You're going to have some friends over for a cocktail housewarming party. No problem, you think to yourself, I'll just pick up some glassware at Crate & Barrel. You get there, and panic sets in. It's an absurd, transparent cornucopia of tumblers and flutes and who knows what else, in every conceivable shape and size. You weren't prepared. Pay attention now, and you will be.
For a breakdown on different glasses, we headed over to Franny's in Brooklyn and spoke to Jillian, one of their bartenders, who has been featured in the restaurant's cookbooks. She gives us the skinny on the most commonly used glasses.
Standard Wine Glass
Obviously, there are hundreds of variations within this group, but your standard wine glass has a stem. Holding the glass by the stem transfers less heat to the wine, so your hand isn't warming it up as fast. Aroma is one of the most important elements with wine, which is why your wine glass should have a large opening. If you can't fit your nose in it while you're drinking, you need yourself some new glasses.
Yes there are different size wine glasses. Basic rule of thumb: broader openings for reds, narrower for whites. That should get you through most situations just fine.
This is often considered an all-purpose glass. At Franny's they use it for their table wine. That wine comes in temperature controlled, and because it's served at a table, it will spend more time sitting there than it will in your hand, so the stem isn't necessary for heat control.
Technically, a tumbler is any flat-bottomed glass; we get into more specific variations below. The specific glass shown here, though, is wide enough for your nose to take in the aromatics of your drink (probably wine), it's just not curved around to trap in the vapors like a standard wine glass.
Again, we've got stemware here to control the temperature of your alcohol. Why? Because drinks served in this glass will not have ice in them. They will be shaken or stirred with ice first, and then strained into it. That's what ordering a drink "up" means. It's chilled and up in that tall glass (don't confuse it with "neat"). The cone shape serves to help maintain temperature, keep the ingredients pushed together (olives, spirits of different specific gravities, etc), and it provides a nice large surface area for the aroma, since you're typically drinking gin (or a Manhattan) and aroma is 90 percent of flavor.
Mainly for champagne and other sparkling wines, the goal is to make the bubble last for as long as possible. There's often a bead etched at the bottom in an attempt to give the bubbles a single point of nucleation. Aroma isn't as important with these wines as they would be a red wine, so the opening is smaller in an attempt to minimize the exposure to air.
Rocks Glass (a.k.a. the Old Fashioned Glass)
Want your drink on the rocks? This is probably the glass you want. It's especially good for cocktails. The glass can accommodate large cubes of ice and they're still plenty of room to stir within the glass. It's also got a nice big opening so you can really smell the aromatics in your cocktail.
Typically for fizzes or collins drinks, this glass is similar to the flute in that it promotes bubble retention (they often have some soda water in them). They're still big enough to accommodate ice, so you'll often see drinks served in these that are a little bit sweeter but where aromatics aren't quite as important, like a mojito.
Dessert Wine Glass
These guys are petite, because the dessert wine is typically very sweet and you don't want a lot of it. Again, it's stemware to keep the temperature controlled. It has a smaller opening because sweetness is perceived more on the tongue than in the nose, so aroma isn't as important.
Small, because that stuff will knock you on your ass. Stemware once again to keep it cool, and it also has a bulb shape at the bottom because spheres are very good at maintaining temperature. From there it flares upward to give you a little bit of that aroma.
Naturally, there are tons of other glasses. Shot glasses for went you want shots, margarita glasses for margaritas, dram glasses for sipping Scotch, snifters for when you want to snift things. The list goes on and on, but these are the basics that will help you pretend you're classy. Yeah, you can drink any of these things out of a coffee mug, but having the right tool for the job generally adds to the experience.
For more information on which glass to use for which drink, please visit Gizmodo.com.