Wondering about the right glasses for cocktails?

I’m a big fan of cocktail hour, whether it’s just the two of us or we’re having guests. Cocktail hour provides a nice interval for people to relax and catch up. It offers some buffer if any guests are running late, and it provides a pleasantly slow start to the evening. You can enjoy a cocktail in any glass, from fine crystal to a plastic cup. But I do think using the right glasses for cocktails truly increasing the enjoyment of the drink and elevates the entire experience. Whether your cocktail hour is for two or twenty, and whether it’s just a quick drink or a multi-hour event, here’s what you need to know about glasses for cocktails.

This post is the first in a series on what you need for cocktail hour at home – the focus here is on essential cocktail glassware for the home. The next post will cover the essential liquor and ingredients you’ll need for your home bar. Don’t forget to check out the Tools You Need to Make Cocktails to see what cocktail tools you need for your home bar.

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Essential Cocktail Glasses

I feel like, outside of the actual drinks, the glassware is the most important thing you need for cocktail hour at home. It’s also one of the ways cocktail hour at home can be superior to drinks at a bar. There’s nothing quite like sipping out of a gorgeous vintage cocktail coupe or crystal rocks glass. True, one can drink out of anything but if you’re already going to the trouble of hosting a cocktail party, why not pull out all the stops? And to be clear here, I feel this way whether I am having a cocktail alone or for a group. A cocktail on its own is already special, it deserves special glassware.

Cocktail Glasses You NEED

Yes, really. If you enjoy cocktails, you need at least a couple of each style. You don’t have to buy them all at once, though. Add to your collection as time, money and storage space permit.

1- Classic Cocktail Glasses

These are the icons, the flared cup on a narrow stem. People tend to describe anything served in this as some time of martini, so these are often just called ‘martini glasses’. I hate gatekeeping, so if you want to call the drink you serve in this an ‘appletini’ or any other portmanteaus, go for it. If you’re someone who appreciates the distinction between a ‘real’ martini and every other drink served in this type of glass, that’s absolutely fine, I get it. But don’t ruin other people’s pleasure for the sake of pedantry.

What to look for in a cocktail or martini glass:

  • very clear glass or crystal – Much of the pleasure of a cocktail is  in the sleek shine of the vessel and being able to enjoy the delicate hue of the drink
  • a thin rim – This is one of the few absolutes I’ll lay down. A wine or cocktail class should not have a rolled or thick rim. It makes sipping from it unwieldy, increases the potential for dribbles and is harder to rim with salt or sugar.
  • good balance – When you set it down, it shouldn’t be too top heavy
  • on the small side – I might get pushback on this, I don’t care though. Nearly every drink served in a cocktail glass is chilled to some degree. A huge glut of mixed drink will be warm long before you’re finished it. Look for cocktail glasses that hold 4-6 ounces, and aim to make drinks that are no more than 4 ounces. Far better to sip slowly and enjoy a crisp drink. You can always have a second.
  • not be too shallow – One of the valid criticisms of traditional cocktail glasses is that their wide opening makes it very easy to accidentally slosh your drink. I’ve found this is much more of an issue with the enormous cocktail glasses, so consider this further support for the smaller capacity.

TIP: In their most iconic form, cocktail glasses are straight-sided with widely flared openings. The stem is comparable to a wine glass. There’s nothing wrong with this style but don’t discount vintage cocktail coupes that have a more rounded shape. They’re ALSO iconic and a lot less prone to spills and sloshes.

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2- Rocks glasses are also essential for cocktail parties at home

A rocks glass is basically a short glass, designed to hold 8-12 ounces of liquid, usually with at least a little ice (hence the name). Unlike cocktail glasses, rocks glasses can be thick or heavy if you like that style. They’re usually fairly wide. From there, the sky is pretty much the limit when it comes to the style.

There’s the classic faceted round style, the modern squaoval, the rounded square and more.

Which cocktails are served in rocks glasses and which are in cocktail glasses?

You can use rocks glasses for a wide range of cocktails and mixed drinks.

Some of these are just a matter of preference, some are based on practical (or semi-practical reasons). A good rule of thumb is any mixed drink that has a component “built in the glass” will be served in the glass. A drink that is mixed in a shaker or pitcher can be served in either a rocks or cocktail glass (unless it’s served over ice).

Examples of cocktails generally served in rocks glasses:

  • Classic ‘brown spirit’ cocktails like the  Sidecar, Sazerac, Manhattan and many others are served in rocks glasses*
  • Old Fashioneds
  • Negronis and Americanos
  • “Spirit + soda” can usually be served in a rocks glass, since the soda water is usually just a splash.
  • Whiskey sour and other cocktails that include egg whites
  • Any spirit, whether neat (no ice) or on the rocks (with ice), should generally be in a rocks glass.

*Many of the drinks served in a rocks glass can also be served in a cocktail glass but the reverse doesn’t really hold true.

