Unsurprisingly, alcoholic beverages have driven the specialization of glassware in Western society. The highball glass is the most standard-looking of the cylindrical, flat-bottomed tumblers, and holds 8 to 12 ounces of mixed drink. The lowball is its stouter cousin; also called an old fashioned glass, it’s the traditional vessel for Old Fashioned cocktails. Likewise, the Collins glass was invented for Tom Collins cocktails; slightly taller and narrower than a highball, the narrowed mouth lets less carbonation escape. A shot glass is smallest in this family, used mainly to serve gulps of straight (or neat) liquor.
Although stemware is sometimes used for classy beers, it’s mainly for wine. Like the steins handle, holding a glass by a stem (rather than the bowl) prevents unwanted beverage warming. As wines themselves are intentionally crafted, so too are their glasses. For example, mature red wine is best served from a big-bowled glass with a narrow mouth; this design permits flavor enhancing swirling without spillage. Snifters (or balloons) take this design to the extreme; these squat, big-bellied vessels are ideal for swirling brandy.
Conversely, champagne is frequently served in flutes; the slender bowl shows off the bubbles while the narrow mouth traps in carbonation, and the long stem give plenty of holding space, as white wines are served cold. Before the flute, champagne was sipped from coupes, short glasses with broad bowls and wide mouths (the kinds used in wedding “champagne fountains”). Legend holds the coupe is modeled from the breasts of Marie Antoinette and other French aristocrats; in reality, the glass was in use far before she was born. Modified versions of the coupe live on in the cocktail (or martini) glass and the margarita glass; its traditionally smaller volume is suitable for these more alcoholic beverages. Hurricane glasses are bigger and tulip-shaped, made for tropical mixed drinks that include a lot of ice and juices. Last but not least, the tiny cordial glass is ideal for sipping liquors and liqueurs in the classiest of fashions.
With this glance at glassware in mind, the next time you raise a glass, appreciate more than its contents.