How to find the best glass for your favorite cocktail
Sophisticated cocktails are all the rage at bars across America. The last 20 years have brought about a cocktail renaissance, and professional bartenders and amateur mixologists have rediscovered and revamped classic cocktails from the Roaring ‘20s and American Prohibition. No matter the top-shelf ingredients, no cocktail is complete without a worthy vessel.
Whether making drinks to impress friends or for your own relaxation and enjoyment, proper glassware can elevate a cocktail from amateur to elegant.
What to know before you buy cocktail glasses
While there are many slight variations, most cocktail glasses are one of three types: lowball, highball and stem. There are several variations that are used for specific drinks, like Margarita glasses, snifters, cordial glasses, tikis or copper Julep mugs.
Also known as a rock or old-fashioned glass, lowball glasses are short, stout and have a heavy base, making them suitable for use with large or small ice cubes. These glasses are typically used with spirit-forward drinks, like Manhattan and Old Fashioned cocktails. They are also commonly used for drinking straight spirits, or “neat pours,” such as whiskey or mezcal. With a small amount of ice, these drinks become “on the rocks,” which allows the liquor to be diluted as the ice melts. Drinking spirits over a large ice cube, or a “big rock,” cools the high-proof alcohol while diluting more slowly and retaining more heat and flavor.
Highball, or Collins glasses, are the counterpart to the lowball. They are taller, narrower glasses that can fit a moderate amount of ice. These share the traditional name of simple mixed drinks: a highball is any single spirit served with ice and a mixer like soda, juice or tonic water. These include classics like a Screwdriver, rum-and-cola, vodka-soda and gin-and-tonic drinks. Highball glasses are also often used for contemporary variations on cocktails that are similarly composed of spirits and mixers, like the Tequila Sunrise.
The most elegant of cocktail glassware, stemware includes wine glasses, champagne flutes and coupes, all of which are constructed with a sturdy base, thin stem and thin-walled glass bowl on top. These glasses are used for chilled drinks that are served without additional ice. Spirit-forward cocktails, like a Martini or Manhattan, are stirred over ice until they are quite cold and slightly diluted, and they are then strained into a chilled glass like a coupe. Cocktails with liquor and fresh juice, like a classic Daiquiri, are chilled and diluted in a cocktail shaker with ice before being double-strained into a similarly chilled coupe glass.
What to look for in a quality cocktail glass
The ideal cocktail glass should be sturdy enough to stay upright. Stemware is easy to knock over, especially after a couple of stiff drinks, but a sturdy base can help prevent the spills and breaks that could accompany a night of libations.
If your glass does tip over, you want to make sure it does not shatter. Many modern cocktail glasses are made with tempered or heat-treated glass that holds up to hot and cold beverages and is less likely to break with a simple spill. An alternative is acrylic “glass,” which is shatterproof despite appearing like traditional glass.
Size and shape
Spirit-forward drinks, like a Martini or Manhattan, are typically a lot smaller in volume than mixed drinks, so you don’t want coupes that are oversized. On the other hand, if you want to enjoy the same drink over ice, you should use a glass that has enough room. Each drink has a designated type and size of glass for a good reason, so make sure your cocktail is served in the proper vessel.
How much you can expect to spend on cocktail glasses
While you can often buy single pieces of glassware, cocktail glasses are typically sold in sets of four or more, ranging anywhere from $15-$50. More expensive sets can reach upwards of $100-$300 or higher, depending on the ornateness and flourishes.
Cocktail glasses FAQ
Are cocktail glasses dishwasher-safe?
A. Yes, by and large, whether made with real glass, acrylic, tin or copper, your cocktail glasses should be dishwasher-safe.
What is the difference between “up” and “down?”
A. Spirit-forward cocktails are commonly served either “up” in stemware or “down” in a lowball glass. For chilled drinks, stemware prevents heat transfer from the drinker’s hand to the cocktail, so a Manhattan served “up” will stay cooler longer than one served “down.” The advantage of having a drink “down” is that it’s less likely to be knocked over or spilled.
Do I need every style of cocktail glass in my cabinet?
A. No. If you have one solid set of stemware, lowball and highball glasses, you can serve most drinks. You may, however, want some other staples in your cabinet, like beer glasses, stemless wine glasses and shot glasses.
What’s the best cocktail glassware to buy?
What you need to know: This set of lowball and highball-style tumblers is made by Libbey, one of the oldest manufacturers of glassware in the U.S., and it can accommodate many different drinks.
What you’ll love: They are affordable, uniquely-shaped and have a smoky finish that looks classy.
What you should consider: These glasses are less elegant than more expensive, classic glassware.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top cocktail glasses for the money
What you need to know: At an affordable rate compared to most stemware, these Martini glasses are perfect for spirit-heavy cocktails.
What you’ll love: These glasses are made with durable glass, and they have a dishwasher-safe, sleek design.
What you should consider: They are not shatterproof and thus easier to spill.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: This set for the beginner or the seasoned mixologist is made with durable stainless steel and comes with a bamboo holder for the 12 items it comes with.
What you’ll love: Variety of glassware for experimenting with mixology, good for a starter set.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Matt Fleming writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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