Glassware 101: Everything You Need to Know

If you start using the proper types of cocktail glasses for each drink you make at home, you’ll not only feel like a pro bartender, but your drinks will taste better too. Certain cocktails will be better in a particular shape or material. 

Two Hemingway Daiquiris on a gold tray near dried lime wheels and a gold bowl of cherries.

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Drinking glasses are more than just vessels for drinks. When you first start shaking up cocktails at home, using whatever glasses you have on hand is convenient. But if you use just any old glass, you risk your drink not tasting or looking quite as intended. 

But where to start? When shopping for glassware, I know it may seem as though there are as many types of glasses as there are types of alcohol to serve in them. For me, I built my collection slowly over time, adding to it as I discovered new drinks I love and as I needed to for entertaining. 

If you’ve ever wondered why mint juleps come in metal julep cups or why there are so many different shapes of wine glasses, the answer is in the question: It’s all about size, shape and temperature.

A glass of pink Frosé.

Why you need different types of cocktail glasses

The material and shape of a glass can help the drink last longer, maintain a certain temperature and even taste better. When it comes to cocktails, this matters quite a lot.

For example, sparkling wine and champagne cocktails are both served in champagne flutes. These long, elegant types of wine glasses are more than just pretty party essentials.

The tall, narrow shape helps the bubbly to stay effervescent for longer, as the carbonation bubbles have a longer distance to travel to the top of the drink. If there’s too much surface area, the carbonation will fizzle out faster, and your drink won’t have the ideal bubbly texture.

A Mai Tai Cocktail.

Where to start

Many drinks are designed to be served in a particular style, shape and material of glass. But don’t let this fact stop you: You can absolutely use whatever glassware you have.

When you’re ready to take your home bartending game up a notch, invest in some different types of cocktail glasses to add to your bar cart and serve your creations.

It’s a good idea to start with glasses designed for your favorite drinks. If you love martinis, it would make sense to start your glassware collection with a set of martini glasses you love.

Glassware is a great gift for any budding bartender or party host, so think about their favorite beverage or get them a type of glass they don’t yet have.

An Irish Old Fashioned in a glass with gold polka dots.

Rocks glasses

Also called old-fashioned glasses or lowball glasses, rocks glasses are short, heavy-bottomed glasses. 

Old-fashioned glasses are typically wide enough to hold the large clear ice cubes that are commonly served with spirit-forward drinks. These large ice cubes have less surface area than lots of little cubes, so they melt slower and don’t dilute the drink as quickly.

If you love to make spirit-forward cocktails like the old-fashioned or the Negroni, or if you like to sip on bourbon, scotch or mezcal, these glasses are must-haves.

Rocks glasses also work well for margaritas, cobblers and smashes.

Viski is a glassware brand I love for its decorative and classic designs, like these crystal tumblers with the iconic diamond shape. 

Mojito with cream of coconut, lime and mint.

Highball glasses

Highball glasses are tall, narrow tumblers intended for drinks with a larger volume than ones served in rocks glasses. Drinks served in highball glasses are called tall drinks.

They typically contain one type of liquor and a carbonated soda but also often contain fruit juices. Think quick-and-easy combinations like a classic mojito, flavorful Rum & Coke or a fizzy Tom Collins.

When selecting a highball glass, be sure to choose one with a heavy base. They can also range in volume, often in 10-, 12- and 16-ounce options. Since tall drinks typically contain ice, a 12- or 16-ounce glass is a safer bet to hold most drinks and a big scoop of ice cubes. 

Glassware company Libbey makes a number of highball glasses in various styles. These art deco glasses are timeless. I find a cut glass design like this makes a drink easier to hold when covered in condensation. 

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a martini glass with blue cheese stuffed olives

Martini glasses

Whether you like a dry martini or a dessert martini, these V-shaped, stemmed glasses are a must for any home bar.

Alternatively, martini glasses can be stemless, though stemless martini glasses should always have a heavy bottom to prevent tipping.

But you can use them for more than just drinks. Martini glasses can also be used for serving appetizers like shrimp cocktail, as well as desserts like parfaits, puddings, ice cream and sorbet.

Reidel is a well-loved brand for its crystal wine glasses. I adore their high-quality martini glasses, which are light and chic. They would be a great addition to any home bar.