Cocktails usually served in cocktail glasses:

    • Any form of martini (classic, dirty, marguerite, tuxedo, etc)- they look good in these glasses and the stem keeps your hand from heating the icy goodness up
    • A mixed drink (ie, created in a cocktail shaker or pitcher) served without ice – i.e. – a Manhattan
    • Avoid any drink that includes ice or any drink with more than a splash of fizz (i.e-soda water, sparkling wine)
Picking glassware for cocktail hour

3 – Tumblers or pint glasses

No, tumblers and pints aren’t interchangeable but for the home bar setup, you can get away with one or the other. This can even be your regular water glass if you don’t want to buy or store another set of glasses. In a nutshell, you need a set of tall, narrow glasses that can hold a large amount of liquid, and sometimes ice.

Use these workhorses for any drink that includes a large pour of non-alcoholic mixer. So anything with a lot of juice, soda, tonic or fizzy water. And, of course, beer.

Drinks usually served in a tumbler, pint glass/water glass or Collins glass:

  • Tom Collins
  • ‘Spirit’ & tonic or ‘Spirit’ & soda
  • Mojitos
  • Mark Twain (2 ounces Scotch, 2 ounces lemon juice, 1 ounce simple syrup, very light and refreshing!)
  • Dark and Stormy
  • Bloody Mary
  • Margaritas, hurricanes, pina coladas
  • Any larger (by volume) mixed drink

Personally, I think you can consider your home cocktail hour setup in good shape if you have at least 6 each of these styles. With a set of cocktail glasses, rocks glasses and pint glasses, you can make and serve most drinks. Add a set of wine glasses, and your bases are covered.

Other Cocktail Glasses

There are quite a few other cocktail glasses, though. So if you’ve got the basics covered, here’s some of the more specialized cocktail glasses you might want.

Margarita glasses are large and in charge, and icons in their own right. If you drink a lot of ‘ritas, you may want a set of these. Snifters are excellent if you enjoy brandy, cognac or other highly aromatic, aged spirits. Tiny sherry glasses are very fun if you like to serve sherry or port. Cocktails with a more than a splash of sparkling wine are generally served in a flute to preserve the bubbles, though that’s not the only way to enjoy a Seelbach or a French 75! Brass or copper mugs are traditional for mules. Silver julep cups are an excellent way to enjoy a julep.

How to pick cocktail glasses

With the functional aspect out of the way above, let’s talk about aesthetics.

First, decide on your style

There’s nothing wrong with buying a new, matching set of 10 or 12 classic martini coupes or rocks glasses. In fact, it’s a really efficient way to get your home cocktail party up and running. If you prefer a modern or very classic style, then you can’t go wrong with Riedel. It’s not the cheapest option but the glasses are elegantly thin and flawlessly clear.

If you prefer to go for modern but playful, there are tons of options, from the funky to the chunky.

For those who love a vintage or classic vibe, eBay and Etsy abound with MCM coupes and early 20th century etched glass. Vintage cocktail glasses are often sold as sets but it’s not always easy to find them in larger numbers. Consider mixing and matching vintage styles or just keep an eye out for singles or small sets to grow your collection.

Then think about the types of drinks you regularly enjoy or want to serve

I’m a big believer in having the ideal glass for the drink at hand but I’m also practical (somewhat). While I do want a set of Tom Collins tumblers for mojitos, the truth is, we don’t have mojitos that often. When we do, I can serve them in pint glasses. By contrast, we drink martinis often. So it makes sense for us to have a selection of traditional cocktail coupes but not the specialty tumblers.

Consider how many guests you’re likely to have at one time

Drink ware is usually sold in even numbers. Sets of 6, 8 and 12 are very common. Here’s the thing – if you never plan to have 12 people over at the same time, you don’t need 12 glasses. On the other hand, if you plan to have regular cocktail parties of 24 or 36 people, you’re going to need at least that many glasses and probably more.

Do consider the sad fact that you will break some of your cocktail glasses, no matter how careful you are. For that reason, it’s good to have a few extras.

Then see how much room you have

So you’ve scoped out a set of gorgeous antique cocktails coupes, you know you’ll use them all the time, and you’re planning to entertain the whole neighborhood, so you want a couple dozen. Awesome! Where are you going to store them? If the answer is “In the cabinet that is currently empty”, then carry on and please don’t forget my invitation. But if you’re like me, space for storing delicate yet bulky items like glasses is at a premium. And unlike plates or bowls, you really can’t stack your coupes. You shouldn’t hang them, either, unfortunately, unless you want to chip the rims.

Having more cocktail glassware than you can easily store isn’t just annoying from an organization standpoint. Glassware that’s store willy-nilly stands a good chance of getting broken or chipped. And if it’s all packed away, you’re might decide digging it out for drinks just isn’t worth the hassle. Although it’s a bit of a bummer, take a hard look at your home space and figure out where to put your barware. And if you can’t figure it out, it might be better to hold off for now, or only buy a a couple of each style.

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