The bar is filled with an array of glassware and each style is used for certain drinks. Whether you want a tall, short, casual, or fancy cocktail, there's a glass to fulfill your need. Margaritas, martinis, and hot cocktails have their own glasses, as do beer, wine, and specific liquors. For a well-stocked bar, a few are "must-have" styles, while others are just nice to have around.
The good news is that you don't need every type of glassware to make great cocktails at home. Most cocktail recipes suggest a glass but it's not a requirement. For instance, if you don't drink martinis often, an old-fashioned or wine glass can be a good stand-in for the rare occasions that you do shake one up. Likewise, you probably only need one type of tall glass; choose between a collins or highball, or simply use a pint glass or Mason jar.
Cocktail (or Martini) Glass
The familiar conical shape of the cocktail glass makes most people think of a martini. After all, it is the most popular drink served in this style of glass which is why it's often called a "martini" glass.
Cocktail glasses are used for drinks between 3 and 6 ounces that are most often served "up" without ice. This includes a variety of martini-style cocktails such as the cosmopolitan and many classic cocktails, from the Manhattan to the sidecar. Cocktail glasses are also a good alternative to margarita glasses.
Cocktail Glass Design
Cocktail glasses come in many different styles, including frosted, painted, and fun stem shapes. Though stemless cocktail glasses are common, the stem serves a purpose: It allows the drinker to hold the glass without warming the drink with their body heat. This is essential to keeping these non-iced drinks colder for a longer period.
Vintage cocktail glasses are much smaller than many modern options, a few of which can reach 10 ounces. Not only do these extra-large glasses take up more space on the shelf, but they are also unnecessary. The drinks typically served in a cocktail glass are mostly liquor, so these strong drinks are often just 3 to 5 ounces. Stick to cocktail glasses around 6 ounces; any extra room gives you a little splash protection when carrying it around.
Highball and Collins Glasses
Highball (or hi-ball) and collins glasses are very similar to each other. They can be used interchangeably for tall drinks and hold the same volume, though that can be anywhere from 8 to 16 ounces.
Nearly identical in shape, it can be difficult to distinguish the difference:
- The collins glass tends to be taller and narrower, more of a chimney shape.
- The highball is typically more stout and tops off at 10 ounces.
Very useful, tall glasses are essential in any bar. They're used for tall mixed drinks (also called highballs) that can be as simple as a shot of liquor topped with juice or soda. Quite often, the drinks are built directly in the glass by pouring the ingredients over ice and stirring to mix. At home, highballs also make excellent everyday glasses for soda, juice, iced tea, and other nonalcoholic drinks.
Despite the large volume, drinks served in these glasses do not typically include 10 ounces of liquid. Instead, the glass is designed to be filled nearly to the top with ice. This keeps tall drinks like the Tom Collins and bloody Mary cold while you drink. Additionally, the more ice you add, the slower it will melt and the longer you have to enjoy a semi-undiluted cocktail.
Old-Fashioned (or Rocks) Glass
The old-fashioned glass is a short tumbler with a thick bottom. It's also called a "lowball" or "rocks" glass. Typically used for short mixed drinks—including the famous old-fashioned—that are served "on the rocks," not every lowball cocktail requires ice.
Old-fashioned glasses hold between 6 and 8 ounces. They are also available as a double old-fashioned (or double rocks), holding up to 10 or 12 ounces.
Common for drinks like the rusty nail, the smaller glasses are also used to serve a straight or neat pour of liquor—typically a dark spirit like whiskey. The larger glass is ideal for serving either a mixed drink like the white Russian or a straight pour of liquor with a single large ice cube or ice ball. These glasses can also be used for martini-style cocktails, with or without ice.
With a set of old-fashioned and highball glasses, you can handle most cocktails. The duo is a good choice for a minimalist bar when storage space is limited.
The shot glass is a very recognizable glass in the bar. They come in many styles, shapes, and sizes and are fun to collect. Any shot glass can hold straight shots and mixed shooters and take the place of a jigger when you need to measure drink ingredients. It is always good to have a few around just in case some break.
The average shot is 1 1/2 ounces while a "short" or "pony" shot is just 1 ounce. Some shot glasses hold 2 ounces.
Shot Glass Design
The typical shot glass is made of thicker glass, particularly on the base. This reinforcement is designed to prevent it from shattering when the drinker slams the glass onto the bar after downing the drink.