A closeup shot shows a deep brown espresso martini with a layer of foam and coffee bean garnish with the glass on a gold tray

Unique types of cocktail glasses

If you’ve already stocked up on the basics, the next step is to invest in other types of glassware for drinks you love, such as:

Coupe glasses

Coupe glasses look like rounded martini glasses. They often have clean, round lines, but I love a more ornate coupe glass.

These types of cocktail glasses are often used for champagne and drinks served up, meaning they are served without ice, like Manhattans.

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a Strawberry Margarita in a glass with a gold stem.

Margarita glasses

Rocks glasses and martini glasses work fine for everything from classic margaritas to flavored ones.

However, I love that margarita glasses can have a wider circumference, making more room for margarita salt (or sugar) on the rim and the thick, frozen versions of this tequila drink.

a julep cocktail with a mint leaf garnish next to a bottle of whiskey

Julep cups

Known for its starring role as the most famous Kentucky Derby cocktail, the bourbon-based mint julep is just as famous for its unique silver cup that keeps the drink ice cold.

My favorite is the Barfly julep cup for its simple, timeless design.

A copper mug holds a ginger beer cocktail garnished with a lime wheel and copper straw.

Moscow mule mugs

Moscow mule mugs are copper mugs that are the classic glassware for the vodka-based Moscow mule.

Like the julep cup, these metal mugs keep the drink frigid and refreshing. I love how stunning and shimmery these mule mugs look on a bar cart. 

tiki punch with cocktail umbrellas

Tiki mugs

Tiki lovers will love getting their hands on Tiki mugs, which have a wide range of whimsical glassware designs from Polynesian masks to faux coconuts.

I’m obsessed with the Geeki Tikis brand, which is known for their designs inspired by famous franchises like Star Wars and Game of Thrones.

a gold spoon, a gold jigger and two Irish coffees

Irish coffee mugs

If you like warm drinks in the fall and winter, a heat-proof glass with a handle is ideal for protecting your hands. Regular, non-heat-proof glass can conduct heat, making the glass too hot to hold.

I use Irish coffee mugs for Irish coffee, of course, but they’re handy beyond the classic cocktail.

You can use them for everything from hot chocolate bombs to wassail and mulled wine to apple cider.

a glass of red wine with cookies

Wine glasses

If you’re a wine drinker, stocking up on wine glasses for red wine and white wine is also a great next step.

I suggest buying a matching set so that both types have a similar form in both types of glasses, but with wider bowls for red wine and narrower ones for white. I like the Libbey Greenwich wine glasses for their modern, swanky look.

A rock candy garnish sits in front of a pink cocktail in a glass with gold stars. A bottle of pink alcohol and a plate of additional rock candy are in the background.

Champagne flutes

These long skinny flutes for champagne are a must for any occasion that calls for celebrating with bubbly.

Ideally your champagne flutes should match your wine glass set, just as the Libbey Greenwich flute glasses match the wine glasses I mentioned. 

Beer glasses

Beer drinkers can upgrade from cans to pint glasses, steins and pilsner glasses. These different shapes are meant for different types of beer and are designed to maintain carbonation and the foamy head.

I prefer to keep just one on hand: A simple, 16-ounce pint glass like the Pub beer glass from Luminarc works with most types of beer. 

Brandy snifters

Brandy and cognac lovers should invest in a set of brandy snifters, sphere-shaped glasses with a short stem.

Designed to provide a sensory experience, the wide surface area allows the drink to evaporate slightly, forcing the aroma of brandy toward the nose.

I recently indulged in the Viski Wingback glasses that are great for swirling and sniffing spirits.

Two shot glasses of clear liquid in front of a slice of chocolate cake with gold forks resting on the plate.

Shot glasses

If you enjoy making white tea shots or chocolate cake shots, a set of shot glasses will be welcome on your home bar.

If you like making jello shots or want to take shots on the go to a tailgate or a backyard party, you might want to stock up on disposable jello shot cups.

Mulled wine in a gold cup with cinnamon sticks.

Other things to consider

When choosing glasses for your home bar, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Dishwasher safe: If easy clean-up is important to you, be sure the glasses are dishwasher safe and also not too delicate that they can be knocked around during the cleaning cycle.
  • Quantity: Think about your gatherings and how many people usually attend. Be sure to have enough glasses to serve a signature cocktail.
  • Volume: Pay attention to how many fluid ounces a glass holds.
  • Cabinet height: Find out if your glasses will fit on the shelves where you plan to store them.

What’s your favorite cocktail glass? Let me know in the comments!

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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