Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.

Cocktail 101: Glassware Basics

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[Photographs: Michael Dietsch]

Have you ever looked at the array of glassware available at, say, your local Crate & Barrel? The varieties of glasses they shelve seem overwhelming, even to a veteran boozer like me.

No need to stress out, though. Just a few pieces are enough to contain nearly any cocktail you might want to quaff.

For this entry, I'm going to focus on three types of glassware:

  • Stemmed, or up, glasses
  • Old fashioned, or rocks, glasses
  • Chimney-style glasses (that is, highball or Collins glasses)

These, plus a set of champagne flutes (which you already have, right?), should suffice for nearly any cocktail you'd encounter. In a later entry, I'll return to this topic and suggest other pieces you might add to supplement the basics.

What's Up, Glass?

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[Photograph: Owen Byrne on Flickr]

The martini glass—or as it's more accurately known, the cocktail glass. Perhaps the most iconic bar symbol around, as seen on countless neon signs in older bars, it's what springs quickest to mind when people think of a cocktail glass.

Here's a simple rule of thumb that applies when selecting glassware for a drink. Use a stem glass, also called an up glass, whenever you're serving a shaken or stirred drink, without ice. The stem lifts the bowl of the glass up and away from your hands, which would otherwise warm the glass. Hold the glass by its stem and raise it to your waiting lips.

Cocktails that belong in a stem glass include:

But the iconic, elegant V-glass has a drawback, as you probably know if you've had a little too much celebration. It's easy to tip over. That's where its lesser-known cousin comes in: the coupe glass.

The coupe started life as a champagne glass, but alas, the coupe is not well suited to champagne. Its shape means most of the effervescence evaporates before the sparkler reaches the mouth. But the coupe is very well adapted to holding cocktails!

Personally, I like having both on hand. I reserve the V-shaped cocktail glass for the drink it's most famous for, and frequently misnamed after: the martini. Anything else goes into a coupe: sidecars, Manhattans, daiquiris, etc.

I Love the Old Fashioned Things

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[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

The old fashioned, or rocks, glass is named for the most renowned drink served therein: the old fashioned cocktail. It's easy; it comes in two variants (with a rare cousin): the old fashioned glass and the double old fashioned glass. (A triple old fashioned glass exists and is used mostly in tiki bars, as far as I can tell.)

The size merely indicates, roughly, the capacity of the glass. A traditional old fashioned glass holds 6–8 ounces, whereas a double can hold 12–14.

Use an old fashioned glass for drinks built in the glass. What that means is, you're not using a cocktail shaker or mixing glass to "build" the cocktail; you're mixing it in the same glass in which you're serving it, usually directly on ice.

For example, when you "build" an old fashioned in its namesake glass, you put in your sugar, your bitters, a splash of still water, and a bit of citrus peel. You muddle that until the sugar dissolves and the citrus oils express into the sugary mixture. Add ice and whiskey; stir until cold, blended, and somewhat diluted.

Cocktails served in an old fashioned glass include:

  • Old fashioned
  • Negroni (when served on ice instead of straight up)
  • Mint julep (unless you're fancy and have a metal julep cup)
  • Sazerac (traditionally served sans ice. Why aren't they served in up glasses? Good question; if you know, feel free to leave a comment.)

An old fashioned traditionally called for a two-ounce pour of whiskey, hence the smaller glass. Like most other things in American culture, the old fashioned has upsized and now is generally three ounces, or if you're me, often four. But I'm a lush.

The smaller, original-sized glasses are harder to find than the double old fashioneds. I suggest buying a reasonably sized double old fashioned, and then if you want the variety or prefer to downsize to smaller cocktails, you can hunt out the smaller size later.

How to Eyeball a Highball

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The so-called chimney-style glass goes by a few different names: the Delmonico, the Collins, and the highball. Each type of glass has a slightly different shape and capacity, while retaining the same basic chimney form. The Delmonico is the smallest of the chimney styles, at 5-8 ounces; the highball rings in at about 8-12 ounces, and the Collins at 12-16 ounces. Historically, they were each used for a different type of cocktail. You'll still find bartenders who insist on serving a Tom Collins in a Collins glass but a gin fizz in a highball. For home use, though, I think these distinctions are unnecessary.

Use a highball glass when you're sipping something cold and refreshing over lots of ice, sometimes with a straw. Cocktails (and other beverages) served in a highball include:

  • Gin fizz
  • Gin rickey
  • Gimlet
  • Gin and tonic (and, indeed, any x-and-y: scotch and soda, bourbon and ginger, etc.)

Highball glasses are easy to find. Look for something reasonably sized and easy to hold in the hand.

Smaller Is Better (Though Harder to Find)

One thing you might notice when shopping for cocktail glasses: they're all so damn big. Chains such as C&B or Williams-Sonoma mainly stock stemmed glasses in the 10 to 15 ounce range; their double old fashioned glasses reach 14 ounces; and highballs go up to 20 ounces—you might as well just drink your gin and tonic from a pint glass!

But if you look at the recipes here on Serious Eats—the Moon River, for example, or the Revolver—you'll see they call for 2 to 3 ounces of liquid.

The cocktail team at Serious Eats generally follows an oft-quoted motto, attributed to barman Harry Craddock, of the American Bar in London and author of the Savoy Cocktail Book: "The way to drink a cocktail is quickly, while it's still laughing at you." The disadvantages of a large cocktail are easy to see:

  • A large cocktail gets warm in the glass long before you finish it, unless you guzzle the bloody thing.
  • A large cocktail makes it easier to overindulge, especially if you guzzle the bloody thing.

For most of the cocktail recipes we feature at Serious Eats, I recommend the following capacities:

  • V or coupe glass: 5 to 7 ounces
  • Old fashioned: 6 to 8 ounces; double: 12 to 14 ounces
  • Highball: 10 to 16 ounces

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and glass-eyed fool. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.

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