Every cocktail should be served in a specific style of glassware. While the glass may seem insignificant, it’s very much the opposite; the vessel in which a drink is served is just as important as every other ingredient. You wouldn’t put a professional F1 driver in a rinky dink vehicle and expect them to win the race, so don’t put that Old-Fashioned in a highball glass because it’s just set-up for failure.
While glassware can vary in both design and size across styles, the essentials boil down to three types: a highball or Collins glass, a rocks glass, and a versatile cocktail glass. By sourcing at least one of each type, you can make 90% of the cocktails that exist.
Highball and Collins Glass
While most bartenders and enthusiasts use these two names interchangeably, there is technically a slight difference between a highball and a Collins glass. They are both tall, slim glasses employed for cocktails that contain a lengthener as an ingredient (i.e soda, or juice). A highball glass (12 ounces) is typically shorter and slightly skinnier than a Collins glass as it is designed for drinks that only use two-ounces of a spirit, plus the occasional liqueur, topped with a carbonated ingredient. (The smaller, skinnier glass holds the carbonation better and keeps the drink fizzy for the entire drinking session — larger glasses will allow carbonated drinks to go flat quicker.) A Collins glass can range in size, usually between 12-16 ounces and is used for cocktails that contain soda, or juice, and a spirit; but they also can include other elements such as citrus, liqueurs, and the like (e.g. Tom Collins, or El Diablo).
Even though there is a slight variance, don’t worry about seeking out both for your home bar when starting out. The Collins glass will be your best bet as it is more accommodating for mixing various cocktail styles.
The Rocks Glass
Rocks glasses possibly vary the most in terms of design and size; but this style of glassware can be most easily broken down into either a single, or double rocks glass. A single rocks glass is for any spirit that is served neat or on the rocks, but it could also be used for stirred, chilled, spirituous cocktails served “down.” This would apply to Old-Fashioned-style cocktails like the Ti’ Punch, Oaxacan Old-Fashioned, etc.; as well as the Negroni and all of its variations (i.e Boulevardier, Old Pal, Left Hand Cocktail, etc.). The ideal single rocks glass is somewhere between 8 and 10 ounces.
A double rocks glass should only be about two ounces bigger than a single rocks glass, not twice the size (just to be clear). The double rocks glass should be used for more elaborate cocktails that use juices, syrups, etc.; such as the Mai Tai, Jungle Bird, Margarita, and so on. For the home bar, having one of each style is nice, but if you were to have to choose, the double rocks will be more versatile.
The cocktail glass, like the rocks glass, also varies greatly in both volume and design. This glass is used to serve shaken, or stirred, cocktails “up” such as the Martini, Daiquiri, and Manhattan. Glasses that are bucketed within this category include: the Nick and Nora, Martini glass, coupes and coupettes, and other specialty stemware that fall somewhere in between.
The volume of the glass should range between six to eight ounces. The coupe and coupette are the golden standard at most bars with the Martini glass no longer the preferred option for cocktails given that it is prone to spillage, so the coupe-style will be the way to go when starting out. As your home bar continues to grow, though, venture into the various styles and sizes of cocktail stemware. Nick and Nora glasses will be the next purchase in the stemware category after you get yourself a few coupes.