Cocktail Glasses: Basics for Beginners

standard November 15, 2014 Leave a response

Cocktail GlassesIf you’re just getting started in the world of cocktails there are just a few materials you’ll need and a set of basic cocktail glasses is certainly one of them. In this post I’ll share some of what I’ve learned about bar glasses so that you can make the best choices for your foray into cocktail culture.

I approach this question by being a realist; you can serve any cocktail in a jelly jar, but using the right cocktail glass adds something special. And while the right glassware can make a big difference you don’t want to spend a mint either, so I focus on starting with basic bar glassware and then moving up as required. My general breakdown includes:

Basic Drinking Glasses – Basics you probably already have in the kitchen.

Cocktail Glasses: The Basics – Basic cocktail glasses that you should have before getting started.

Next Step Bar Glasses – Step-up options for typically less popular drinks or specific cocktail glasses that offer style points 😉

Specialty Drink Glassware – Glasses used for specific drinks that are not common and may be considered a luxury.

Ideally your basic drinking glasses should be glass and you should have enough to serve you and your guests comfortably. To start, I recommend just getting a couple and then adding more if necessary.

Basic Drinking Glasses

Basic Drinking GlassesHopefully you already have an assortment of basic drinking glasses in your kitchen. We all have a variety of miscellaneous glasses and you can certainly use them for cocktails; however it’s been my experience that drinks taste better when not served in glassware featuring cartoon characters or logos from local businesses. That said, there are a few types of basic drinking glasses I assume that you already have including:

Coffee Cups – Great for hot beverages, coffee cups are great for beverage of all types. I prefer the heat resistant glass-type, but ceramic mugs will do the job in a pinch.

Wine Glasses (White & Red) – Whether you drink wine or not, wine glasses are definitely necessary. White wine glasses tend to be thinner versus the wider glass for red wine.

Beer Glasses – Pint glasses are perhaps some of the most versatile glassware around, so if you don’t have any grab a couple.

Once again, these are just the basics that you’ll be able press into use in the event you don’t have something more appropriate available…

Cocktail Glasses: The Basics

Before you get your feet wet, there a several basic cocktail glasses that you’ll want to buy. I’ve spent some time in whittling down the list to only those that make the most sense. And they include:

Old Fashioned Glasses

Old Fashioned GlassAlso known as a rocks glass, the Old Fashioned glass is a short tumbler that can be used for a wide range of drinks. Commonly used for its namesake cocktail the Old Fashioned, this glass is ideally used for drinks on the rocks like:

  • White Russian
  •  Rusty Nail
  • Gin & Tonic
  • Sazerac

Generally this glass’ sturdy design makes it a good candidate for drinks that also require muddling of fruit or other ingredients.

Martini Glasses

Martini GlassThe Martini glass is an icon of cocktail culture but that’s not the only reason you need a couple. While there are many delicious drinks that are best served “up” without ice in a Martini glass, here are a few more good reasons:

Functionality – The conical shape opens up the drink to enhance the drink’s aroma, while the stemware design insulates the beverage from warming due to handling of the glass.

Ridiculous Legend – While the history is fuzzy (probably due to alcohol), the story goes that the Martini glass was invented during US Prohibition because it made getting rid of the alcohol easier through spillage.

Cool Factor – Start with some Vintage James Bond add some retro style and a dash of Don Draper and the Martini glass is cool.

So Martini glasses are definitely a must have, but there are a couple factors you should consider before running out to find a new cocktail chalice. First, pick a size that makes sense. There are some compelling reasons for smaller cocktail glasses, so use some common sense. Second, make sure you have the space; I had to rearrange my cabinet to fit a few Martini glasses.

And if that isn’t enough to compel you to add a couple tall up glasses to your bar, there are quite a few beverages served in the Martini glass including:

  • Martini
  • Manhattan
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Brandy Alexander

Highball Glasses

Highball GlassDeveloped to serve an entire family of drinks, Highball glasses are exceptionally useful and a must have in anyone’s home bar. Similar in shape to the Old Fashioned glass, Highballs are taller and accommodate drinks between 8 and 12 ounces. Typically used for tall mixed drinks with plenty of ice, popular uses for this glassware include:

  • Cuba Libre
  • Zombie
  • Screwdriver
  • Vodka & Soda

Next Step Bar Glasses

Moving beyond the basics, your next step bar glasses will be subjective based on your tastes, and preferences. Are any of these critical? Probably not. But serving cocktails in the right glass makes them look and taste better, not to mention earn your guests appreciation for an attention to detail.

As a result, here are a few of what I feel are you next step bar glasses:

Margarita Glasses

Margarita GlassMargaritas are among the most festive and accessible cocktails, so it only makes sense that if you’re a fan you should have a couple Margarita glasses on hand. Margaritas can be served up, on the rocks or frozen and these glasses are mostly used for the frozen version. Perhaps the biggest drawback is that Margarita glasses are not particularly versatile and the take up a significant amount of space. However, if you’re a frozen Margarita fan they should definitely be included in your bar.

