Apparently it doesn’t take much to call yourself a ‘whisky bar’ these days and they’re popping up all over the country. I’m often asked by friends why I’m reluctant to visit them, and the answer is simple; because they don’t usually know anything about whisky.
How often have you been to a whisky bar and been served a glass full of ice? How often is it served in the wrong glass? And how many of these bartenders even know what a copita nosing glass is? It’s one thing to go to Applebees and be served wine in the wrong glass, but to visit a bar that claims to be an expert of a particular spirit is appalling.
With that said, this article is intended to help ensure you serve the right drink in the proper glass.
Does the Proper Glass Really Matter
The short answer is yes and no. Some glassware is designed based on science, but for many glasses it comes down to a marketing strategy from the 1970s when Riedel wanted to sell more glassware and began to introduce new styles of glassware for various wines, spirits and cocktails. It has been said that each distinct shape would direct the liquid to the exact part of your mouth that was ideal for the initial taste of the flavor profile as well as offer a superior nosing for the alcohol based on its ABV.
While many critics argue this is true, for the novice you won’t likely notice a difference between drinking a dram of Scotch from a rock glass or a Glencairn. In fact, a 2004 study from various universities in Europe and North America found that those claims were false. Linda Bartoshuk, one of the researchers at Yale University said, “Your brain doesn’t care where taste is coming from in your mouth, and researchers have known this for thirty years.”
While this is true for many spirits, experts still contend that certain shapes allow more oxidation and stronger nose whereas other glasses are designed to contain the alcohol content. Some glasses are shaped for mixing, others have stems to prevent the warmth of your hand from changing the drinks temperature. Regardless of whether it’s purely aesthetic or based on scientific merits, a lot of thought goes into what type of glass is intended for each drink and there is documented proof to back claims by whisky companies that the Copita or Glencairn is best for whisky whereas a snifter is ideal for brandies. Thin Champagne flutes work well for sparkling wine and the Martini glass allows you to appreciate the power of the drink while the stem prevents your hand from warming the vodka or gin.
Regardless of whether this is blarney or utter truth, the fact is that there is some etiquette that needs to be adhered to and for that reason it becomes important to serve the right spirit in the proper glass. After all, you wouldn’t serve a fine Champagne in red plastic cups would you?
If you’re unsure what type of glass to put your drink in, just bookmark this guide. If you have the glass on hand, be sure to use it properly. Let’s examine what kind of glassware and barware you’ll want in your home bar.
Types of Glassware
Discounting art and novelty glassware, there are three primary categories that glassware fits into.
The standard vessel, a tumbler is a glass with a flat bottom and includes everything from the old-fashioned glass to the Collins, highball and water cup.
Just a fancy word for a cocktail glass, the Cosmopolitan glass is similar in shape to a martini glass but lacks the stem and instead just has a foot. It’s a great glass for a variety of cocktails and can easily be used for a martini as well. Click here to get a set of Libbey cosmopolitan glasses for your bar.
A taller version of the highball, the zombie glass is similar to a collins glass and usually holds about 13oz in it. It’s a suitable option for simple cocktails, especially ones that contain fruit juices. Here’s another set of inexpensive Libbey glasses for just $20.
Also called the low ball and rocks glass, the old fashioned glass is named after the cocktail. It typically has a thick base to allow ingredients to be muddled before adding a spirit and is usually used for hard spirit-based cocktails with ice and limited mix. Consider this set of four old fashioned glasses with traditional etching perfect for your library or parlor room.
The only main difference between a rocks glass and an old fashioned glass is the thickness of the base. A rocks glass is slightly thinner and is used for similar cocktails but also for those who enjoy drinking spirits neat or on the rocks without turning them into a cocktail. The traditional rocks glass comes in a standard size, a double for larger drinks and a footed version. If you like heavy glasses, a traditional lead crystal is the way to go but if you want to be able to put them in your dish washer, try these.
The highball glass is a taller version of the rocks glass that’s a similar diameter but larger in width than the Collins. It’s predominantly used for mixed drinks that feature an ounce or two of spirit with a greater quantity of non-alcoholic mix. Drinks like the rum and coke pair well with this glass. Click here to buy a quality set of four highballs.
A glass that’s usually an even fluid ounce, it’s used to take back a ‘shot’ of straight alcohol. Here’s a solid set of shot glasses for your home bar.
Similar to a shot glass, the shooter is usually used to serve a mixed cocktail in a glass that’s of similar size to the shot glass but can also be found 1/2 an ounce to more than 1oz bigger in size.
Irish Coffee Glass
Irish coffee glasses are glass mugs, often with just a flat base or a foot. They are designed to withstand high temperatures and used predominantly for coffee-based cocktails such as its namesake. Click here to buy this set of Irish Coffee mugs.
It doesn’t get more basic than a beverage tumbler. Also referred to as a water glass, it’s the standard table glass that’s used at casual dinners or restaurants to serve juice, water, soft drinks and various other beverages, including some cocktails. When you’re in a pinch or running out of glasses, the standard water glass can be used as a substitution for a highball. A classic tumbler would be the Duralex from Picardie, France.
