Glassware Buying Tips

We ran an article a few months ago about the basic types of glasses you should keep in your bar, but lately I’ve been getting questions about how to judge glass quality, and what to look for when buying glassware. Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up during my professional and home bartending years:

  1. Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get decent glassware for your bar. There are many affordable brands and styles out there.
  2. Go with transparent glass for the most versatility. Tinted glass might look cool on its own, but depending on the cocktail you’re serving, it isn’t always the best choice. (Green martini, anyone?) You don’t want the color of your glasses to interfere with the color of your drink, or clash with the rest of your bar or kitchen.
  3. Ditto for textures or patterns – I recommend avoiding them. Smooth glass is more versatile.
  4. For everyday drinking, it’s practical to have glasses that are sturdy and dishwasher safe. In general, thicker glasses are more durable and safer for dishwashers – but thicker glasses are also thought to be inferior in some ways. Read on…
  5. Some glasses are mouth-blown or hand molded, but those are usually more fragile and more expensive. Machine-made glasses are less expensive, and usually thicker and stronger (sometimes from heat treating, or “tempering” during the manufacturing process). But they can also have unattractive characteristics like visible seams. In general, machine-made glasses are more practical, but it’s best to find options that aren’t too crude looking.
  6. Glasses with a thin or tapered rim/lip (as opposed to a lip that looks “beaded” or “rolled”) are considered superior, supposedly because they offer a better drinking experience. (Now, to be honest, I’m not sure I can tell the difference between a thin or thick lip, especially after a couple of drinks. But anyway…)  Thicker glass will also draw the coolness away from your drink faster, and some people say that makes for less enjoyable wine tasting.  But on the other hand, a thicker rim will be more durable, less likely to chip or crack.
  7. About the shape: Longer stems look swankier, but they can be harder to fit in your dishwasher. Shorter stems are more casual and fine for a home bar, but try to avoid glasses that look too “stubby”. Maybe just check out your dishwasher before you make a decision on stem length.  (Side note: For wine and martinis, you might be tempted to get stemless glasses, which are becoming more popular with manufacturers, but please… don’t do it. I’m all for practicality when it comes to barware, but even I think stemless martini glasses are a blasphemy.)
  8. For shot glasses, short/lowballs, and highballs, look for glasses with a heavy bottom. Then, when people slam shot glasses on your table, or you get a little overzealous with a muddler when making cocktails, your glasses will be safe. (And another tip for shot glasses – it’s okay if the glass is so thick that its volume is low. I’m assuming that this doesn’t need further explanation.)
  9. And for fellow beer drinkers, a quick mention about beer mugs: Thick glass is great for beer, and the most important thing is to have a comfortable handle. If at all possible, try holding the mug (if you’re in a retail store, open the package and take one out) to make sure the handle feels good before buying it.

In summary, a basic way to judge the durability of glassware is by its thickness.  That is, the thicker the glass, the less likely it is to break. But for wine and cocktails, overly thick glasses can look too cheap and detract from the aesthetics and tasting experience. So, for your everyday cocktail and wine drinking, look for machine made glasses that look refined (e.g. not too clunky, no obvious seams, etc.) with a stem length that makes sense for you. And for your lowball and highball glasses, look for a thick and heavy base so you can safely muddle to your heart’s content.


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