Coupe Glasses

Coupe GlassI recently fell in love with Coupe glasses during my research on the Martinez cocktail and I suggest that you do the same. Perhaps most known for its use in drinking champagne, the myth goes that the Coupe glass was molded from the breast of Marie Antoinette. Frankly I don’t care if it’s true; that legend is just plain awesome and so I’m considering it a fact from now on…

A traditional glass great for serving sparkling wines and cocktails, the Coupe glass is stemmed with a flatter, rounder bowl and typical holds 6 – 8 ounces. Moreover, this glass will add a touch of elegance to every cocktail. Some of which include:

Cordial Glasses

Cordial GlassCordials are liqueurs often served after a meal, so if you’re more of a traditionalist several Cordial glasses could be a good investment. Frankly I’ve rarely used them with the exception of enjoying some Port during a special occasion, but I will say that an after dinner drink served in a cordial glass definitely made an impression on me. The glasses are available in both a stemmed or stemless version and typically hold between 1 to 4 ounces. And in a pinch, Cordial glasses can double as shot glasses too… Some common after dinner digestifs or aperitifs include:

Fluted Champagne Glasses

Fluted Champagne GlassChampagne cocktails are a great choice for almost any occasion, so if you’re prone to hosting a brunch or a group of friends for drinks a set of fluted Champagne glasses are a must. A tall, stemmed glass designed to retail the bubbles of sparkling wines longer; the Champagne flute keeps the cocktail colder and holds approximately 10 ounces. Some classic cocktails that need fluted Champagne glasses include.

  • Champagne Cocktail
  • French 75
  • Mimosa
  • Kir Royale

Collins Glasses

Collins GlassOriginally used for the set of related gin drinks, Collins glasses resemble the Highball glass except they are taller and thinner. While the design is intended to retain carbonation and keep drinks colder, these drink glasses can be used for a wide range of other cocktails. Given that many may use a Highball instead, having a couple Collins glasses suggests an attention to detail and subtlety. An ideal option for iced or carbonated drinks, this cocktail glass is an important ingredient in drinks like:

Shot Glasses

Shot GlassRecognizable by anyone over 16 years old (sorry Mom), the shot glass can be used for everything from straight liquor to something more involved… Constructed with thicker glass, shot glasses normally hold 1 ½ ounces while a short or pony shot is just an ounce.

To be honest I don’t think I’ve ever used a shot glass at home, but I’m sure there are a few “homebound alcoholics” that would get some use out of a set of shot glasses… But all kidding aside, shot glasses can come in handy for simple shots of liquor or more involved cocktails like:

  • Boiler Maker
  • Lemon Drop
  • B-52
  • All Sorts of Other Concoctions

If you regularly enjoy these cocktails, the shot glass is certainly a required ingredient.

Specialty Glassware

Often a function of personal taste, experience and style, specialty glassware can include a wide range of options. Here I present only those with which I’m familiar and that you may find helpful. Overall these choices won’t apply to everyone, but I’m sure that there are some that will acquire several different glasses as their cocktail tastes and preferences evolve.


Snifter GlassCommonly used for whiskies or brandies after a meal, the Snifter is a unique type of drinking glass. A short-stemmed glass with a wide body that narrows at the top, it’s designed to both warm the spirit and focus the aroma. Snifters are popular for use with straight brandies, whiskies and several other dark spirits, but its versatility is limited.

So if you enjoy and after dinner brandy or whiskey by the fire, then a couple Snifters will definitely get some use. Alternatively, if you’ve always had a deep seated need to wear a smoking jacket and brood in front of a roaring fire, a brandy snifter might be the perfect accessory. Regardless, this glass is a specialty item.

Copper Mugs

Copper MugThe copper mug is about as specialized as you can get, but I had to add it because it has a great story behind it. Basically a couple marketers put their heads together in the early 1940s to brainstorm how to sell their products, which included Smirnoff Vodka and Cock & Bull Ginger Beer. The result was arguably one of the most popular marketing campaigns in cocktail history and the Moscow Mule swept the country.

While I recently discovered how delicious a Moscow Mule is when I made my own ginger beer, I’m not sure if this will be one of the most useful bar glasses. But if you need a prop to tell a good story, the Moscow Mule’s copper mug is it.

Julep Cups

Julep CupEver since my Dad wandered out into the backyard for Mint Julep makins, I’ve been enamored with the Julep Cup. Traditionally crafted from Silver or Pewter, these cups allow the development of a frost on the outside of your beverage and keep everything cold while looking good. If you want more info, check out my post on How to Make a Mint Julep.

Granted, unless you’re a traditionalist or you really enjoy Mint Juleps, a Julep Cup is a luxury and not necessary. But if you want to get down and dirty with some southern tradition, I highly suggest that you strap one on.


Enjoying a cocktail with friends and family is a real treat, but you can enhance the experience by using the correct cocktail glasses. In my limited experience, these bar glasses are a good place to start for any aspiring home bartender. So whether you buy them on Amazon, find some in the attic or dicker with someone at a local flea market, run out and get a set of cocktail glasses for your experimentation.


Suburban adventurer, beer lover and Cocktail Novice, Bill has a variety of interests including cooking, blogging and "bad" surfing. If you're keen to connect, give him a shout on Twitter.