This month, we’re all about beautiful cocktail glassware! It’s a topic near-and-dear to our hearts here at A Bar Above, and Chris interviewed bartenders and bar glassware experts Chris Krause, Adam Stein, and Zane Harris to get their opinions on just which barware selection you really need (and don’t need). 

You can view the interviews over on our YouTube page to get all the tips on the type of glassware you should be shopping for– and Zane (the designer of Riedel’s cocktail glasses line) will walk you through their new, chic barware glasses one-by-one. 

And after you’ve decided what amazing glassware to buy, hop over to our shop to pick up all your other barware!

Chris is talking with bartenders Christopher Krause and Adam Stein about sourcing glassware for bar programs or a home bar. From getting vintage cocktail glassware from thrift stores to glassware storage, you’ll learn everything you need to know about cocktail glasses!

AN ARRAY OF GLASSWARE: THE PERFECT CHOICE OF BASIC COCKTAIL GLASSES

Do bar glass styles really matter? According to our bartenders, the type of glass you use is traditionally important, but you don’t need a wide selection for your home bar. 

Whether you’re making gin & tonics or Manhattans, let’s explore all the cocktail glass styles you need for your mixed drinks.

“Keep in mind what you’re putting in it. For the longest time, we’ve only cared what the glass looks like, and then we fit the drink into it. Instead, why don’t you think about the drink itself, the one that you want to make, the volume of that drink, and then get a glass that is appropriate for that? So that way, when you’re serving that drink or you’re drinking it yourself, it’s a much more enjoyable experience because everything is the right levels.” –Zane Harris

All About the San Francisco Spirit Competition with Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Anthony Blue!

Courtesy of Joshua Castillero via Facebook

THE BEST GLASSWARE FOR YOUR HOME BAR

You’ll want a mix of stemware and stemless cocktail glasses to get started. Here are Chris K’s, Adam’s, and Zane’s top picks for behind the bar:

  • Rocks glass/bucket glass/Old fashioned glass: Whether a double rocks glass, double Old fashioned glass, or just a bucket, these are great everyday glasses for classic drinks and are your most versatile option. Although they come in a variety of shapes (varying slightly), you only need one style at home. They are the perfect glass for a large ice cube, too!

    “What piece of glassware do I have the most of behind my bar? It is the bucket glass because it is the most universal. I’ll put a sour in a bucket glass. I think it looks really great with the big ice cube sometimes and that foam layer on top. Two-touch cocktails— vodka-sodas, gin and tonics— definitely I’ll put in a bucket glass unless somebody specifically requests a highball, and then of course Old Fashioneds.” — Adam Stein

  • Collins glass or highball glass: Basically, you’ll want some sort of tall glasses for your fizzes, Collins, and two-touch cocktails where you have a large amount of mixer (such as tonic or soda water) and ice cubes. Riedel also makes a specific fizz glass if you want to differentiate in your bar. Highball glasses are versatile, too!
  • Coupe glass: A gorgeous stem glass that comes in a variety of sizes, coupe glasses will make you feel like you’re in The Great Gatsby! The larger size sets it apart from the Nick and Nora (see below); you’ll serve stirred or shaken cocktails “up” (sans ice) in this glass, preferably alcoholic drinks with more ingredients and volume to fill the glass.

    *It’s worth noting that Zane is not a fan of the coupe because of the larger surface area, while Chris T., Chris K., and Adam all include it on their must-have list.

  • Basic wine glasses: A simple red wine glass and high acid white wine glasses are versatile for both wine and cocktails (think champagne brunch and sangria). You can even serve water in a white wine glass.
A coupe glass

Courtesy of Laura DeVries via Facebook

OTHER TYPES OF COCKTAIL GLASSES TO CONSIDER

  • Nick and Nora glass: With its slender bowl shape, this is an elegant choice for alcoholic drinks with a high-alcohol volume, as the smaller bowl and lower ounce capacity make your glass look fuller when there are fewer ingredients.
    Currently, the only true Nick & Nora with a curved-in lip (inspired by the movie The Thin Man, in which the two main characters are named Nick and Nora) is Riedel’s.
  • Neat glass/Glencairn glass/snifter glass: While these glasses cover a variety of shapes and are quite different from each other, you can get away with just one at home if you’re into neat pours. The brandy snifter is traditionally used for, well, brandy, while the Glencairn is typically for whiskey neat.
    The neat glass is a smaller version of a rocks glass, typically able to hold one smaller ice cube, if you desire ice (although that’s not actually a neat pour, is it?). For this reason, it’s great as a single rocks glass for aged spirits.

    “If I do a Manhattan in an Old Fashioned glass, I’m lucky if it comes up to a third. But in a neat glass, it comes up to 2 cm from the top here. So it looks like a full glass.” –Zane Harris

  • Glassware for hot drinks and hot cocktails (mugs and tempered glass that can withstand the heat of a hot beverage, like a coffee cocktail). Look for a clear Irish coffee mug to get you started!
All About the San Francisco Spirit Competition with Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Anthony Blue!

