We all have those fancy glasses on a shelf or in a box somewhere that seemed like a good idea at the time, but now just collect dust and take up space. Maybe they’re exiled for being hand-wash-only, or maybe it turns out that those Z-stem martini glasses you put on your wedding registry aren’t as useful as you thought they would be. But buying glassware for your home bar doesn’t need to involve this process of trial, error, and then either attic or yard sale. If you boil it down to the specific glassware that fits your lifestyle, you can fill your cabinets and shelves with only what you need and nothing you don’t.
I was a bartender for many years. I made many categories of drinks every night and I did it with a small arsenal of glasses: martini, wine, rocks, Collins, iced tea, and the occasional brandy snifter. But there’s more freedom for a home bar, so to put this list together I reached out to the owner of one of the most epic home bars I’ve ever seen: Miguel Buencamino of Holy City Handcraft. What he doesn’t buy new, he acquires from perusing Goodwill for cool vintage pieces, and he’s developed some clear opinions about glassware.
THE ROCKS GLASS –– “At the very base, everyone needs a good rocks glass,” says Miguel, who has more rocks glasses than any other kind of glasses at his bar. “I’ve even put a Manhattan in there––It’s a good all-purpose glass for anything.” It also goes by the name of tumbler, or old-fashioned glass, and if you had to go with only one glass on a desert island, this would be it (even, however sadly, without access to rocks).
THE COLLINS GLASS –– Collins glasses are tall and narrow, and Buencamino prefers them to highballs. They are designed to keep a carbonated drink cooler for longer and work great for many times of effervescent drinks, from Tom Collinses to mojitos, to gin fizzes. They’re also a little more elegant because of their tall shape, and they take up less shelf space than your typical highball. For your home bar, figure out whether you prefer the Collins glasses or highball glasses and pick one.
THE HIGHBALL –– By definition, a “highball” drink consists of spirit, ice, and club soda. The highball glass it shares a name with is wider and slightly shorter than a Collins glass (i.e., less likely to knock over on a late night). In addition to serving actual highballs, they’re also great for a Pimm’s Cup, a Dark & Stormy, and any cocktail with ice and a fair amount of volume. This particular highball glass was developed for The American Bar at the legendary Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland.
THE ALL-PURPOSE WINE GLASS –– Focus on an all-purpose wine glass that works for red and white wine and you won’t fall into that trap. These can also be used for cocktails. Miguel uses them to serve spritzes––“fill it with ice and throw a bunch of fruit and rosemary and flowers in there.”
THE COUPE –– The coupe glass works for martinis, but it also serves double duty as a Champagne glass. “I’m not big on glassware that has a single purpose,” says Buencamino, of the typical Champagne flute. The coupe gives you a festive vessel for your vespers and your bubbly. “If you enjoy a cocktail up and like champagne, go with a coupe,” says Buencamino. Another benefit of a coupe for cocktails is that it has a bigger diameter than a Nick & Nora so there’s more room for garnish.
Made In Coupe Glass $69 for Four
BEYOND THE ESSENTIALS
THE NICK & NORA GLASS –– “I hate martini glasses, it’s the stupidest glass out there,” says Miguel. “Ever seen a martini glass on a dance floor?” His glass of choice for a martini is the Nick & Nora glass, named for leads in the 1934 movie, The Thin Man, who drank their martinis in glasses like these. “Almost goblet-like, easier to hold, and easier to contain drinks,” he says, “so if you like martinis and Manhattans, get a Nick and Nora.” He also uses them for serving fortified wine, sherry, or vermouth.
THE STEMMED BEER GLASS –– You can pour your pilsner into a highball, but when you’re sipping craft beer, or something rich and Belgian, then stemmed beer glasses elevate the experience. They also keep it colder since your mitts aren’t getting all over the glass. And when you’re not drinking your Trappist Ale out of it, you can also use it to serve up a creative spritz.
THE GLENCAIRN GLASS –– If you’re a whiskey drinker, then a Glencairn is a must-have for serious tasting. The shape of the glass directs the aroma of the whisky directly to your nose, and it’s what spirits writers and judges of spirits competitions use. The size is perfect, and the solid glass bit feels just right in your hand.
THE MIXING GLASS –– A cocktail shaker is only meant for glasses with fresh ingredients like citrus juice or milk. For cocktails that only have alcoholic ingredients, such as martinis, Manhattans, and Negronis, these should be stirred, not shaken, and done so in a mixing glass. This one from Cocktail Kingdom is classy and durable.
THE GLASS FLASK –– Miguel has a unique take on the flask: don’t think of it as only for straight booze, but also consider it for to-go cocktails from your home bar. “The standard move is bourbon,” he says, “But I actually put cocktails in mine.” Make a cocktail at home and bring your negroni to the park, picnic, or concert. And as opposed to steel, which affects the flavor of what’s inside, glass won’t give your cocktail any metallic notes.
THE BRANDY SNIFTER –– Designed to allow one’s hand to warm the glass and the brandy within, snifters are more versatile than you may think. Use them for brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados, or you can even sip whiskey or añejo tequila in them too––It’s your bar, you make the rules. Snifters also make a great dramatic presentation for a cocktail with a single large ice cube.
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