Beverages have personalities, and it’s up to restaurants to discover the glass that best suits them. Will the drink ravish, dressed crisply in a designer ensemble, or languish in last season’s duds?
From the customer’s point a view, once a drink is ordered, there’s not much left to think about. But there’s another side at work; be it a bartender or beverage operator, someone at the venue has, hopefully, carefully considered the pour and glass in which a drink is to be served.
A restaurant’s choice of proper glassware can take advantage of flavor, texture, and a more powerful aroma, all components vital in an ideal drinking experience. Factors that come into play include everything from the surface area of the drink exposed to air to the body heat the hand imparts to the glass and the pure aesthetics.
John Stanton, bartender at Chicago’s award-winning Sable Kitchen & Bar, says when selecting proper glassware for a drink, there are four things bartenders and beverage managers should keep in mind: aroma, strength, volume, and aesthetic.
“If the aroma of the cocktail is something that you want to emphasize, then it is usually best served up in a wide-brimmed glass,” he says. “If the cocktail being served is especially hot or high on alcohol, then over ice in a rocks glass will be the obvious choice. Conversely, serving a comparatively weak cocktail on ice will quickly water it down, and essentially ruin it.”
When it comes to volume, big cocktails call for big glasses, but ultimately, Stanton believes that cocktails usually have personalities, and finding the glass that best suits them is sometimes pure intuition.
Samantha Withall, beverage manager for The Hamilton, a music venue, bar, and restaurant in Washington, D.C., says it’s important to think strategically as well as aesthetically when choosing glasses.
“Storage is also important because you have to think about how you can stack different styles and shapes in order, and breakability should be a consideration, not just because of how much it could cost, but because of the potential for injury,” she explains. “The aesthetic aspect is really an overall judgment call.”
The Hamilton offers 20 craft beers, and the team decided to serve all beer in an ornamental, logoed feature glass.
“It changes people’s perception of the beer and gives an added quality to the product they like,” Withall says. “I love looking at the bar and seeing different logoed beer bottles; it’s fun and promotes enjoyment of the beverage.”
Katy Malaniak, senior director of food and beverage for Sharon, Pennsylvania–based Quaker Steak & Lube, says the brand’s glassware choices are designed to give drinks fun, character, and classification.
“If we take a Cosmo recipe and put it in a martini glass, it becomes a classy cocktail. Take the same recipe and put it in our signature Lube Bar Jar, it becomes more of a punch or mixed cocktail type drink,” she says. “Take the same recipe and put it in a hurricane, and it becomes a fun tiki cocktail. The type of glass definitely tells the story of the liquid inside.”
Malaniak says that other than for wine—for which the thinner the glassware, the better—she doesn’t believe the thickness of the beverage vessel “technically” changes the flavor of the drink, but “mentally” it may give the perception that the quality of liquid in the glass is better.
“With cocktails, the shape of the glass does affect the aroma of the drink more than the flavor,” she says. “A glass with a wide opening will allow the fragrance of the liquid to escape quicker than a glass with a narrower opening. Hence why we sip cognac and similar cocktails from a glass with a narrower opening; we want to experience the aroma of the liquid as long as possible.”
Sometimes, the garnish will dictate the type of glass a cocktail is served in. According to Malaniak, one of The Lube’s most popular drinks in 2013 was the new Duck, Duck, Goose cocktail, a riff on a flavored martini concocted with Grey Goose vodka.
“A rubber duck garnish sits afloat on top of the drink,” she says. “We could not accomplish the same effect if the duck were served in a hurricane glass on the rocks.”
Ari and Micah Wilder, brothers and creators of more than a dozen successful cocktail programs in Washington, D.C., both share that a glass adds to the enjoyment of a drink.
“A coupe is wonderful for a stirred cocktail with Gomme syrup because of the viscosity. It swills nicely and helps you appreciate the luxurious body of your cocktail,” Ari Wilder says. “A coupe etched with a scribed tool at the center where the stem meets the glass is wonderful. The etching controls the bubbles of the Champagne and directs them up from the center the glass.”
Micah Wilder adds that a Collins glass is perfect for beverages such as flips and slings, because it helps to exhibit the froth, flavor, and nose afloat the top of the glass, while a pewter mug is perfect for a Mint Julep because of the shaved ice dome. The ice clusters that accumulate on the condensation outside of the mug keep the drink nice and frosty cold on those hot summer nights.