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Glassware Today

today’s cocktail culture, glassware can make or break a
drinking/dining experience.

Glasses have
personalities – chic, sexy and elegant – and they are nearly
as important as their contents. While a glass’s shape can
influence the actual taste of a drink, its style can
psychologically enhance the experience, thus making form and
function work in tandem. With the proliferation of high-end
beer, wine and spirits, there is a glass out there for every
cocktail imaginable in every style and price range. The
challenge is to find stylish glassware that is the most
compatible with your budget and beverage menu.

How glassware
has changed. Ten years ago the average martini glass was a
nondescript, no-frills glass that held maybe 4 or 5-ounces
and was used in pubs and steak houses alike. The up-drink
craze has changed all that. Today, the martini glass is the
sexiest, and most over-sized, of all glassware, and sports
perhaps the most arbitrary and impractical of shapes.
Lately, though, it has been a very modified vessel. Some
martini glasses are being designed to curve in a little at
the top to prevent the frequent spillage that occurs with
the traditional shape. Although this design sacrifices a
certain amount of style in favor of practicality, it is
probably still more discreet than the old trick of resting a
sip straw on the top of the glass, affecting the surface
tension in a way that prevents sloshing. Another
consideration of the over-sized martini glass is this:
because its contents are never served on ice, keeping the
drink cool for a period of time is important. But necessity
is the mother of invention and so was born the stemless
martini setup in which a glass cone sits in a little bowl of
ice, keeping the drink cold without diluting it. Although
conceived in practicality, it is very trendy and has now
become a hallmark of specialty cocktail bars. Another
popular approach is to serve half the drink in a traditional
stemmed glass and the other half in a mini carafe or shaker
resting in a bowl of ice on the side. That way a customer
can replenish his or her drink with the fresh, cold martini
as needed. Nor is it just the martini glass that gets all
the glory. The ever-popular Margarita has a whole host of
glassware devoted to it ranging from thin-stemmed delicate
tulips to chunky, vibrantly colored bowl-styled glasses.
Eclectic and funky seem to be the current style for
margarita glasses these days. Even tequilas now have their
own special glasses for sipping out of. For bars that
feature many high-end tequilas on the menu, it’s worth
looking in to.


As big as cocktails and their accompanying glasses are
(literally and figuratively), wine is still bigger.
Fittingly, so are wine glasses. When was the last time you
saw a 4-ounce glass of wine poured anywhere? Although
aesthetics are a large factor in today’s design, one of the
primary considerations of wine glassware is aroma. The
palate is nothing without the nose, and so glassware seeks
to best capture wine’s bouquet. Proper blind tastings have
proven time and time again that a full-bodied Bordeaux or
California Cabernet tastes best in a tall, chimney style
glass whereas a subtle Pinot Noir should be served in a more
globular style glass. And although over-sized wine glasses
are all the rage right now, they should still never be
filled to more than half their volume to ensure for
sufficient swirling, aeration and heightening all the

intended for fine liquors operates on a number of different
conditions. With Scotch, Cognac or brandy, the
considerations are similar to those of wine glasses, i.e.
the nose. Snifters are sometimes very exaggerated in size so
as to capture and accentuate the aroma of the spirit, while
the stem is short so that the liquor can easily be
hand-warmed. Although serving a purpose, big snifters also
have a cachet to them, just like the over-sized martini and
wine glass. It makes people feel good to have these stylish
glasses in their hands. In this way, glassware actually
becomes in itself a point of service. Someone who doesn’t
usually order a cocktail might do so if the bar or
restaurant uses special, funky glassware. In this case, the
shape of the glass is not meant to influence the flavor as
much as the experience of the drink.

However, not
everyone agrees with the American way of doing things. David
Campbell, who owns Ceres Street Wine Merchants in
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was traveling in Portugal and he
spoke to one of the makers of Fonseca Port, who lamented the
small pony glasses we use in the States to serve port and
dessert wine. He contended that his wines should be swirled
and let to breath in the same way one would a tight French
red. Conversely, David traveled in France and drank Cognac
with a friend there who chastised the American “bigger is
better” sensibility with regard to already huge, pungent
liqueurs. He chose to drink Cognac and brandy from a small,
open glass and couldn’t understand why one would choose to
magnify the potency of a perfect drink by putting it in a
giant fishbowl of a snifter.


Although generally regarded as the most casual of libations,
many beers nowadays require their own intricate glass
pairings. As high-end craft beers continue to steadily gain
in popularity, there is an increasing demand for glassware
that will enhance the flavor as well as the presentation. In
terms of variety, there is as much range for beer glasses as
there is for wine with the main considerations being
carbonation, foam and yeast. While most domestic producers
of glassware offer a standard pint or tapered pilsner, many
of the more obscure shaped glasses need to be

