This guide has in-depth descriptions on how to use each glass and for which cocktails. It covers coupes, flutes, rocks, martini and more. There’s also a guide on what to get first, and how to build up a glassware collection for your home bar.
Cocktail, beer and wine glasses have expanded over the past decade as specialty glassware has flooded the marketplace. This chapter introduces the families, or the basic shapes of glassware that you’re likely to run into.
These days liquor is almost always served in clear glass or crystal. This allows the guest to enjoy the color, clarity and bubbles in the cocktail, but it wasn’t always the case. Years ago the etched designs on glassware was used to hide the sediment. Now with modern filtering methods, sediment is a thing of the past. The cut designs just hide the beverage, taking away from the enjoyment.
In addition to etched designs, another type of glass to avoid are those with lead in the crystal. Some people question if the glassware is safe, or if the lead can leach out over time, posing a health risk. Regardless of whether there’s a risk, its better to be safe than sorry and not worry your friends and guests.
In a commercial setting like a bar, lounge or pub, you won’t find glassware that’s overly delicate, or prone to chipping. It’s mostly hardened glass that’s a little thicker than normal, so it can stand repeated use, rough handling, and hundreds of cleaning cycles in a commercial dishwasher.
Most hotels, lounges and pubs order glassware by the case, which can be anywhere from 1 to 3 dozen (12–36) pieces. Usually they are all from the same manufacturer and from the same series, or collection. That way, inventory can be ordered a year or two later and still match what they already have.
For home use, it’s a good idea to follow what the commercial places do. Pick a glassware manufacturer that’s been around a long time and go with one of their lines. Then you can get replacements for broken glassware and add new glass types as you expand your set.
This shape has been referred to as a jigger, shot, whisky, cordial, or pony glass. The name for it changed over the years, depending on what it was used for.
These days, instead of using a tiny glass and filling it to the brim, bigger glasses have taken over. For example, whiskey is now served over ice in a rocks glass, or savored straight up in a Glencairn glass. Liqueurs get sipped from snifters. Aperitifs, sherry and port are enjoyed from 4 oz (120 ml) flutes, or larger snifters.
All of these larger replacements for the shot glass have been welcomed. They allow the beverage to be fully enjoyed and appreciated.
The only bar drink that still uses a shot glass is the shooter. These layered drinks are not cocktails to be enjoyed, but gulped in one shot. They are just an insanely expensive alcohol delivery system, with names that try and shock the timid. Many of their flavor combinations taste bad and are simply college pranks to dare the naive.
The real purpose of the shot glass, or jigger, is as a bartender’s measuring device. The standard Canadian & European jigger is 1 oz or 30 ml. The standard American jigger is 1.5 oz (45 ml). The gradual tapering inside the glass allows the experienced bartender to make accurate measurements in small quantities, without having to rely on measuring lines.
Not long ago the martini glass and cocktail glass were different shapes. The martini glass featured the deep V shape, whereas the cocktail glass was more tulip shaped. Over the years the two morphed into the V shaped martini glass that’s popular today.
A change for the worse is the ever expanding size of the cocktail glass. Back in 1980, the standard sized Cocktail glass was 3.5–4 oz (105–120 ml), which was perfect for a single serving. Now that size is impossible to find, except from a handful of restaurant supply stores.
Most commercial establishments now use a standard 6 oz (180 ml) martini glass. A few use the giant 8–10 ounce (240–300 ml) glass, but bigger is not better when it comes to cocktails. You either have to dilute the drink to fill the glass, or look stingy by filling it half way up. So it is best to stick with a 6 oz (180 ml) or smaller glass.
Coupes (Old Champagne Glass)
The coupe was designed specifically for sweet champagne, way back around 1660. The wide glass let the bubbles tickle your nose, which was quite the thing back then.
Around the 1930s champagne started to become less sweet, or drier in wine terminology. Some European connoisseurs decided that it would be better served in a tulip shaped wine glass to hold the bubbles in. This lead to renewed interest in the flute shape that had been around since the ancient Romans.
These days, it’s extremely rare to see any sort of sparkling wine in a coupe. The exception being lower end weddings with rented banquet hall equipment.
The coupe however is an elegant choice for serving cocktails, so its enjoying a resurgence in popularity. They run from 3.5 oz (105 ml) up to 8.5 oz (255 ml) in size, with a 5.5 oz (165 ml) being the standard size for most cocktails.
Margaritas can be served in just about anything from coupes to plastic tumblers. The ‘standard’ however is this 7–12 oz (210–350 ml) shrimp cocktail variant of the old champagne coupe, which is now known as the margarita glass.
