If you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance you have way too much glassware in your cabinets and on your bar cart. And while, sure, it can be fun to have a few novelty glassware options, every now and then it’s worth Marie Kondo-ing that shit and focusing on the essentials.
There are four essential cocktail glasses that the generalist home bartender truly needs. That narrowed down list means there are a number of commonly owned glasses that are just taking up space. Of course, if you own a commercial bar or have specific drinks you like to make that require specific glassware, then your essentials may look much different.
The 4 Essential Cocktail Glasses That You Need
Use it for: Old Fashioned, Negroni, Sazerac
Sometimes called lowballs or Old Fashioned glasses, the rocks glass is an all-purpose short and stout tumbler (meaning no stem on the bottom). The rocks glass is, just by volume of cocktail possibilities, the single most essential glass on this list. Any bar would look a little sad with just rocks glasses, but they are an indispensable option. All lowball cocktails can be served in this classic glass, including the Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour, Negroni, Rusty Nail, Margarita, and plenty more. Thanks to the weighted base and low profile, the glasses aren’t as cumbersome as other options, and rocks glasses are also perfect for sipping spirits neat. Look to the double rocks glass for any cocktails you’d like to make with a bit more volume. The double rocks glass is slightly larger and can handle more liquid and/or a larger ice cube. Still, a straightforward rocks glass should be your first cocktail glass of choice.
Use it for: Tom Collins, Vodka Soda, Pimms Cup, Mojito
The highball glass, sometimes called a collins glass, is in the same family as the rocks glass. It’s a tall and thin tumbler that is exceptionally versatile and essential in your cocktail arsenal. Use a highball glass for any cocktail with carbonation. The cylindrical shape is more conducive to the fizzy bubbles of soda or seltzer and the presentation for various highball cocktails is stunning. Highball glasses are used for a variety of cocktails from the classic Whiskey Highball to the Mojito and more. Plus, it doubles as a great water or soda glass.
Use it for: Martini, Manhattan, Daquiri
This might sound like a controversial pick but the classic coupe glass is an essential cocktail glass. It actually began life as a Champagne serving vessel but has been coopted as an alternative to the OG Martini glass. But unlike other stemmed glassware, it is often used in a variety of cocktails. In fact, it’s a great vessel for Daiquiris, Boulevardiers, and more. The curvaceous shape of the bowl makes the liquid less likely to spill over and the stem gives you distance so you don’t warm up your cocktail with your hand. Coupe glasses are strictly reserved for cocktails served up, so don’t try to add ice to any drinks in a coupe. But, if you’re looking for a glass for any cocktail that doesn’t really fit in a rocks or highball, the coupe glass should be your number one choice.
Use it for: After-Dinner Sips, Shots
Any true cocktail enthusiast should also keep a beloved cordial glass in their collection. These glasses are typically reserved for digestifs, or drinks served after a big meal to aid in digestion. A refined cordial glass adds a touch of class to any glassware collection. In fact, we’d recommend trying to find fun, vintage glassware in this category to stock your bar cart. Plus, these glasses are a great upscale alternative to the kitschy shot glass. Typically, these glasses only hold a couple of ounces so they are perfect for tossing back your spirit of choice. Or, if you want to craft some shooter cocktails, the cordial glass is perfect.
Cocktail Glasses That You Don’t Need
Use Instead: Rocks Glass
Unless your decor style is decidedly Tex-Mex, we’d recommend steering clear from the oversized Margarita glasses. For one, these are single-use glasses. We wouldn’t recommend serving anything other than a select number of tequila cocktails in Margarita glasses. Plus, they’re kind of tacky. Most tequila and mezcal cocktails can be confidently served in a rocks glass, especially a Margarita. In fact, the thinner lip of a rocks glass means you won’t wind up with a salt overload on your margaritas. Plus, the larger, hefty Margarita glasses are much more unwieldy than the sturdy rocks glass.
Use Instead: Coupe Glass
Hear me out. While I have a lot of love for the iconic shape and cultural relevance of the triangular Martini glass, it simply is not a good cocktail glass. The wide surface area and straight walls mean you’ll often wind up with spills. Plus, Martini glasses are often top heavy so they’re easy to knock over. And perhaps most importantly, you can really only serve one cocktail in this glass: a Martini. Instead, opt for a coupe glass. Just as classy, these glasses are perfect for a Martini, and plenty of other cocktails to boot.
Use Instead: Rocks Glass
While I don’t mind the Moscow Mule as a drink, but I really dislike the copper mug as a vessel. I understand that it’s a good insulating glass for the ice-cold chill of a Mule or Mint Julep. But, frankly, a Rocks glass works just fine. If you’re making loads of Moscow Mules, I can understand wanting to purchase a set of copper mugs. But, too often, these are the glasses that collect dust on a cabinet shelf.
Use Instead: Highball Glass
And, finally, the novelty tiki glass. While fun and visually interesting, a tiki glass is often just a tweak on another style of glass. In fact, just about any tiki drink could work in a rocks or highball glass. Granted, tiki (and many rum cocktails, for that matter) can have quite a lot of ingredients, so tiki glasses are usually slightly larger. But you don’t necessarily need a whole different glass for these drinks. Unless you’re embracing the admittedly tired tiki style in your bar, this glass isn’t essential.