Newly Rebellious, Part III: Maybe You Need Some Glasses?
A glass functions rather like a stereotypical unappreciated sidekick – it’s invisible, and yet its entire function is to make the drink look good, as well as to keep it from being messy and difficult to consume. (Admittedly, there’s always the option of drinking it directly from the bottle of shaker, but one takes advice from Foul Bachelor Frog at one’s own peril.) The flavor of a cocktail suffers somewhat less than wine when put in an inappropriate container, but that still doesn’t justify serving a Cosmo in a beer glass – unless, perhaps, you’re a rural Alaskan bar and don’t know any better. Remember, half the battle in serving an impressive drink is the presentation, and your glassware choice is the first step in that battle.
Fortunately for the aspiring bartender’s pocketbook, there’s a little more wiggle room in glassware than in tools. Tall drinks can usually be scaled down to rocks size; therefore, there are only three types you really need to have stocked:
Shot glass. Used to serve hard liquor straight up, or to build shooters in, these are a pretty basic bar staple. They come in all kinds of novelty shapes and styles, but it’s pretty hard to beat the plain glass ones – they’re thick enough to be tough to break, and dense enough (unlike plastic ones) to hold a chill when you put them in the freezer.
Rocks glass. Also known as an “old fashioned glass”, a “short glass” or a “lowball glass”. These are traditionally used to serve drinks “on the rocks”; most whiskey-based cocktails are served this way. They also come in any number of styles; however, the Bartender favors the traditional look; it’s simultaneously timeless and also perfect for getting in touch with one’s inner Don Draper.
Martini glass. Occasionally referred to as the more generic “cocktail glass”, this is the classic triangular shape made famous by a thousand glowing neon signs. Lately there have been trends to spice up the design a bit with funky stems or patterned bowls; these touches can add visual interest to your drinks, but are by no means necessary to pay extra for.
Once you have a good stock of those, you can start looking at additional glassware to give yourself more flexibility in presentation. These are less necessary, but can really add an artistic flair to your drinks:
Highball glass. Taller than a rocks glass and a staple for making tall drinks – Bloody Marys, for instance, or any kind of booze-and-soda combination (Jack & Coke, Cuba Libre). Note that while the shape is similar to an iced tea glass, they’re not quite as big. A highball generally holds 8 to 12 ounces, while an iced tea glass can be anywhere from 12 to 20 ounces.
Irish Coffee glass. These are made from tempered glass and have a handle to make it easy to drink hot liquids – hot toddies, mulled wine and hot chocolate with rum, as well as the eponymous Irish Coffee. The flared lip especially lends itself to whipped cream topping.
Hurricane glass. Hot out today? The sight of one of these, filled with a frozen daiquiri or a melange of fruit juices, is enough to make anyone feel refreshed. Pro tip: Keep a reserve of the little paper umbrellas. You’d be surprised how tough they can be to find.
Cordial glass. Probably not necessary if you already have shot glasses, these are nonetheless handy if you plan on sipping liqueurs. At the very least, they’re a touch more elegant, and they definitely beat a screw cap for tasting.
With the exception of hot drinks, it’s a rare cocktail that can’t be improved by being served in a frosty glass – hello, freezer! If you need day-to-day space for your groceries you can get away with just sticking them in for fifteen minutes beforehand. A tray of some sort is helpful, as many freezers use wire-mesh racks that make it especially easy to knock over cooling glasses (cold glass is brittle!). You can use a cookie sheet if you don’t have a proper dish rack.
If you don’t have time to properly chill your glasses, you can use the bar trick of sticking a scoop of ice in one and letting it sit for a minute or two. The Bartender has had mixed success with this method, as the glass never seems to get as cold as a proper freezing would make it, but if you have a party-style setup with an ice tub or ice machine this might be easier and quicker. NEVER PUT A GLASS IN THE ICE TUB or ice maker to chill; if the glass breaks then you’re out an entire tub of ice. (God help you if you break a glass in the ice machine; having to sit and wait for the entire bin of ice to melt will ruin just about any party plan.)
Now that we’ve got the support system out of the way, it’s time for the fun part! Mixing a drink might seem simple – and, really, it is – but it’s the showmanship aspect that can really make a difference between a pedestrian potable and a classy cocktail. Next week we will look at techniques, but also personal touches, embellishments…and possibly even a flourish or two.
See you then!