Sipping in style: A guide to the types of cocktail glasses

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Drinking glasses are more than just vessels for drinks. When you first start shaking up cocktails at home, using whatever glasses you have on hand is convenient. But if you use just any old glass, you risk your drink not tasting or looking quite as intended. 

A cocktail, a glass of wine and a martini on a table.
Photo credit: Unsplash.

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If you start using the proper types of cocktail glasses for each drink you make at home, you’ll not only feel like a pro bartender, but your drinks will taste better too. Certain cocktails will be better in a particular shape or material. 

But where to start? When shopping for glassware, I know it may seem as though there are as many types of glasses as there are types of alcohol to serve in them. For me, I built my collection slowly over time, adding to it as I discovered new drinks I love and as I needed to for entertaining. 

If you’ve ever wondered why mint juleps come in metal cups or why there are so many different shapes of wine glasses, the answer is in the question: It’s all about size, shape and temperature.

Why you need different types of cocktail glasses

The material and shape of a glass can help the drink last longer, maintain a certain temperature and even taste better. When it comes to cocktails, this matters quite a lot.

For example, sparkling wine and champagne cocktails are both served in champagne flutes. These long, elegant types of wine glasses are more than just pretty party essentials.

The tall, narrow shape helps the bubbly to stay effervescent for longer, as the carbonation bubbles have a longer distance to travel to the top of the drink. If there’s too much surface area, the carbonation will fizzle out faster, and your drink won’t have the ideal bubbly texture.

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Where to start

Many drinks are designed to be served in a particular style, shape and material of glass. But don’t let this fact stop you: You can absolutely use whatever glassware you have.

When you’re ready to take your home bartending game up a notch, invest in some different types of cocktail glasses to add to your bar cart and serve your creations.

It’s a good idea to start with glasses designed for your favorite drinks. If you love martinis, it would make sense to start your glassware collection with a set of martini glasses you love.

Glassware is a great gift for any budding bartender or party host, so think about their favorite beverage or get them a type of glass they don’t yet have.

A cocktail shaker pouring whiskey through a Boston strainer into an old-fashioned cocktail.
Rocks glass. Photo credit: Unsplash.

Rocks glasses

Also called old-fashioned glasses or lowball glasses, rocks glasses are short, heavy-bottomed glasses. 

If you love to make spirit-forward cocktails like the old-fashioned or sip on bourbon, scotch or mezcal, these glasses are must-haves. They also work well for margaritas, cobblers and smashes.

Old-fashioned glasses are typically wide enough to hold the large ice cubes that are commonly served with spirit-forward drinks. These large ice cubes have less surface area than lots of little cubes, so they melt slower and don’t dilute the drink as quickly.

Viski is a glassware brand I love for its decorative and classic designs, like these crystal tumblers with the iconic diamond shape. 

Highball glasses

Highball glasses are tall, narrow tumblers intended for drinks with a larger volume than ones served in rocks glasses. Drinks served in highball glasses are called tall drinks.

They typically contain one type of liquor and a carbonated soda, but also often contain fruit juices. Think quick-and-easy combinations like a rum and Coke or a fizzy Tom Collins.

When selecting a highball glass, be sure to choose one with a heavy base. They can also range in volume, often in 10-, 12- and 16-ounce options. Since tall drinks typically contain ice, a 12- or 16-ounce glass is a safer bet to hold most drinks and a big scoop of ice cubes. 

Glassware company Libbey makes a number of highball glasses in various styles. These art deco glasses are timeless. I find a cut glass design like this makes a drink easier to hold when covered in condensation. 

Martini glasses

Whether you like a dry martini or a dessert martini, these V-shaped, stemmed glasses are a must for any home bar.

Alternatively, martini glasses can be stemless, though they should have a heavy bottom to prevent tipping.

But you can use them for more than just drinks. Martini glasses can also be used for serving appetizers like shrimp cocktail, as well as desserts like parfaits, puddings, ice cream and sorbet.

Reidel is a well-loved brand for its crystal wine glasses. I adore their high-quality martini glasses, which are light and chic. They would be a great addition to any home bar.

A cocktail in a coupe glass sitting on top of a marble table.
Coupe glass. Photo credit: Unsplash.

Unique types of cocktail glasses

If you’ve already stocked up on the basics, the next step is to invest in other types of glassware for drinks you love, such as:

Coupe glasses: These look like rounded martini glasses, I love a more ornate coupe glass. They’re often used for champagne and drinks served up, meaning served without ice, like Manhattans.

Margarita glasses: Rocks glasses and martini glasses work fine for margaritas. However, I love that margarita glasses can have a wider circumference, making more room for salt on the rim and thick, frozen versions of this tequila drink.

Julep cups: Known for its starring role at the Kentucky Derby, the bourbon-based mint julep is also famous for its unique silver cup that keeps the drink ice cold. My favorite is the Barfly julep cup for its simple, timeless design.

Mule mugs: Copper mugs are the classic glassware for the vodka-based Moscow mule. Like the julep cup, these metal mugs keep the drink frigid and refreshing. I love how stunning and shimmery these mule mugs look on a bar cart. 

Tiki mugs: Tiki lovers will love any glass in this range of whimsical glassware designs from Polynesian masks to faux coconuts. I’m obsessed with the Geeki Tikis brand, which is known for their designs inspired by famous franchises like Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

Irish coffee mugs: If you like warm drinks in the fall and winter, a heat-proof glass with a handle is ideal. I use Irish coffee mugs for everything from Irish coffee to apple cider.

A moscow mule with lime and mint in a copper mug.

Wine glasses: If you’re a wine drinker, stocking up on wine glasses for red and white wine is also a great next step. I suggest buying a matching set so that both types have a similar form in both types of glasses, but with wider bowls for red wine and narrower ones for white. I like the Libbey Greenwich wine glasses for their modern, swanky look.

Champagne flutes: These are a must for any occasion that calls for celebrating with bubbly. Ideally your champagne flutes should match your wine glass set, just as the Libbey Greenwich flute glasses match the wine glasses I love. 

Beer glasses: Beer drinkers can upgrade from cans to pint glasses, steins and pilsner glasses. These different shapes are meant for different types of beer and are designed to maintain carbonation and the foamy head. I prefer to keep just one on hand: A simple, 16-ounce pint glass like the Pub beer glass from Luminarc works with most types of beer. 

Brandy snifters: Brandy and cognac lovers should invest in a set of brandy snifters, sphere-shaped glasses with a short stem. Designed to provide a sensory experience, the wide surface area allows the drink to evaporate slightly, forcing the aroma of brandy toward the nose. I recently indulged in the Viski Wingback glass that are great for swirling and sniffing spirits.

Other things to consider

When choosing glasses for your home bar, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Dishwasher safe: If easy clean-up is important to you, be sure the glasses are dishwasher safe and also not too delicate that they can be knocked around during the cleaning cycle.
  • Quantity: Think about your gatherings and how many people usually attend. Be sure to have enough glasses to serve a signature cocktail.
  • Volume: Pay attention to how many fluid ounces a glass holds.
  • Cabinet height: Find out if your glasses will fit on the shelves where you plan to store them.

Based in Charlotte, N.C., Susannah Brinkley Henry is the cocktail content creator behind the blog Feast + West. Her work has been featured in Southern Living, Oprah Daily, Buzzfeed, and more. In 2019, her website was a finalist in the Saveur Blog Awards for Best Entertaining Blog. As a professional graphic designer, photographer, writer, and recipe developer, Susannah helps home bartenders and drink enthusiasts level up their cocktail skills.  

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