Liquor 101: Which glass for which drink?

Posted on Nov 9, 2015


On a Columbus Day Octoberfest outing we went with a bunch of our friends to Dacha Beer Garden. It was a beautiful day, the company was perfect, and the atmosphere of interesting beers, simple food, picnic tables, and tents was really fun. I estimate that they had about 20 beers on tap–and also about 20 different types of glassware to serve it in. One of the top considerations for your beer order was speculating what kind of glass it would come in. I don’t know whether I won or lost when my beer came in the most fantastical glass I’ve ever seen; it was like someone had taken a small goldfish bowl, placed it on a stem, and then inserted a fluted glass on top of that. I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture.

Dacha is definitely on the extreme end of the glassware spectrum, but I’d agree with them, to a more moderate degree, that the vessel from which you drink your beverage matters. For instance, I drink coffee out of ceramic mugs; I don’t drink anything else from ceramic mugs, and I don’t drink coffee from anything else. For me it just doesn’t feel right to separate them.

There are certainly aesthetic reasons, and maybe even scientific ones, why we like different beverages out of different cups and glasses. When it comes to cocktails, however, the main reason for different kinds of glasses is practical: one size doesn’t fit all. If you’re on the Dacha end of the spectrum, there are practically infinite options of different forms and styles of cocktail glasses to choose from. As a bottom line, though, a well-provisioned bar needs to have three types of glasses, one each for the three basic sizes of drink:

Cocktail glasses: these are for drinks served straight up. These drinks that are strained of all their ice and served that way tend to measure about 3 oz., and the cocktail glass is sized to fit them. Most cocktail glasses are stemmed. This is a possible occasion for science: hands on the stem rather than the bowl of the glass may slow down the warming of the drink. Then again, we could just like the way stems look for these drinks. There are 2 main styles of cocktail glass: the shorter and more rounded coupe, and the taller and more conical cocktail glass. The martini glass, sometimes conflated with the cocktail glass, is a more sharp-edged cousin. However, it has the same volume and same purpose. So, if you like those sharp edges, serve your straight up drinks in a martini glass.

Old fashioned glasses: these are for drinks served on the rocks. For drinks like the old fashioned that call for ice, these glasses haves a slighter larger volume, around 5 oz., to fit the cubes.

Highball glasses: these are for drinks served on the rocks, and involving large amounts of ingredients other than alcohol: juices, soda, tonic, and the like. Since these drinks involve around three times the volume of a drink served straight up, they need more room.

You could, of course, fit a straight up cocktail in a highball glass, but it would be a very empty-looking glass. It looks silly, and tempts toward over-indulgence.

With the three glasses above, you can fulfill almost all of your regularly occurring bar needs. There are a few other size-related glasses too. If these are the types of drink toward which you gravitate, you might want them as well. If they rarely come up for you, you can work around them:

Sherry glasses: smaller than a wineglass and larger than a cocktail glass, the sherry glass is for sherry (no surprise there), port, Madeira, or the like. These fortified wines have a higher alcohol content than wine (again, no surprise), but a lower one than spirits. So, the typical sherry pour is also between the two.

Cordial glasses: slightly smaller than a cocktail glass, for drinking aperitifs and digestifs straight, without even stirring in ice first.

Shot glasses: for single servings of high alcohol content liquor served straight.

For most of us, three or four types of glasses will cover our bases. If for you more glass options are always better (we’d be those people if we didn’t live in a small apartment; as it is we push the bounds), there are lots of fun options. A margarita can easily be served in a cocktail glass, but the more voluptuous margarita glass brings a certain flare. The same goes for tiki drinks: a highball works, but a coconut or a tiki glass might be more fun. A collins glass is for people who like their highballs taller and thinner.

I’m sure you could even find a good use for the goldfish bowl-tulip-glass fantasia from Dacha.

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