Why Do Different Drinks Require Different Kinds of Glassware?

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Perhaps a cordial, engaging server adds to the overall cocktail-drinking experience for some of us. But a large part of properly enjoying an alcoholic beverage is the glassware. Ever notice the variety of glasses behind the bar at your favorite watering hole? There’s actually a method to that stemware madness.

There are of course exceptions, but most drinks call for a certain kind of glassware for specific reasons. For example, champagne is always properly served in a flute—a tall, V-shaped stemmed glass. The narrow vessel helps to preserve and display the bubbles. Any other type of glass would allow your bubbly to quickly go flat while you spend time gazing lovingly into your companion’s eyes in the candlelight. Brandy snifters, on the other hand, have large, round bottoms (no jokes about your dining companion) meant to be cradled in the hand so that the contents are gently warmed. Yet the glass is tapered so that the mouth is smaller than the base, thus allowing the bouquet to gather at the top and tantalize the nose as the nectar is sipped. Lager beer is traditionally served in a tall pilsner glass, which is designed to show off the ale’s golden hue with its full head of foam. Wine glasses have long stems so that the hand doesn’t warm the drink, a large bowl for ease of swirling the wine to properly aerate it, and a thin rim to enhance the flavor.

Before you start purging your cupboards, keep in mind that those large Flintstones juice glasses you got years ago at the gas station as a premium are still handy for “tall” drinks—Tom Collins, Long Island Iced Tea, Harvey Wallbanger—where the cocktail requires a prescribed amount of mixers and ice added to the liquor to fill the glass to the rim.