In this edition of "Cocktails with Carolyn," learn everything you need to know about choosing glassware for your home bar. From rocks glasses to snifters to “what the heck is a coupe,” find out which ones you need, which ones you don’t, and what drink goes best in what glass.
Article & Photos by @CarolinaVerbena
“Sometimes a work of art comes in a glass.” ― Anthony T. Hincks
In thinking of how to begin this home bar series, I knew immediately where I wanted to start: Glassware! No cocktail is complete without a glass to sip it from, and no home bar is complete without a few cocktail glasses in stock.
In the world of glassware, the sky is truly the limit… or rather, your space to store them is the limit, as I have discovered first hand. I have what some (ok, my husband) would call a large collection of glassware. But in my opinion, “variety is the spice of life” when it comes to anything cocktail related, including glassware! That said, there are some basics to cover that I believe are essential to a home bar, no matter your size, scope, or experience. Let’s dig in!
For small spaces or a limited budget, these are my three must-haves:
The rocks glass (aka a lowball or Old Fashioned glass) is a workhorse in your bar. It will hold everything from a Gin & Tonic to an Old Fashioned (duh) to a Margarita, and do it in style. It is also perfect for serving a single spirit, like Bourbon on the rocks or Scotch neat. I serve almost half of all the drinks I make from some form of rocks glass and there’s a reason for it: they are easy to hold and hard to spill (especially important qualities after a few drinks).
Uses: Cocktails served over ice that have less “mixer” volume to hold. Think Gin & Tonics, Old Fashioneds, and Vodka & Sodas. Also great for a Margarita, Sazerac, or Negroni.
For cocktails that aren’t served over ice, this is my favorite glass. Elegant, stylish, and a multitasker, the coupe glass is (in my opinion) the sophisticated older sister to the Martini glass. A Martini glass has those harsh angled sides, whereas the coupe is curved and graceful and less prone to sloshing over the second you tilt the glass. Plus, a coupe can double as a Champagne glass, so it's a win-win. No need to buy flutes if you have a coupe for cocktails and bubbles. Over the years, I have eliminated all Martini glasses in my bar and exclusively serve any “Martini-style” cocktails in coupes. I found myself annoyed at how easily the sharp angle of the Martini glass spilled when full. Why waste a good drink if you don’t have to?
Uses: In addition to adding a swanky Great Gatsby vibe to your $10 bottle of bubbly, coupes are great for cocktails served “up,” or not over ice. Think Manhattans, Martinis (or any “Martini-style” drinks), Gimlets, Boulevardiers, and even Margaritas straight up. Bonus, this glass is the perfect way to serve a more labor intensive egg white cocktail (like a Gin Sour), that has a beautiful, glossy, meringue-like foam crowning its top.
So, not only will a wine glass serve...well...wine, which is an essential serve in any bar, but it is great for Spritzer-style drinks where you need a glass big enough to hold all of that liquid goodness, plus ice. These types of drinks often have more volume than rocks or coupe glasses will handle. A home bar needs wine glasses (wine and Netflix, of course), but don’t think they have to be relegated to your favorite Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. An Aperol Spritz looks fabulous in a wine glass. A Gin & Tonic is beautifully elevated when sipped out of a goblet. You can go stemless or stemmed. I have both versions, which see equal play at my house, but one style will do just fine.
Uses: Obviously wine. Also Spanish-style Gin & Tonics, Spritzes, and any drink that needs lots of room for volume and ice, like Sangria or Tiki drinks.
If you have a bit more room in your cabinet or budget:
A highball is just a taller version of the lowball (or rocks glass), while a Collins glass is narrower and taller, with straight sides. Those straight sides are the key element that I prefer in a Collins rather than a highball. The takeaway is that if you have the space, a set of tall, Collins-style glasses are a great addition to your home bar. If you like sipping a drink out of a straw, this is the glass for you.
