It is virtually impossible to keep track of all the different kinds of glasses that are used for the various types of drinks commonly served around the world, as well as the reasons for which they are used. However, there are a certain number of standard glasses that are almost always used for particular cocktails. Understanding why and how these glasses came into use can help us make the right choice when creating our favourite cocktails or buying glasses for our home bars. 

The Martini Glass

The martini glass can also be known as a cocktail glass, though many make the distinction that cocktail glasses are smaller, more rounded and have a narrower rim. These glasses come in different sizes, but are usually between 100ml and 200ml in capacity. The long stem of the glass is to prevent the drink being warmed by the hand that holds the glass, and the wide brim was originally intended to make the most of gin, as it allows the spirit to breathe more easily, and subtle notes in the spirit such as juniper can be brought out. The martini glass is, of course, for martinis, as well as other classic cocktails such as the Manhattan or the gimlet – usually drinks that don’t require ice.

The Highball/Collins Glass

collins cocktail glass

These two types of glass are very similar and are often used interchangeably, though collins glasses are usually taller and narrower, measuring around 300ml, while the highball is slightly smaller. Both are used for tall, mixed drinks, often with ice, and sometimes for drinks that are built in the glass itself. The highball glass is traditionally used to make the drinks zombie and bloody mary, while the collins glass is used for the Long Island iced tea, Harvey Wallbanger and Tom Collins.

The Margarita Glass

There are many stories about how this glass found its unusual bulbous shape, which is a variation on the champagne coupe, but as with many bartending myths, no one can be sure which is true. The wide rims allow the glass to hold more garnishes, and make it easier to salt the rim. As its name suggests, these glasses are most commonly used for margaritas, and typically measure around 250ml, though they can vary considerably in size.

The Old Fashioned Glass

old fashioned cocktail glass

Also known as a low ball and a rocks glass, they can contain from 180 to 300ml, are wide with a thick base to allow for the muddling of ingredients such as mint. These glasses are used for short mixed drinks served with ice (hence the name ‘rocks glass’), such as an old fashioned, negroni and white russian, and also neat dark spirits like whisky.

The Nick and Nora Glass

These glasses are somewhere between a martini glass and a champagne coupe, and are considered more practical than martini glasses by many bartenders as they can be more easily stored and are not as easy to spill. The glass is named after characters of The Thin Man, a 1930s film, and the nostalgic look appeals to many, and along with an elegant, rounded shape they have enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. The Nick and Nora glass is most commonly used for stirred or shaken cocktails without ice, such as a bamboo cocktail or an amaretto cranberry kiss.

The Sour Glass

A sour glass usually has a rounded cup with a narrow lip and a thick stem. It can hold around 170ml, though the correct glass to be used for a sour has been a topic of debate for many years. As sours date back to the mid-nineteenth century, it was found that the ingredients couldn’t be adequately contained in an old fashioned or a cocktail glass, so a new glass was made. These are used for the full family of sour drinks, though also for other cocktails too large for a martini glass.

The Shot Glass

tequila shot glass

Just as the correct measurements of single and double shots are different around the world, shot glasses come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but often have especially thick glass at the base to prevent the glass from smashing when they are slammed down on the bar after the shot is taken – a long tradition that dates back to the seventeenth century. The glasses are most commonly for the neat consumption of spirits, but are also used for shot cocktails such as the buttery nipple, or shots dropped into larger glasses, such as the Irish car bomb.

Other cocktails that have their own recognisable glass include Irish coffee, which is served in a thick, heat resistant glass with a handle and measures around 250ml. Another particularly distinctive glass is the one used for the hurricane cocktail, thusly named because the signature glass resembles a vintage hurricane lamp.

Bearing all these conventions of drink service in mind, as well as the reasons they came about, there is nothing stopping the aspiring mixologist from breaking the mould and adopting their own use of a certain glass for a certain drink, or even for an entirely new cocktail. The mixology game is about respecting old traditions and creating new ones.