An oversized glass similar to the standard beverage tumbler, it’s slightly larger and comes standard and faceted. It’s used for cold cocktails when you wish to avoid regular refills. Many restaurants and bars use the cooler glass as an up-size selling opportunity to serve larger drinks such as the Caesar, long island iced tea and mojito at a higher price. Buyer beware, that in many restaurants you just end up paying for more mix and the spirit ends up being diluted. If you still want larger glasses at home, take a look at these.
Iced Tea Glass
Available in three styles, the standard tumbler is almost identical to the cooler and water glass. There is also a version with a double bulge as well as a footed iced tea glass which tends to be the most popular. These glasses however as so interchangeable with other glassware that it’s just not worth it, in my opinion, to spend the extra money or cupboard space on them.
Self-explanatory, stemware is a drinking vessel with a stem on it, often intended as a handle to prevent your skin from altering the temperature of the spirit or wine inside.
Stemmed like a wine glass, but with an inverted cone, the martini glass is the traditional glass used to serve its namesake cocktail. Despite its intended use, it also serves as a vessel for various other cold aromatic cocktails. The stem of the glass acts as a barrier and handle for holding it so your hand doesn’t warm its contents and the wide brim allows for the release of aromatic compounds allowing the user to really take in the aroma. Click here for a classic set of martini glasses for your home bar.
Considered a fairly elegant glass, the cordial is often used at events for cocktails, yet more prominently for after-dinner liqueurs. Despite resembling a wine glass, they hold less alcohol than the average wine glass does. They’re also typically thinner and more delicate. Many people often call them pony glasses, however a pony glass is stemless and usually just has a base or a foot. Click here to buy your own set of traditional cordial glasses.
Named after the Hurricane cocktail from Pat O’Brien’s legendary bar in New Orleans, the hurricane is used for many cocktails – especially tropical ones. The glass holds about 20oz and closely resembles a poco grande glass in shape, but far exceeds it in capacity. A footed glass, it’s often held incorrectly and is intended to be held by the foot to prevent the contents from warming. Here’s a set of hurricane glasses for just $30.
A sister to the classic Champagne coupe, the margarita glass comes both in a saucer formation as well as a welled glass. Despite this, many restaurants and bars opt to serve a larger version in what’s dubbed a ‘fishbowl’ glass due to its excessive size. Click here to get a set of welled margarita glasses.
Very similar to the hurricane glass, the poco grande is shallower with a longer stem and only holds about 12oz opposed to the 20oz hurricane.
Copita Nosing Glass
Despite being made by Glencairn, don’t be confused as it’s quite different than the traditional Glencairn whisky glass. The Copita has a long stem making it ideal for examining the contents as well as for swirling the spirit. Often used to judge various whiskies, it is now also used when sampling tequila among other spirits. This is the glass I typically use when reviewing whiskies for the first time. It looks similar to a wine glass, but it’s narrower at the top with a bulb in the middle making it ideal for nosing. For more information, check out our whisky guides. Here’s the set of Copita nosing glasses I personally use.
Another very traditional whisky glass, the Glencairn is similar to the copita in shape, but lacks the stem only using a foot. Inspired by the Copita, it was actually designed and tested by the foremost whisky authorities at the various distilleries in Scotland. It’s available in three different styles, a 24% lead crystal, lead-free crystal, and soda-lime Glencairn. Despite not being the only glass intended for whisky, it is the first to ever receive designation from the Scotch Whisky Association and in 2006, it won the Queen’s award for innovation. Despite using the Copita as my go-to glass for reviewing whisky, the Glencairn is the one I use otherwise. It’s also the one I will typically serve whisky to friends and family in if they’ve never tried the particular dram before. Click here to buy the same Glencairn glasses I use when reviewing whisky for Gentleman’s Gazette.
The snifter, often referred to as a brandy snifter, is a short glass with a short stem that holds a wide bottomed bowl that curves into a narrow top. Traditionally used to serve brandies such as Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados, it’s also used for fine rums and can even be used for whisky in a pinch. They come in various sizes, but here’s a great starter set for the traditional snifter.
3. Wine Glasses
Wine glasses are one of the biggest marketing ploys in the industry. Really all you need is a set of Champagne flutes and a set of standard red wine glasses. If you want to spend the extra money or just have a fully stocked bar for all, here’s a list of the other popular wine glasses on the market. For more information on wine, check out our guides.
3. Beer Glasses
There is a glass for every type of beer. Is there value behind that? Probably not, but for the beer lover it’s important that a Guinness isn’t served in a snifter.
To test out the “science” behind the glass, I picked up three bottles of beer. A can of Guinness, a can of Kilkenny and a bottle of Innis and Gunn Rum Finish – my three favorites. I separated each can into three different types of drinkware. The Guinness was poured in equal measure into a pint glass, a ceramic coffee mug and a brandy snifter. The Kilkenny was poured into a nonic pint glass, a Champagne flute and the can; and the Innis & Gunn was poured into a beer mug, a Glencairn glass and a styrofoam coffee cup. The goal was to see if I could taste a difference.
