Mixology 101: Glassware
It has come to my attention that you’re using the wrong glass. It was forgivable in college when everything was served in that red plastic cup – A mixed drink? Red plastic cup. Shots? Red plastic cup. Beer? Red plastic cup. Wine? Red plastic cup. You’re not in college anymore though, are you? So why did you just pour Riesling into a Merlot glass? And you better not think about pouring my martini into a rocks glass.
Now, I hate snobbery as much as the next guy, but there is a reason dozens of different types of glassware exist. There is a reason some rims are fluted and others are tapered. It is no accident some glasses have stems and some do not. And there is most definitely a purpose to certain wine glasses being much larger than others.
So, why are there dozens upon dozens of different types of glassware? And what do the different sizes, shapes, rims, and stems mean?
The size of the glass is the easiest variation to spot. Size is also the least pretentious of the design characteristics; a glass’ size is often its most functional attribute. There is no need to have a large glass if you’re drinking scotch neat or a dessert wine, but you need much more room for a tropical frozen drink or a mixed drink that is served over ice.
In addition to volume, the size of a glass can have a lot to do with cooling. A small amount of liquid spread out in a large vessel, thus having more surface area, may warm quicker than if it is served in a smaller glass. Glasses large enough to fit in the palm are necessary when a drink is designed to be warmed by the body heat from your palm. Classic cocktails were meant to be drunk as quickly as possible, while the drink was still very cold. They are mixed with ice to chill them and served without any so that they weren’t watered down. Southern drinks like the mojito were meant to be sipped, so a larger glass with room for ice was needed to keep the drink cool longer.
Cocktails and Mixed Drinks: With cocktails and mixed drinks, size is almost always related to how much room a drink needs, particularly, whether or not the drink is served over ice or not.
Wine: With wine, the size of the bowl depends on if a wine needs room to be swirled and oxygenated. The size can also affect how much of a wine’s aroma can build up within the glass.
Beer: As for beer glasses, size is often directly related to cultural and regional traditions – some societies happen to like to drink more in a glass than others.
Stemware is more often than not used when it is vital to keep your hand, and body heat, away from the drink. This is apparent with cocktail glasses, margarita glasses, cordial glasses, and many wine glasses. The length of the stem can also depend on how vital it is that your hand does not warm the drink; certain white wine glasses have long stems so you don’t warm the wine, and many red wines do not as the optimum serving temperature for a red wine is often warmer than that of a white wine.
Cocktails and Mixed Drinks: For cocktails and mixed drinks, a general rule of thumb is, if it is not served over ice (but meant to be served cold), then it should be served in a stemmed cocktail glass.
Wine: So why are many wine glasses now stemless? Some say it’s okay to hold red wine glasses by the bowl, so they thought, why not just remove the stem altogether? That and they are far less fragile and breakable than their stemmed cousins. You should still avoid stemless glasses for wines that should be served cool.
Beer: Usually you will only find beer being served in stemware when you want to highlight and preserve the carbonation or aromas of the beer.
Glass thickness can serve different purposes depending on what portion is thick or reinforced – the sides of the glass or the base of the glass. Cocktail and mixed drink glasses often have very thick bases but thin sides. This is done so that they can withstand the violent forces associated with muddling ingredients straight in the glass. Thick walls of a glass will help retain temperature, and this is the primary reason beer mugs are the thickest glasses out there – and why they weigh a ton.
Cocktails and Mixed Drinks: Most cocktail glassware varies very little when it comes to thickness. Mixed drinks glassware, the collins, and the rocks family of glasses are an exception here as a heavy-duty base is sometimes needed for muddling.
Wine: As with cocktails, there is little variation in wine glass thickness. As wine is served closer to room temperature than beer and cocktails, the need for temperature control in the glass is not as important – besides, that’s what the stem is there for.
Beer: Here is where you will find the most variation in glass thickness. While most glasses will be about the same thickness as a collins glass, some are much thicker, and glasses like the mug and chalice can be arm-hurting thick. Here, glass thickness is designed to keep the beer cold – that and you can cheers your buddy with less fear of the glass shattering.
Shape is where things start to get a bit abstract, at least to someone who has little desire to know more about their drink than the ingredients in it. In addition to the ingredients used in a drink, temperature, texture, aroma, and numerous other factors can affect flavor and the experience you get drinking a cocktail, a glass of wine, or a pitcher of beer.
Cocktails and Mixed Drinks: In cocktails, glassware shape has, more frequently than not, stemmed from aesthetic desires or necessity for a particular glass to be a certain shape. Glasses like the hurricane prove this point. As for mixed drink glasses, you can’t get much simpler than that. It’s a case of function over form.
Wine: With wine, the shape of the glass is most often dependent on how much room a wine needs for swirling, and how much aroma you want to capture from the wine.
Beer: The shape of beer glasses is usually designed to control the formation of head. Aroma comes into the equation as well sometimes. Of course, ridged pint glasses are designed that way for two reasons: to make them easier to hold and to allow them to be stacked without sticking to each other.
The shape of a glass’ rim is likely its most important factor, assuming such trivial matters as aroma delivery, effervescence preservation, and head retention interest you. Fluted edges deliver a drink’s aroma to your nose, giving you a chance to smell the drink before you actually taste it. Tapered edges encourage effervescence, which is vital for sparkling wines and champagnes – fun fact: the champagne coupe is actually a very poor glass in which to serve champagne. Bulges, fluted edges, and tall rims can encourage and capture a beer’s head. Large bowls with a fluted side will capture a drink’s aroma. It’s no wonder many glasses pay particular attention to their rim. After all, it is where the glass meets your lips.
Cocktails and Mixed Drinks: Here, rim shape is not as important as it is for wines and beers. Classic cocktails were meant to be gulped, so large rims offered an easier drinking experience. Certain aperitifs and digestifs were meant to be sipped, so narrow rimmed, small glasses were designed.
Wine: Rim shape and size is all about aroma delivery and retention. Fluted edges are used for fruity or aromatic wines as it will help bring the aroma to your nose quickly.
Beer: Just like wine, a large factor in the rim shape and size of beer glassware is for directing the beer’s aroma. Head development and retention is also a factor.
Now that you know which glasses are used for which drinks and why, it’s time to start using the right glass. Put down that red plastic cup, and go buy yourself some adult glassware. Of course, I can’t leave out college students all together, so I’ve created a special glassware infographic just for them too.