A Glass by Any Other Name

By Ian Wickman   |   March 1, 2022
Each glass has its own form and function

Coupe, Collins, Nick and Nora, highball, rocks, double old fashioned, julep, and the list goes on. Have you ever wondered why there are so many glasses for cocktails? What is each style used for? What’s the difference between an old fashioned, rocks, and lowball? Sometimes glasses are generic and used for many different drinks (e.g. a double old fashioned glass) and sometimes they are very specific for very specific cocktails (e.g. the Moscow Mule mug).

The Concept

Whether you like your glassware minimalist, vintage, colorful, unique, classic, or modern, there is an art and science to choosing the correct glass for a cocktail. Each style has its own history and has been designed to improve the drinking experience of different cocktails. My list is by no means exhaustive; there are endless variations on glassware. My hope is that it will serve as a well-rounded primer on the main types of glasses, highlight a few interesting and unique examples, and serve as a springboard for your own explorations if you’re so inclined.

The Details

There are three main types of glasses you should own for serving cocktails. These are the coupe, the old fashioned glass, and the highball. Once you have your bases covered you can add endless variation for your pleasure, historical interests, and aesthetic desires. My collection of new and vintage glassware continues to grow each time I find a glass that I think will add beauty to my collection.

The captivating coupe (pronounced “koop) is probably the most widely used cocktail glass for drinks served “up” or without ice. A coupe has a wide shallow bowl with a tall stem to allow you to hold your cocktail without warming it up with your hand. This glass can typically contain around six ounces and is best chilled beforehand to keep the cocktail as cool as possible. Alongside the coupe, similar glasses serve a similar purpose. The martini glass has its distinct V-shaped silhouette. The Nick and Nora glass has a more upright bell shape and often holds less, around four ounces, and is named after characters from the Dashiell Hammett book The Thin Man. Cocktails served in a coupe include the Manhattan, Martini, Gimlet, and, one of my favorites, the Sidecar, among others.

The vitalizing and a slightly snappy Jalapeño Elderflower Collins

The old fashioned glass is also often referred to as a rocks glass or, somewhat less commonly, a lowball. It comes in two sizes: the regular/single or double. The regular size holds around six to eight ounces, whereas the double holds more like 10 to 14 ounces. It is a low, often straight-walled glass with enough space to hold one or two large cubes of ice. An old fashioned glass is often used for drinking spirits straight and simple cocktails built in the glass, like its namesake. A double is for drinks with slightly larger volume, but both can come in a wide range of volumes and either can be used assuming it has enough space for your drink and ice. Drinks commonly served in an old fashioned glass include the Old Fashioned, Negroni, Whiskey Sour, and many others.

The highball is a taller and narrower, chimney-style glass. They are used for larger drinks, particularly those lengthened with carbonated mixers like soda water. It can hold around 10 to 16 ounces. These drinks are often lighter, refreshing cocktails, served as brunch or afternoon sips. Historically, a Collins glass was a little taller and narrower and often held a little more than a highball. Now, the terms are used more or less interchangeably. These glasses are designed for drinks like a Fizz, Americano, Paloma, or Tom Collins, and have room for ice, the cocktail ingredients, and a carbonated mixer. The narrower glass and tall shape allow the carbonation to be retained and savored for longer, similar to the way a champagne flute works.

In addition to these glasses, there are endless varieties of shapes and sizes within each category. There are also many more specifically designed vessels for other cocktails. For example, you may have seen drinks served in copper mugs. These are called Moscow Mule mugs and were designed for the namesake cocktail with a handle so you don’t need to grasp the cold metal directly. A julep cup, used for a Mint Julep – the cocktail of the Kentucky Derby – and variations, is a silver (or stainless steel) cup with angled sides that is held at the embellished rim or base. It’s designed to get super chilled, frosting the outside of the cup to maintain its cool, despite the warm ambiance.

I would encourage anyone who wants to serve cocktails at home to have at least some variety of coupe, old fashioned, and highball glasses on hand. These styles can handle almost any cocktail. Beyond that, do what brings you joy.

The Cocktail Inspiration

Let’s use another classic drink, the Tom Collins, as the base for our cocktail today. Can you guess what type of glass we’re going to use? That’s right, a highball or Collins glass. As I mentioned above, historically, these were not the same glass but now are commonly used interchangeably. It is a delightfully refreshing and effervescent cocktail made with gin, lemon juice, and sugar, then topped with soda water. For our version, I wanted to expand on the flavor profile with the floral delight of St. Germain, add a lightly spicy and exquisite layer of fresh jalapeño, and a lovely touch of local jalapeño jelly. The combination is perfect for those bright and sunny yet cooler days we’ve been having lately!

Jalapeño Elderflower Collins

2 oz gin (Gray Whale)
1 oz Elderflower Liqueur (St. Germain)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
4 slices jalapeno
1 bar spoon jalapeño jelly (Ojai Jelly)
Top with 2 oz sparkling water
Garnish: Lemon wheel and jalapeño slices


Add all the ingredients except the sparkling water and the garnish to a shaking tin. Muddle thoroughly. Add ice to the shaker and shake until chilled and diluted, about 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into a highball/Collins glass filled with ice, top with sparkling water, and garnish with the lemon wheel and jalapeño slices. 

Ian Wickman creates exceptional craft cocktails honed to the seasons. Recipes, photography, and writing for brands, media, restaurants, events, and individuals. idealistfoods.com; Email: ian@idealist foods.com; Instagram: @idealistfoods


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