Courtesy of Jaime Garcia via Facebook

WHY YOU NEED DIFFERENT TYPES OF GLASSES FOR COCKTAILS

OK, these look amazing, but does the style of glass really matter? Well, in case you’re still not convinced, there are a couple very practical reasons (and one important, albeit potentially superficial, reason) to avoid the plastic cup and get fancy with your glasses:

  • Palate: This is the most important factor when choosing a bar glass for your drinking experience. The types of alcoholic beverages you make will determine where you want the liquid to hit your tongue. The shape of the glass forces the drink either onto the tip of your tongue or to the middle of your palate.
Cocktail glass with wide mouth

Courtesy of Barbara Nombalais via Facebook

As a general rule of thumb, sours should hit at the tip of the tongue, while alcohol-forward and bitter drinks should hit in the mid-palate. This is why sour beers are often served in a tulip glass.

“I also needed the tip of their tongue, which is very sensitive, to be the first thing that touches the smooth head of a sour glass. That’s why this lip goes out. This forces the liquid to be on the tip of your tongue, which is the most tactile.” — Zane Harris

  • Aroma: The smell of your drink also plays a big part in the drinking experience. The surface area will allow more or less of the complex aromas to hit the nose, adding to the overall effect.
  • Presentation: Let’s face it– We are visual creatures, and different types of cocktail glasses are simply lovely to look at! Especially when you’re serving customers or party guests, the overall presentation is elevated by beautiful cocktail glassware, giving your drink a higher perceived value.
A tray of refreshing cocktails in riedel glass

Courtesy of Riedel

THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING GLASSWARE

Especially at home, you want to stock your bar based on the type of cocktail (or cocktails) you plan to serve. Whether mixed drinks, two-step cocktails, or nonalcoholic drinks, what awesome drinks are you going to make? Other details to consider:

  • Storage: Space is always limited, whether at home or in a commercial bar, so you have to take into consideration where you’ll put your glassware. Hanging racks, a bar cart, and a bar cabinet are all options depending on the room you have. (I’m personally a big fan of tucking a bar cart into the corner for maximizing space and storage.)
  • Pricing/budget: You don’t want to break the bank buying bar glasses! Of course, if you buy cheap cocktail glasses, they are more likely to break– costing you more in the long run. Keep reading for our tips on finding inexpensive, quality glassware (Hint: thrift stores!).
  • Functionality: Get glasses that can do double-duty! (Your pint glasses or highball glasses can serve as water glasses, for example). More on that below.

    “It’s a great idea to have glasses pull double-duty. One glass has a multitude of uses. […] If I had all the space in the universe, I’d love to just have one glass for each drink, but it’s not that possible.” –Adam Stein

  • Style and target audience: As much as it crushes our souls to hear, some people will actually send back drinks in a bar based on the visual perception. Although completely  antiquated, a “masculine” drink might need to be served in a rocks glass rather than a stem glass like a Nick & Nora, as all three of our interviewees mentioned.

    frown Also… Don’t be that guy. 

  • Breakage: Obviously, cheap glasses will break. So will glasses that are stored improperly (stacked tightly or stored in the freezer). If you’re ordering for a bar program, take breakage into consideration, especially with pricing.

    “It really comes down to how much space you have, what your operating budget looks like, and what kind of volume you’re pushing out.” — Christopher Krause

Beer in tall glasses

Courtesy of Riedel

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR BAR GLASSWARE

Let’s chat about what constitutes high-quality glasses and what to keep an eye out for when glass shopping. Whether buying new or in thrift shops, here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Tempered glassware: Glasses that are tempered for strength are going to be an excellent value. Riedel’s cocktail glasses are tempered three times!
  • Seams: Forgo broken stems and glasses by avoiding seams on your glassware. Many contemporary cocktail glasses are cheaply made and not high-quality. Check out vintage glassware or higher-end companies for long-lasting glasses. If you hit up the thrift stores, you might get lucky and find an antique crystal glass!
  • Thickness and weight: You don’t want your bar glassware to be too thin or too thick. Too thin, and they will break easily. But thicker glass can feel weighty and cumbersome to hold. While you want a heavy base, there’s a fine balance to be struck. A thicker stem is less likely to break as well.  
  • Lip thickness is also something to consider so that the glass feels comfortable when you sip.
  • Ounce capacity: This goes back to what you’ll serve in your glasses. You probably don’t need 13-oz glasses on most occasions, but you want your glasses to be big enough for the cocktails they’re intended for.
  • Seasonality: On hot summer days, you’ll need to serve cocktails with ice. On cold winter nights, you’ll want hot beverages. If you’re replenishing your bar often, take into account the time of year and what drinks you’ll be making for the season.
  • Unique vs. classic barware: Especially at home, don’t be afraid to express yourself! You have freedom to buy that wacky glass you see in a thrift store or buy individual pieces rather than glassware sets.

For a bar program, you’ll probably want a minimum of 12 glasses in a set when thrifting (more for classic glasses that you buy from a manufacturer). While vintage glassware is show-stopping, remember that you can’t easily replace them like you can with a new, traditional cocktail glass.

