for champagne and everything champagne based, such as bellinis and mimosas. Again, the elegant stem means hands don’t warm up the fizzing drink, and the tall shape means the bubbles rise slowly — which serves the two purposes of making the drink look nice, and keeping it fizzy for longer. Additionally, it’s less top-heavy and tumble-happy than the martini glass, which means you can toast and celebrate with a bit more vigor.
  • Another common sight in any bar is the lowball glass, also known as an old fashioned glass or a rocks glass. This glass is short and cylindrical, and often used for old fashioneds – as the name implies. It’s also the glass of choice for whiskey on the rocks or drinks like White Russians (and basically any other short drinks that aren’t mixed in a shaker). Its size allows for two ounce pours of whiskey, plus ice and garnish. The double lowball/old fashioned glass is a larger version of this glassware.
  • The highball glass is a taller thinner version of the lowball, used for ice-based cocktails like mojitos and gin and tonics. To help navigate around the ice, the glass is often accompanied by a tall straw. The size of the highball accommodates the ice content, and allows for a larger number of ounce pours than the lowball.
  • The hurricane glass always makes me think of lounging on a deck chair on a beach with a fruity blended cocktail. It’s often used as a curvier (and in my opinion sexier) alternative to a highball. It’s also generally larger so it can hold more liquids (and more importantly, more liquor). It’s popular for all those tropical vacation drinks like the piña colada, Singapore Sling and, of course, the hurricane cocktail from which it gets its name. Add an umbrella on top for a true vacation experience.

While they’re the main glasses you might expect to see in a bar, they’re definitely not the only options. Other cocktail glassware varieties include Irish coffee mugs, collins glasses, champagne coupes, tulip glasses, cordial glasses, sour glasses, brandy snifters, and (if these count as cocktail glasses – which I’m deciding they do) shot glasses and the party-ready fishbowl!