Short, stout shot glasses are the most common. They are good for straight shots of liquor or shooters that are shaken and strained. Tall, thinner shot glasses are perfect for showing off the colors of layered shots like the B-52. The caballito is the tallest and thinnest style and designed specifically for tequila. They're also perfect for a flight (line-up) of glasses when comparing liquors during a tequila or whiskey tasting.
Shot glass sizes can be deceiving, especially those with thick bottoms. It is not uncommon for a shot glass to look bigger but hold the same amount as a smaller shot glass. Also common among beer mugs, it's a trick some bars use to reduce pour cost and serve less alcohol to unsuspecting drinkers.
The margarita glass is used primarily for serving margaritas. The double-bowl is a fun and distinctive shape that works particularly well for frozen margaritas. The wide rim makes it easy to add a salt or sugar rim. Though festive, it's not an essential piece of stemware because margaritas can be served in a cocktail, old-fashioned, or highball glass.
Margarita glasses come in a variety of sizes, ranging anywhere from 6 to 20 ounces:
- The smaller glasses are nice for drinks with no ice.
- The medium glasses are good for frozen drinks.
- The large bowls are good for big frozen drinks or those with a lot of ice.
Some margarita bowls can get to ridiculous sizes, topping off at 60 ounces. These would only be good as a novelty to share with a table full of friends (each with your own straw, of course).
If you enjoy a Champagne cocktail every once in a while, then a set of Champagne glasses would be a nice investment. They come in a variety of shapes. It is often best to purchase a set of 4 or 8 glasses, depending on the size of your average Champagne-worthy celebrations.
This tall, thin glass has a tapered rim that is designed to keep the Champagne's bubbles in the glass longer. Flutes typically hold between 7 and 11 ounces.
Champagne flutes are perfect for showcasing a drink's garnish, too. It looks stunning when a long lemon twist is spiraled inside the glass and makes the simple addition of a single berry garnish appear elegant. The fizzy fountain of the traditional Champagne cocktail is spectacular in a flute.
The Champagne tulip is an elegantly styled glass as well. It has the longer stem and bowl of the flute but the rim flares out instead of in. This design will not trap bubbles, though it is a nice option for mixing Champagne and other sparkling wines.
The Champagne saucer is also called a coupe glass. With a flatter, rounder bowl, it is a more traditional glass design for serving sparkling wines. It holds around 6 to 8 ounces.
Saucers are nice for serving straight Champagne to many guests. They also add a vintage twist to drinks that you would serve in a cocktail glass and are a perfect choice when you want to float a larger slice of fruit on top of the drink.
Basic Wine Glasses
Wine glasses are complicated because there are a variety of shapes and many styles have been developed to showcase a particular style of wine. However, there are two basic wine glasses:
- A white wine glass has a taller, narrower bowl that is more open at the rim.
- A red wine glass has a rounder, smaller bowl with a more tapered rim.
Traditionally, wine glasses are stemmed, though stemless glasses are popular today. Just like cocktail glasses, the stem is designed to keep the wine at proper serving temperature without influence from the drinker's body heat.
Wine glasses have also grown in size over the years. They can hold anywhere between 8 and 22 ounces, though 5 ounces is a standard serving so they're not filled to the rim.
Just like wine, beer has its own set of glassware and certain styles of beer are preferred in particular glasses. There are three glasses that almost any beer can be served in; they're used interchangeably and good for mixing beer drinks.
A basic pint glass is a tall, tapered glass with straight sides. They typically hold 16 ounces, which is enough room for a full bottle of beer and its foamy head. Pint glasses can be chilled in the freezer and instantly bring warm beer down to a cold temperature suitable for drinking. A workhorse in the bar, this glass also doubles as a mixing glass for cocktails and can be used in a Boston shaker set.
Pilsner glasses typically hold between 10 and 14 ounces. The fluted shape (which can be more or less exaggerated) is used most often for lagers, and almost exclusively when pouring a pilsner, and the wider rim allows for a good head.
Mugs are nice because you can hold onto your beer without warming it with your hands. The thick base also means they can handle a good hit on the bar top. Perfect for the average lager, frosted beer mugs are commonly used in bars.