Tavern on Dalton Street in Boston offers well over a hundred
different brews with a wide array of glassware to match. For
their more distinctive imported beers, specialty glassware
is both a necessity and an expectation of savvy customers.
Amber Kersting, an employee at the bar, says that for their
unique imports, such as Weizens or Scotch Ales, appropriate
glassware makes a huge difference. A Belgian beer such as
Helles must be served in a tall, narrow, spine-like mug
because it is excessively carbonated. If it were to be
poured into any other type of glass, the result would be
five inches of foam that would take hours to disappear. In
most cases, however, the shape of a beer glass is meant to
maximize head, which, in turn, maximizes flavor. A Weizen
beer tastes noticeably inferior if served in a glass that
doesn’t allow for the proper amount of foam and an even
distribution of yeast throughout the beer. This is why
traditional Weizen glasses are tall and tapered, rounding at
the top. Amber also makes the point that though special
glassware is important when serving high-end brew, most
people wouldn’t be particularly impressed by a Rolling Rock
in, say, a chalice. You have to know when to leave well
enough alone. And it’s not just specialty bars and casual
beer houses that feature a range of beer glasses. Keeping up
with the popularity of pairing beers with food, more and
more high-end restaurants are also adding craft brews to
their menu and featuring appropriate glasses to

style of glassware selected by a restaurant reveals a great
deal about its personality. A funky bistro restaurant might
choose to serve their wine in jelly jars to promote an
approachable, casual attitude while a four-star, white
tablecloth restaurant would pride itself on several shapes
and sizes of stemware to support a more sophisticated wine
and spirits list. Clio, one of Boston’s most elite venues
for food and drink, uses exclusively Riedel stemware to
compliment their vast selection of wines, and they offer
different shaped glasses for all the major grape varietals.
Restaurant manager Andrew Holden maintains that the highest
quality wine list deserves the best glassware money can buy.
Because the choice of glassware relates directly to the best
performance possible of the wine, Clio is even looking into
offering some of the German Eisch glasses, which are now
said by some to be the finest (see sidebar).

fine crystal doesn’t come cheap, and a foot-long stem
doesn’t react well to a dishwasher, not to mention how much
space it takes up, so settling on a design and brand of
glassware is all about priorities and compromise. Sure,
Riedel makes a fine wine glass, but so does Libbey, and
their elegant twelve-ounce red wine goblet wholesales for
around five dollars. Available space is another important
factor. At the renowned Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA,
practicality is at a premium due to the small size of the
space. Manager Sarah Livesey explains that with limited
storage space, their glassware selection must remain pretty
honed down. For wine, Blue Ginger uses crystal Schott
Zwiesel glasses distributed by United East. Tables are set
with a standard, medium sized glass that suffices for both
red and white. For higher end wines, Blue Ginger offers a
longer-stemmed, larger-bowled glass, also from Schott
Zwiesel, but it is still the same glass for red and white
wine. Blue Ginger also has a sensibly outfitted full-bar
with the traditional glassware. They use a 1O-ounce cocktail
glass for martinis and specialty drinks. When asked her own
opinion on glassware, Sarah admitted that a good wine would
taste fine even out of a plastic cup but that it deserves
fine glassware to really show itself off. And although Clio
has invested in Riedel for its wines, they too are
utilitarian when it comes to cocktail glass selection, using
traditional styles from Libbey and Bormioli. Andrew chooses
to stay away from trends that might prove to be only a
passing fancy.

At a bar such as
Boston’s Bukowski’s, keeping a full inventory of glasses to
go with the proper beers can get very expensive quickly.
This is where promotional glassware can come in quite handy.
Beer bars can rely, at least in part, on glasses given away
from the brewer as they often are the ones who manufacture
the specific glass their beer is meant to go in. Restaurants
focusing more on wine and spirits, however, can’t really
rely on give-aways to stock their shelves. While beer logos
on glasses are accepted as somewhat fun and kitschy, few
people would like to see MONDAVI or BERINGER in big letters
across their wine glass.

course, it’s not just in bars and restaurants that glassware
has become so popular. Consumer interest in spirits is at an
all time high and everyone wants to have the perfectly
stocked bar with fashionable, sexy glassware to match. There
isn’t a glassware enthusiast in the country that hasn’t
perused aisles of Crate and Barrel or Pottery Barn. Crate
and Barrel caters to both restaurants and consumers and
sells its own brand of glassware. The store appeals to the
demands of practicality and style by offering a lot of
attractive glassware that can multitask. John Wright, a
manager in the Back Bay Crate and Barrel location says that
their most popular seller is the all-purpose goblet that can
readily accommodate water, wine or even juice at an upscale
brunch. He has found that space and budget are always major
priorities, and whether in a home or a restaurant, people
often want their glasses to work double duty. Even the
fancier profiles, such as their stemless martini glass can
be used not only for cocktails but also for sorbet or shrimp
cocktail. Nowadays, even stores such as Target carry
economically priced, stylish glassware. Glasses also make a
great last minute gift and many liquor stores now carry a
variety of styles for impulse purchases. At Vinnin Liquors
in Swampscott the store has an entire section devoted to
glasses with everything from traditional to eclectic pieces.
The majority of the stock is very inexpensive as the store
will often buy close outs or overstocks.

a side note
is a tremendous range in the wholesale price of glasses and
the internet can be a very effective way to find low cost or
overstock items.

If one thing is
certain – trendy, fun and upscale glassware is here to stay.
The bottom line has to be this: Glassware must be congruent
with atmosphere and drink offerings. At a casual restaurant,
could your clients enjoy a margarita in a beer mug?
Probably. Would they be impressed by the same presentation
at a traditional French restaurant? Probably not. Although
glassware should make a statement, experimentation has to
fall within the boundaries of culinary style and ambiance.
With all the variety available, restaurants and retailers
must make compromises, considering the ratio of importance
between style and practicality, quality and cost. Now raise
your glass. Cheers.