Back in the day, this Mexican invention was made from recycled pop bottles. They were thick and heavy, green goblets with lots of air bubbles in the glass. Slowly over the years the style has been refined, but the classic design of an upside-down Mexican sombrero remains.
In addition to serving fresh margaritas, these glasses can be used to serve frozen daiquiris and other slushy type drinks. The can also act as a coupe, but the size of this glass is much larger, so be sure to adjust the recipe accordingly.
This basic, short and wide, 5–9 oz (150–270 ml) glass is the workhorse of the cocktail world. Some call it an old fashioned glass after the name of the drink. Others, mostly bartenders, call it a bucket. It is used to build and serve drinks on ice, or rocks, which is where the name comes from.
A slightly taller version is used to serve highballs like rum and coke, or gin and tonic. When it has a wide top and narrow bottom in the 14-16 oz (400–470 ml) range its often called a stubby, or Mia Tia glass, but those are rarely seen anymore, as most people serve tropical drinks in the fun poco grande, or hurricane glass.
This tall and narrow shape goes by many names. When in the 5–8 oz (150–240 ml) range its called a highball glass. At 9–12 oz (270–350 ml) with a heavy bottom, it’s called a collins glass. When taller and even more narrow in the 13–14 oz (380–410 ml) range its called a sling glass.
These days, most places that serve liquor are trying to cut down on the amount of glassware they need to carry. That means highballs are usually made in rock glasses and slings are made in the poco grande. The collins continues to be standard though, not just for the popular Tom Collins, but any time a tall refreshing drink on the rocks needs a glass.
Poco Grande Glass
This glass shape has been around for hundreds of years. Way back then, a small 4–5 oz (150 ml) version of it was used by sherry and whisky makers to taste and compare their various blends. A thick walled version of it was often carried in the chest pocket and used by merchants on the shipping docks, prior to accepting shipments of wine.
Somewhere along the way to the South America and its tropical juices, this little glass ballooned to the size that’s known today. In fact, the translation of the phrase ‘Poco Grande’ literally means the little big glass, or ‘somewhat’ big glass.
Depending on the size, the poco grande can perform multiple tasks. At 10-14 oz (300–410 ml) it’s smaller than the hurricane glass, but can hold the same drinks when made in smaller amounts. It can replace a 14 oz (410 ml) chimney glass when used for slings and tropical drinks. Plus it can function as a gin fizz glass since true 7-10 oz (210–300 ml) stemmed fizz glasses are hard to find anymore.
It’s also interesting to note that the shape is very similar to the recently patented 6 oz (180 ml) Glencairn Whisky Glass, but instead of a stem, the Glencairn is shorter and has a knob as a base.
This 15–20 oz (440–600 ml) elongated version of the poco grande, resembles the chimney in old kerosine hurricane lamps. It has largely replaced the chimney glass for building tall fruity drinks like slings, and tropical ones like the Pina Colada.
There are miniature 2 oz (60 ml) versions of this glass for serving shots, 4 oz (120 ml) versions for single servings of cordial liqueurs and there are giants in the 24 oz (700 ml) range. It’s a good choice when you want a big glass, with a touch of elegance, for house specials during Happy Hour.
This classic 6–10 oz (180–300 ml) icon is used for serving Cognac and fine brandy. Even though the glass is large, the standard serving size is usually 1–2 oz (45 ml).
It is the glass of choice when serving expensive liqueurs like Benedictine, Chartreuse and Grand Marnier. In addition to those applications, many people also prefer this shape for sipping aged rums and Bourbon whiskey.
The wide bottom and narrow top concentrates the aroma of the spirit so it can be savored. The short stubby stem allows the hand to cup under the glass, so that body heat can gently warm the spirit, releasing more of its bouquet to the nose.
Glencairn Whisky Glass
The Glencairn is a baby in terms of age. It’s only been around since 2001. Its shape is based on the traditional sherry nosing copita, but it was designed specifically for savoring whiskey, while being robust enough for bars and pubs.
Although 6 oz (180 ml) in size, the standard pour for this glass is 1 oz (30 ml). The shape allows water to be added before tasting and the maximum contact with air, before the glass slopes inward to concentrate the aromas onto the nose.
The Glencairn is ideal for doing taste tests and comparisons between spirits, because it allows small pour sizes for sampling. Its shape also allows the color and aroma of the spirit to be fully appreciated.
This patented glass has won several awards, including the Queen’s Award for Innovation. Whisky lovers are happy they finally have a glass to call their own, but it works equally well for serving sherry, aperitifs and expensive liqueurs. It can even double as a Brandy Snifter if you don’t happen to have them on hand.