The volume of a beer mug will vary greatly. Many will hold between 10 and 14 ounces; those with a thicker base barely holding 10 ounces. You may see these deceptively smaller ones at bars because they allow for a shorter pour. If you don't care if it's draught, you may get more beer by ordering a bottle.
If you enjoy ales, there are two glasses worth considering. Both styles are designed to show off the beer's head and color, while the bulbous shape traps its complex aroma. These beers are often best served at cellar temperatures (around 50 degrees Fahrenheit).
- The nonic pint glass is similar in shape to the standard pint but has an aroma bulb near the top of the glass. It's also nice with lagers.
- The stemmed tulip glass is traditional among Belgian ales and has a large bowl that tapers toward the rim.
Tall Specialty Cocktail Glasses
Bar glassware includes a few tall specialty styles that you will run across in cocktail recipes. Each is used for a specific style of drink. While they are not called for as often as the other glasses, they are useful if you are fond of any of these cocktails.
Irish Coffee Glass
An Irish coffee glass is a footed glass with a handle. Used for hot drinks and, traditionally, an Irish coffee, it's a decorative substitute for the average mug. It's made with thick, heat-resistant glass and holds between 8 and 10 ounces.
The distinct pear-shaped curve of this glass is reminiscent of vintage hurricane lamps, which gave it its name. Typically holding between 10 and 12 ounces, it is used for the aptly named hurricane cocktail and often for piña coladas and other frozen drinks.
As the name implies, this glass is used for brandy, particularly when sipping it straight. Though it is a very large glass, only a standard pour of about 2 ounces goes inside. The idea behind the snifter is to allow the drinker to enjoy all of the aspects of brandy: Watch it swirl inside, notice its legs and color, take in the aromas trapped in the bowl, and slowly take a sip. The snifter is also used for a few simple drinks, most notably the aromatic B&B.
To save space but still fully enjoy your brandy, look for small brandy glasses. These tend to have the same bowl shape as a snifter, a slightly taller stem, and hold around 6 ounces.
Short Specialty Cocktail Glasses
Though they are uncommon, there are a number of specialty pieces of short stemware used for certain cocktails and liqueurs.
The sour glass is a miniaturized version of a white wine glass. Used for the whiskey sour and other simple but flavorful cocktails, this glass is made to enjoy small drinks. It holds just between 3 and 6 ounces.
These tiny glasses are a traditional way to sip cordials (or liqueurs) straight and are not very common today. They are dainty, holding just 2 to 3 ounces, and fun to collect if you enjoy vintage glassware.
The style of cordial glasses varies greatly; some are tulip-shaped while others have a bowl similar to a sour glass. Some spirits have their own stemware as well:
- Genever is typically served in a small tulip glass. It's a perfect design for the Dutch custom for drinking genever: Place the glass on the bar and fill it all the way to the rim with ice-cold genever, then lean over and (without hands) take a long (often loud) sip off the top.
- Grappa glasses have a round bowl at the bottom and a thin tapered rim.
- Schnapps may be served in a stemmed glass similar to the sour that abruptly flares out at the rim.
- Fortified wines, including sherry and port, are enjoyed straight in small stemware similar to a white wine glass.
Buying, Cleaning, and Storing Glassware
Tips for Buying Glassware
When shopping for glasses, you will find a variety of designs within each style and this is half of the fun.
- Look for interesting features that match your bar's style.
- Don't be afraid to shop second-hand sources. You will find some of the best designs in vintage glassware.
- Stay away from the very thin glass. They will break easily and this applies to the stems as well. I have had the stem of a cheaply made margarita glass literally twist off while washing it.
Glassware Cleaning and Storing Tips
- Pay attention when hand washing glassware. Dishwater is the last place you want you want to break glass!
- Did you break a glass? Pick up little shards of glass with white bread.
- Rinse your glasses thoroughly to remove soap.
- Dry your glasses immediately to avoid water spots.
- Never put wet glasses away in the cupboard or glass rack. It can ruin surfaces and there is a potential for mold.
- It is best to store glasses upside down. This prevents dust and debris from collecting inside. Also, stemware like cocktail glasses are top-heavy and can easily be knocked over.
- Displaying your glassware in full view? Don't forget to dust them!
- Consider a glass rack for your stemware, it may end up saving space. Remember that cocktail and margarita glasses are wider than wine glasses. Make sure the rack accommodates those styles or purchase individual racks and space them accordingly.