When it comes to cocktails, we at Food52 think that the vessel that holds your drink is almost as important as the beverage itself. But with so much terminology and so many options, it can be challenging to find the perfect glass for whatever you’re sipping. So, we talked to two experts (our Cocktail Resident Harper Fendler and Commerce Editor Julia Kramer) to figure out exactly what to look for in a cocktail glass—and which styles are worth keeping on hand.
First off, Harper says it’s helpful to think about cocktail glasses as having two main categories: stemmed (like coupes and Nick & Noras) and stemless (tumblers, rocks glasses, highballs, and Collins glasses). Which type of glass you serve a drink in depends on a variety of factors, ranging from tradition and personal taste to practicality.
According to Harper, the first major consideration is volume. “You’d hate to make a drink, go to pour it in a glass only to find that it’s too small,” he says. “The inverse is also true: If you select a glass that is too large for the volume of the finished drink, you’re left with your cocktail looking skimpy. No good.” When evaluating the volume of your drink it’s also important to think about how it’s served or prepared—doing so helps account for additions like ice (if it’s served on the rocks), or extra dilution in the case of cocktails that are shaken or stirred. Lastly, you’ll want to think about how you want your cocktail to look. This will depend on your preferences and tastes, or the vibe you’re trying to curate.
Though choosing a vessel for your cocktail is often flexible, Harper warns that that’s not always the case. “If you’re making a fizz, be sure to use a glass with straight sidewalls,” he says. “The hallmark of a fizz is its head and bubbles. If one is prepared in, say, a martini shell, the head will simply waterfall over the sides of the glass. Fizz glasses can look like anything from a highball to a flat-sided coupe, but they have walls.”
Sazeracs also demand a specific glass and serving style. Says Harper: “A Sazerac is one of the few classics that is served ‘down,’ meaning it is stirred, then strained into a chilled rocks glass without rocks. This is correct. Do not serve up, and do not add rocks.”
Don’t be overwhelmed by these guidelines: It’s not actually necessary to have a ton of different cocktail glasses at home. When making drinks at home, Harper typically relies on “a few rocks glasses that can fit large ice cubes, a couple of coupes, and some highballs.” No highballs? Wine glasses will usually do the trick in a pinch.
“If you’re looking for versatility and ease I’d have a couple rocks glasses, wine glasses, and coupes or Nick & Noras,” Julia adds. “Rocks glasses are versatile (can easily hold an old fashioned, Negroni, vodka soda, or margarita), and I prefer drinking from a Nick & Nora glass vs. a coupe, but they can hold many of the same drinks (daiquiri, gimlet, martini).”
Ultimately, you’ll want to choose glassware that not only looks good: It should feel good when you drink from it. “Two main components of quality glassware that I look out for are weight and density,” says Harper. “Is the glass weighted and balanced properly both empty and full? Is it too top-heavy, i.e. does it want to fall over? How thick is this glass? Is it designed to be elegant and present a drink well, or is it designed to be durable?”
Now, you’re ready to build out your glassware collection—and we have tons of options in our Shop. Whether you’re looking for sturdy, durable rocks glasses or delicate, vintage-inspired Nick & Noras, we’ve got you covered.
Coupes are among the most versatile cocktail glasses, making them a no-brainer for your at-home glassware collection. With their wide rim, stem, and six-ounce capacity, they’re great for any drink that’s served “up” (aka chilled and strained). Julia is a fan of the Big Top Coupe Glasses from Nude Glass: “The thicker stems are fun and give them a slightly whimsical look.”
Note: Martini glasses fall under the broader category of coupes and are known for their distinct V-shape. Though classic, that shape also tends to be more prone to spilling (thanks to its wide, open rim).
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Nick & Noras
Nick & Nora glasses are typically a bit smaller, narrower, and more bell-shaped than coupes, but as Julia mentioned, they can be used for many of the same cocktails. With this set from Bormioli Rocco, you can choose to get four Nick & Noras, or you can get the full bar set, which comes with martinis, coupes, and fizzes, too.
In addition to being stemless, rocks glasses are—as their name implies—designed for cocktails served on the rocks. “These old fashioned glasses are perfect for entertaining because they’re shatterproof,” Julia says of these Old-Fashioned Glasses from Tossware.
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Highballs & Collins Glasses
Highballs and Collins glasses are both slender (“taller, narrow glasses are meant to keep drinks carbonated for longer,” says Julia), but highballs tend to be narrower and smaller in capacity than Collins glasses. Generally speaking, however, the two are interchangeable for any drink that contains soda or seltzer, says Harper.
Julia’s favorite are these Italian Crinkle Glasses that boast a fun texture and are ultra-versatile: They’re perfect for “any highball drink, water, or non-alcoholic bev you’re sipping on.”
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