Beginning with the Guinness I took the first sip from the pint glass and noticed the familiar flavor profile and aroma. It’s worth mentioning that I did drink the Guinness cold and not room temperature like it’s intended simply because most people do drink it ice cold. If I was a superhero my palate would be my power. I’ve long had the ability to differentiate flavors and discern exactly what’s in it. In fact, my wife and I were out with friends and I could tell that the bartender used simple syrup in my old fashioned over a sugar cube. Did I notice a difference between the glasses? Yes, I did. Flavor-wise there wasn’t a significant difference between the pint and the snifter, although the pint had a slightly less concentrated taste. The ceramic from the coffee cup was evident and I noticed a fairly significant difference between that and the pint glass. However, the biggest tell was aroma. The smell of the Guinness was heavier in the snifter and lighter in the coffee cup. The pint was the only familiar one, granted in a blind study, I would have been able to tell all three were Guinness.
Next came the Kilkenny, a delightfully creamy beer that I’ve long enjoyed. The head was distinctly different in the sonic pint glass than it was in the can for obvious reasons and it quickly overflowed with head in the champagne flute, despite pouring it from an angle. Taste was slightly more difficult to discern. In the can I could taste the metallic which quickly dissipated in the nonic pint glass. The flavor from the flute was more heady but also had a stronger grain flavor than it did in the pint or the can. However, it was also slightly lighter in the flute than the pint or can.
With the Innis and Gunn Rum Finish, the differences were more subtle. From the beer mug it had its familiar aroma and taste, but from the Glencairn it seemed to really allow the aroma to grow and evolve into a far more complex nose. The flavor however remained much the same. The styrofoam was one I anticipated would be a significant difference but really wasn’t. It actually tasted more refreshing but the flavor was similar to that of the mug and the Glencairn.
Are there differences? In my mind, yes, there are. However, they’re minimal and in my experience if I have to focus to pick up on them, chances are most people won’t even notice them. Would I drink the beer from a styrofoam cup or a ceramic coffee mug? No. But, it’s something that’s probably very doable for most beer drinkers out there. For more information on beer, take a look at our beer guide.
One of the most common styles of beer glasses, the pint is a large beer glass that holds one full imperial pint (568 ml ≈1.2 US pints) of beer. Available in the standard conical shape, it also comes in a nonic version which prevents the glass from chipping (nonic translates to no-nick) and makes it easier for bars to stack the glasses without them sticking. In addition, it’s easier to hold and helps to manage the head of the beer as well. There is also a dimple or jug pint which is similar to a mug in that it has a handle. These are often called ‘grenade’ glasses due to their dimpled appearance from the way they’re made. Click here to buy a set of pint glasses.
Used for light beers such as a pilsner or pale ale, the pilsner is smaller than a pint glass but lean and tall with a slight taper which helps to release the head and showcase the color of the beer. Here’s a set of pilsner glasses for your bar.
Used to serve wheat beer, it’s designed to allow the body of the large, thick head to grow without an overflow. Since wheat beer foams so quickly, the Weizen is often swirled with a few drops of water which prevents the head from growing out of control, especially if the beer is being poured quickly. These are classic Hefeweizen glasses
The tulip glass is a bulb glass ideal for beers with large heads and helps to contain the aroma of the beer giving the user a stronger nose. It’s most commonly used for ales, barleywines and aromatic lagers. You can also use it as a pilsner glass. Spiegelau produces some decent ones.
Although Stein means stone in Germany and American’s call traditional beer mugs made from stoneware or ceramics and other materials including wood, porcelain and pewter.Germans don’t use that word and call it Bierkrug, but frankly it is not popular in German and only sold to tourists. Also called a tankard, today, they are often simply referred to as a beer mug.Often they’ll be chilled in the freezer and for many beers.
Almost identical to the brandy snifter, these are also ideal for enjoying very aromatic ales and weathers. The taper helps to constrict the alcohol but allows swirling which agitates the beer giving off a very full-bodied aroma.
Very similar to a Champagne flute, it’s the beer glass used for lambics and fruit beers. The narrow vessel maintains the carbonation and pushes its aroma to the top of the glass. Take a look at these.
Also called a chalice, the goblet is a large, bowl shaped glass with a stem used for serving full bodied bocks, Belgian ales and other heavy beers. The only difference between the goblet and chalice is the thickness. The chalice is far heavier and the goblet is rather light and delicate. One thing to look for when buying a chalice is etching on the bottom of the glass which helps to create a stream of carbonation to create the perfect head.
Tall and narrow, the stage is often called the stick glass and is used for Kölsch. They are rather small glasses and can be found here.
Yard of Ale
A yard-long, widening shaft of beer with a bulb at the bottom is a novelty glass used to drink about 2.5 pints of beer. Despite a rich history, today it’s mostly used at street carnivals, outdoor events and various celebrations.
For a full set of beer glasses you can buy at once for your bar, click here.
There are so many different kinds of glasses and drinkware on the market today. This is just a small selection of the basics. Do you need all of them? Heck no. Many can be interchanged and some serve little to no purpose at all but are rather a marketing gimmick created to improve sales and revenue streams. However, if you do pride yourself on having the most well stocked bar in the neighborhood, the aforementioned glassware is sure to be of necessity.