The only cocktail glasses you need, according to mixologists
We spoke to bartenders about their bar cart essentials.
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We aren’t going to judge you. Those juice glasses you’ve used for everything from a Diet Coke to a Manhattan have served you well, but isn’t it time for an upgrade? While simple tumblers and bodega glasses do have their place (and, for some, even an element of charm), you have to admit that serving up a classic cocktail in one of them can lack a certain sophistication.
Part of the craft of cocktail-making is creating something that tastes—and looks—beautiful.
“We don’t just drink through our lips, we also drink through our eyes. A good glass signals that your cocktail is going to be delicious,” says Derek Brown, owner of the Columbia Room in Washington, DC, author of Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World, and Chief Spirits Advisor to the National Archives Foundation.
If what’s keeping you in juice glass purgatory is a paralysis of what to buy, we have the ultimate cheat sheet for you. Sit back, and get ready to sip. You’re about to learn a few things.
The rocks and double rocks: The workhorses of cocktail glasses
If you’re going to leave here with only one addition to your glass cabinet, make it a double rocks glass, also known as double old fashioned. At 12 to 14 ounces, it’s more versatile than a 8 to 10 ounce single rocks glass, and perfect for cocktails with ice, including old-fashioneds and Manhattans on the rocks.
Mary Palac, of Paper Plane in San Jose, CA, says this glass is a “workhorse” and can even be used to serve up whiskey sours and Negroni cocktails, and Brown says he's even been known to serve margaritas in them. “The double rocks is the first and complete necessity to any glass collection,” says Brown.
These glasses are perfect for accommodating a big, dense, slow-melting ice cube. These are your slow-drinking glasses, for cocktails you have long conversations over while the dense piece of ice barely melts. Look for glasses with a nice heavy bottom that feels balanced and sturdy in your hand. It’s worth it to try these out in person to see which feels best.
Even a straight pour of whiskey works in these glasses, though it may look a little forlorn with 10 ounces of air above it. If your drink of choice is a whiskey neat, you may want to veer towards a single rocks glass, though our experts say that if a choice is to be made between the two, go for the double.
"There's no shame in having both, but if you have to pick one, the double is the most versatile," says Brown.
The coupe: The new classic for shaken cocktails
Gone are the days of V-shaped martini glasses. Those were the quintessential cocktail glasses of the '80s and '90s, but every bartender we spoke to said the classic martini glass has been replaced by the more versatile coupe.
“The coupe is a much more elegant option. It's slender and just feels like a more refined way to sip your martini,” says Palac. It’s also more practical. If you’ve ever tensed up as you tried to get the first sip of a martini to your lips without it sloshing over the side, know that the shape of a coupe makes it a far more forgiving option.
Coming in at about 6 ounces, this glass tends to be a bit smaller than a typical cocktail glass (though you can certainly find an 8 ounce, if you prefer). While that may not hold much appeal when you’re at a bar playing $16 for a drink, home mixologists might find that maintaining a civilized amount of booze isn't a bad thing.
Palac points out that this style of stemware is for drinks served “up,” meaning they are shaken or stirred with ice and then served chilled, sans cubes. The stem is not only elegant-looking, it’s practical in that it keeps your hands away from the cup of the glass, making for a drink that stays colder for longer.
“They’re for when you don't want to warm up that frosty drink with your fingers, like you might [with] a rocks or a Collins glass,” says Palac.
Brown says the coupe is the ultimate classy workhorse and is perfect for any shaken drink you can think of, from a daiquiri to an aviation. They are also perfect for champagne, making them a wildly versatile glass that work for a variety of drinks.
The Nick and Nora: Small, chilled, and classy
Named for William Powell and Myrna Loy’s characters in "The Thin Man," these glasses evoke the immediate post-Prohibition golden age of glamour and decadence. Holding 4 to 5 ounces each with sloped slides, they are perfect for a drink that inspires small and elegant sips.
“Since they don’t hold a lot, it tells people to take their time and savor their drink,” says Brown.
Bell-shaped and sitting somewhere in between a coupe glass and a very small wine glass, this elegant style works for anything from a martini to a Manhattan, though Brown says Nick and Noras are particularly well-suited to drinks with a bit of juice or foam. “They are good for any drinks with a bit of life on the top,” he says.
A hot tip for a cool cocktail, that's particularly smart when using a glass like a Nick and Nora, which is too small to accommodate ice, chill your glass before using it. It will keep your cocktail tasting better for longer.
The Collins and the highball: For fizzy drinks and dramatic visuals
These options are for your fizzy drinks. Like with the rocks and the double rocks, there is only a technical difference between the two—their size. A Collins glass holds about 12 to 14 ounces while a highball holds about 10 ounces and is typically shorter and a bit wider. If you are looking to choose between the two, Palac prefers the Collins while Brown likes the highball. Both agree that you can get away with either, depending on your preference, but you definitely do not need both in your personal arsenal: It’s an either/or situation with these glasses.
“There’s often a matter of personal taste involved when choosing a glass,” says Brown.
These taller glasses are what you need for making drinks that have a bubbly or effervescent element to them.
“[This is] your fizz glass," says Palac. "It's [also] great for big elaborate garnishes, like a cucumber strip, or a mint bouquet."
Indeed, these glasses really allow for elaborate presentation and—if you’re looking for a gift—these are great for someone who wants to cultivate the visual element of their cocktail-making. Both glasses lend themselves beautifully to highly visual drinks where you want to see all the ingredients, like a Pimm’s cup, or a cocktail like a Singapore Sling where the drawn out color gradation is part of the drink’s appeal.
In the end, Brown says that you really can get away with drinking a cocktail out of whatever glass feels best to you. "I, personally, love brandy but hate brandy snifters—I like my brandy in a rocks glass," he says. The only limits, he says, are to get rid of any instincts that says one glass is for a masculine cocktail, while another is for a feminine one.
"Avoid the pitfalls of trying to make certain glasses about being for a man or a woman. The glassware is neutral." Instead, he encourages people to let go of their biases and allow themselves to try something new; Brown maintains that nothing is more fun than a frilly pink glass with an umbrella in it. "Don’t be intimidated because you think a drink belongs to someone else. Try it, and try it in the glass it was meant to be presented in."
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