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Like people, drinking glasses come in all shapes and sizes: tall and short, round and skinny, stout and delicate, and so on. It’s easy to assume this is a matter of the potter’s or glassblower’s whim, and sometimes that may be true, but most drinking-glass shapes have much more purpose and history behind them – particularly when it comes to bar and cocktail glasses.
A new marketing fad that is sweeping the corporate brewer’s industry involves touting the introduction of cans that have wider mouths, ostensibly designed so the consumer can better “enjoy” the flavor. The truth, of course, is that the wide mouth helps the flavored water go down faster and creates a two-pronged victory for the beerglomerate: 1) there’s less of a chance to taste it and 2) who cares, because here’s another one!
Why is this relevant? Well, because these companies aren’t doing anything new by manipulating the container to improve the taste of the beverage it holds. In this case, however, the “improvement” comes from making the pseudo-beer disappear as soon as possible.
Roll back the calendar (thousands of years, in some cases) and glass-making history illustrates the progression of flavor-enhancing drinking vessels that have since evolved into what are now known as bar and cocktail glasses. That’s not to say drinking-glass design has reached its apex and no other improvement can be made, but these tried-and-true creations have stood the test of time because they work.
1. Wine Glasses
There is arguably a standard “all-purpose” design for a wine glass, but connoisseurs will bristle at the notion of drinking red wine out of a white-wine glass, and get downright hostile at the suggestion of using a sparkling-wine or dessert-wine glass. For now, though, let’s agree on the similarities.
Wine glasses are designed with wide brims and deep, clear bowls to 1) create more surface area for the wine to be exposed to the air, 2) allow the drinker to get her nose into the glass to savor the aroma, and 3) showcase the color of the vintage. The tallness of these glasses will vary depending on the wine because designers have found that a wine properly measured into the glass will be projected to different parts of the mouth (and tongue) to better savor the flavor.
2. Brandy/Cognac Snifters (and Decanters)
Snifters look like squat, pudgy wine glasses with shorter stems and are designed that way so the drinker is forced to cup the glass rather than hold it by the stem. This allows the hand to warm the liquid and so improves the flavor.
As for the decanter – how does one decant, anyway? Decanting spirits serves two purposes: 1) to let the vintage breathe, which is believed to smooth harsher flavors, and 2) to leave any sediment in the original bottle. For these reasons, decanters often have narrow necks and wide bases, and sometimes come with stoppers to control the airflow.
3. Champagne Flutes
Easy to spot, the champagne flute is tall, slim and elegant. Its shape makes it easy for many to be carried on a tray at once, greatly benefiting its popularity at parties, but that is only one clever attribute of its design.
The long, clear body is crafted to showcase the bubbles that dance up to the rim where they create a tingly froth that tickles the drinker’s nose. This is intentional and focuses the sparkling wine’s often sharp “bouquet” so that it can be enjoyed while drinking.
4. Cocktail Glasses (aka Martini Glasses)
To call a cocktail glass a martini glass is to insult the manhattans, metropolitans, margaritas, grasshoppers, gimlets and other goodies that are so frequently served in it. That said, the glass’s iconic cone shape and long stem are almost always associated with martinis.
The famous shape has a purpose, of course. The wide, shallow bowl puts the aroma of the drink directly under the nose, and the long stem is for holding so the liquid inside the bowl stays cool rather than being warmed by the hand. Somewhat ironically, though, drinks are always served in these glasses “straight up” and very strong, which means most people end up holding them by the bowl sooner or later anyway.
5. Old-Fashioned Glasses (aka Tumblers)
These short, straight-sided glasses are standard in every bar and are good for drinks served “on the rocks.” There is nothing remarkable in their design beyond their simplicity in how they are crafted to hold a proper pour with or without a mixer.
Tumblers are of a similar size and designed to be used in like manner, although they differ in style. The first tumblers (think Medieval times) were made with rounded bottoms because flat bottoms had yet to be perfected, so the glasses would tumble over if set down. Many tumblers of today keep the rounded shape and add a flat bottom.
And speaking of bottoms, bottoms up!