Creating sparkling wine via the Champagne method is a long and labor intensive process. The elongated copita of the 6–8 oz (180–240 ml) flute, is the ideal shape for keeping the bubbles around as long as possible.
The long bowl allows the longest path for the bubbles to travel, so they can put on a show. The gradual tapering concentrates the bubbles and aromas of the wine onto the nose. The stem prevents body heat from warming the contents, so the bubbles last longer.
Some flutes have laser etching on the inside bottom which accelerates the release of gas. This ensures that the bubbles put on a show, but it also means that the wine must be consumed more quickly, before all the bubbles are gone.
The trumpet flute is a 4–8 oz (120–240 ml) variation of the standard flute, that’s also used for champagne, spritzers and other cocktails containing sparkling wine. Some consider it to be more elegant looking than the standard copita shape of the flute. Others say it loses carbonation too quickly. But it’s really a matter of personal choice.
The smaller 4 oz (120 ml) version of this same glass is often used to serve cordials, or single servings of a liqueur. Things like schnapps, fruit brandy and after dinner digestifs get a boost in prestige when served in this shape. It can also double for serving cocktail sherry before dinner, or a dessert wine like port after the meal.
TIP: Before putting last night’s dirty cocktail glasses in the dishwasher, rinse them in warm soapy water, while scrubbing their interiors with a coarse brush. This will loosen the fruit pulp flecks and dried on dairy, which will stick and be impossible to get off after the dishwasher’s drying cycle cakes it on.
The ballooned copita shape lends itself perfectly to wine. It allows intense swirling without spilling, which oxidizes the wine, so it can release its bouquet after years in the bottle. It also concentrates the aroma onto the nose, while the stem keeps body heat away from the wine.
The 10–14 oz (300–410 ml) bulbous shape is standard for most red wines. White wines are more at home in a 8–12 oz (240–350 ml) glass that’s more tulip shaped.
Although the wine glasses are very large, the standard pour is about 4-5 oz (120-140 ml) for red and 3-4 oz (90-120 ml) for white. The object is not to fill the glass, but to allow the guest to swirl, gaze and savor every sip of a premium product.
The 12 oz (350 ml) water goblet and 16 oz (470 ml) iced tea glass are similar in shape, but generally a little thicker with shorter stems. There are also the silly looking 16–20 oz (470–600 ml) balloons for red wine which some experts claim to be better, but there’s no evidence to support it. When it comes to wine, stick with the basics and you can’t go wrong, or out of style, when the experts change their minds again.
Beer can be served in a variety of vessels, from a steel Viking tankard to the pub style pint mug. Ideally though, it’s better to have smaller clear glassware, so the product stays fresher, the bubbles last until the end and the color can be appreciated.
The 14–16 oz (410–470 ml) pilsner glass is perfect for both bottled and draft beer, because it holds a single standard 12 oz (350 ml) serving and has enough room for the head of foam. The pilsner can also pull double duty, substituting as a chimney glass for serving slings and other tall drinks.
The average coffee mug is in the 6–10 oz (180–300 ml) range and made from ceramic material. Although great in the morning, or on the work desk, cocktails like Irish Coffee, Hot Toddy and Buttered Rum always look and taste better in a 8–12 oz (240–350 ml) clear glass mug.
The clear glass allows the color and texture of the drink to be enjoyed. The larger size permits a generous portion of whipped cream on top as a garnish, while delivering a standard 8 oz (240 ml) cup of java.
What Glassware to Get First
So now that you’ve been introduced to all the glassware families, what do you really need to start? Four kinds spring to mind; Collins glasses for highballs and tall drinks. Rock glasses for short drinks. Either martini glasses, or coupes, for cocktails. Plus, the Glencairn for serving whiskey, sherry, port, and liqueurs straight up.
In addition, if you plan on serving wine and beer, get two types of wine glass, one for red and one for white, which can also double as a Champagne glass. Then at least one all purpose beer glass like a pilsner.
After the basics you can add snifters, flutes and poco grands to the set. If you don’t plan on serving cognac, champagne, or tropical drinks, you can leave them out. It’s the same deal with hot drinks, if you don’t serve them, don’t bother with the fancy glassware, just bring out the regular mugs for after dinner coffee.
To build your glassware set, look to professional cookware stores. They usually have glassware for sale by the piece. So instead of having to buy a box of 4 or more, you can get two of each to start and add on later.
If throwing a party you can rent the glassware, dishes and cutlery from a banquet center, catering company, or special event company. If you prefer to buy the glassware, look for restaurant supply stores in your area. If you must go the disposable route look online for polycarbonate, or acrylic glassware. It’s a little more expensive, but it’s more durable, it’s reusable, and it looks way better than cheap plastic cups.