Uses: Classic drinks like a Bloody Mary, a Tom Collins, a Paloma, and a Mojito. This glass is also perfect for smashes or brambles where you want your fruit to take center stage, but prefer to drink through a straw in order to avoid blackberry pieces getting stuck in your teeth (not that I’ve ever had that happen to me…). Also great for ___ & ___ drinks like a Whiskey & Ginger Ale or a Rum & Coke. You can also use this glass as a substitute for a flute! If your glass is on the taller and narrower end of the spectrum, why not serve a Mimosa or a French 75 in a Collins? Bonus, you can use this glass for more complicated drinks like a Ramos Gin Fizz, which is traditionally served in a Collins.
When it comes to cocktail mugs, there are plenty of options and materials out there, but my favorite is the copper mug. Not only is it the traditional choice for Mule-style cocktails, but its beautiful and distinct rosy copper color looks amazing with just about anything you serve in it. It develops a lovely frost when super cold, which is just about the most refreshing thing to see on a hot summer day.
Uses: A Moscow Mule is absolute perfection in a copper mug, but try out variations like a Dark & Stormy or a Kentucky Mule in it as well. Also great as a stand in for a Mint Julep cup or for serving any cocktail that would work in a rocks glass, but you want a handle...and a bit more flair...like an extra frosty Greyhound or Gin & Tonic. Bonus: Copper mugs look outstanding when displayed, so if you’re looking for something to elevate your bar cart, this is it!
If you’ve made it this far and still think you might need a bit more selection, these are the glasses for you! As I mentioned before, I’m a firm believer in variety when it comes to glassware, and these are my top picks:
This is truly an “extra” for the bar, but if you have the room, they are worth having. Personally, a plain shot glass is something I did away with years ago, but a cute cordial glass serves a whole other purpose. Port, Sherry, cordials, and liqueurs all taste better out of a pretty little glass in my opinion. And yes, go ahead and put your pinky up.
Uses: If you pick one that hits a nice balance between size and shape, these can not only serve a nice after dinner cordial, but are also great for smaller format cocktails. I’ve sipped many a “half pour” of a Bee’s Knees or Manhattan when I wanted a cocktail, but didn’t want to drink too much. Split one drink between two cordial glasses, and you’ve got a delicious sip without any guilt (plus one for a friend).
Truth be told, I didn’t buy my snifters. With so many other options taking up residence in my bar (and cabinets and even a few closet shelves...), I didn’t think of a snifter as an essential part of my glassware lineup. I can sip brandy from a rocks glass. It will still taste delicious.
And then I received this gorgeous crystal set as a gift and my love affair with the cocktail snifter began. What I love most is that they are luxurious and feel like a decadent treat when sipping your drink from them.
Uses: You can of course sip Brandy, Amaro, or Port from a snifter. But you can also use it to serve Amaretto or Whiskey Sours, White Russians, or even a boozy Affogato as your post-meal treat.
Overall, with the first three essential glasses in your lineup, I think you will be well prepared for anything cocktail-related that your imagination throws at you. The only rule is that you drink what you like out of the glass you like. If you loathe wine (I’m so sorry) and will never serve it save for when a few close friends come over and BYOB, skip the wine glasses in your glassware collection and serve wine out of a juice glass from the kitchen and call it “cafe chic.” What I’m getting at is function should be first and foremost in your mind. Unitaskers are out, especially when space is at a premium. Luckily, even if you splurge on glasses in all of these categories, they will all serve multiple (delicious) purposes for years to come.
Budget is also a flexible factor. Yes, you can absolutely go all in for a completely coordinating set of beautiful crystal glasses. You can also be thrifty (literally) and hunt antique and thrift stores for a more vintage whimsical look that is also more budget friendly. There are even countless options for online “antiquing” through places like Etsy.
In my own personal bar, I have a healthy mix. New matching sets intermingled with antique family heirloom pieces alongside 50-cent vintage glasses from yard sales. However you decide to source your glasses and however you decide to style your bar, glassware is the place where all cocktails land before being enjoyed.
Carolyn is a self-taught home bar and cocktail enthusiast. She enjoys a drink on the porch in the evening and is a strong believer that you can never have too many glassware options. She is the creator and curator of @CarolinaVerbena, featuring the cocktails she mixes up at home with her husband and two cats. Carolyn lives in Atlanta, GA, but is a nomad at heart who loves to explore the world one sip (or bite) at a time.