“Good glassware should age well. It should look good from when you get it to when it inevitably breaks. And again, having a multitude of uses for that glassware is a great idea because you’re probably gonna have one piece of stemware at home. You might have a wine glass, a highball glass, and a bucket glass and that’s it. And that’s all you really need for your home bar.” –Chris K.

Beautiful red cocktail in a tall cocktail glass with garnish

Courtesy of Tony Kennedy via Facebook

BAR GLASS STYLES YOU CAN AVOID

You probably noticed that our “must-have” list excluded some pretty popular glassware styles, such as martini glasses and margarita glasses. What gives? 

Well, our seasoned bartender guests all take issue with these glasses for a variety of reasons. Read on to learn why and for which replacement glasses to use when you don’t have the proper glass on hand for particular alcoholic beverages.

  • Martini glass: These are often too thick or too thin, causing them to break more often than other stemware; bartenders also complain that they spill too easily.
  • Margarita glass: If you work in a Mexican restaurant, you should probably have margarita glasses at the ready. However, for a home bar or craft cocktail bar, they take up a lot of space and don’t always go with the atmosphere, so you can use a more versatile alternative to margarita glasses instead. 
  • Gaudy, out-of-date pieces and colored glasses: Often seen in martini glasses and margarita glasses, avoid zigzag lines, smoked glass, oddly textured glass, and a crazy array of colors. Go for a more traditional, simple look, and your glasses won’t go out of style!
  • Champagne flute: Champagne flutes aren’t super versatile and hold fewer ounces of liquid. If space is limited and you don’t drink straight champagne regularly, skip these. 
  • Tiki mug or hurricane glass: Unless you are really into tiki drinks, you probably don’t need tiki mugs or hurricane glasses– but obviously you’ll need these if you run a tiki bar! Remember, it’s all about what cocktails you are planning to serve in your glassware. 
Tropical cocktails in round cocktail glasses with garnishes and funky straws

Courtesy of Victoria Connolly via Facebook

REPLACEMENTS: WHAT DRINK TO PUT IN WHICH GLASS TYPES

OK, so you don’t need every single style of glass, especially for personal use. But what should the replacement be if you want to serve, say, a margarita at home? 

Here are some alternatives to traditional glassware and tips on what to use for specific drinks, as explained by Chris K. and Adam, so you can use what you have on hand. 

  • Making an Old Fashioned and don’t want to use a rocks glass? Try the Nick and Nora glass instead!
  • Serving stirred drinks? Use a coupe glass or Nick and Nora! (Consider where the liquid will hit your palate– If you want it hitting your mid-palate, pick up a Riedel Nick & Nora glass, as it’s a perfect choice for drinks with a high-alcohol content.)
  • When in doubt, use a bucket glass (or rocks glass/Old Fashioned glass) for lots of classic cocktails! This is an easy way to avoid purchasing an array of glassware. 
  • Hot outside? Serve your iced cocktails in Collins glasses, highball glasses, or pint beer glasses. (Pints can be used for both beer and water as well, maximizing space by having them play double- or triple-duty.)
  • Highball glasses are also perfect for two-touch cocktails and water.
  • Don’t have a neat glass? Substitute with stemware for stirred or neat cocktails. 
  • Find the champagne glass or Martini glass pasé? Want to serve champagne cocktails for brunch? Use your handy coupe instead!
  • Don’t have room for a tiki mug or hurricane glass set? You can substitute with Collins glasses or beer pint glasses for tall drinks or frozen drinks.
  • Love margaritas but don’t know where to store your margarita glasses? They take up a lot of room but can easily be replaced by a sour glass or rocks glass.
A beautiful crystal glass coupe

Courtesy of Daniel Mccutchan via Facebook

FROM RIEDEL TO VINTAGE GLASSWARE: WHERE TO BUY CREATIVE COCKTAILS GLASSWARE

You have many buying choices ranging in price, but here are some that our guests (and Chris T. recommend):

  • Thrift stores! Make a day of it and go to a variety of thrift shops or estate sales to find unique vintage cocktail glasses. Remember to look for quality pieces without seams! You can also find beautiful crystal, lightly textured glasses for an elegant touch.

    “The generation before us bought a lot of fine china, a lot of crystal ware and never used it. […] As their stuff ends up in thrift stores, it’s absolutely clean and generally comes in sets when I do find it.” —Chris. K.

  • You can’t go wrong with a Riedel glass! The Zane Harris line includes a rocks glass, highball glass, fizz glass, sour glass, Nick & Nora glass, and a neat glass. They offer lead-free crystal glass products for serving your favorite spirits.
  • Schott Zwiesel Tritan line is a favorite of Chris T.s’ because they are so strong– and gorgeous, too! They’re another great option for crystal products if you want quality glassware.
An array of glassware displayed on a bar with an array of cocktails in them

Courtesy of Riedel

So what’s your favorite piece of cocktail glassware and where do you love to source your collection? Or are you a new convert to the idea that the type of glass actually matters? We’d love to hear all your thoughts in the comments below and in our Craft Cocktail Club on Facebook! 

Whether you’re thrifting or buying new, cocktail glasses are a fun way to honor the drink you’re making and show off some creativity. And don’t forget that we have everything else you need to make your delicious cocktails in our shop!

Melanie Tornroth

Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.