While access to certain high-end crystal has always been well within reach in the United States, the past ten years have seen a number of small companies and importers source crystal and glass from around the world. Much in the same way that our selection of wine, beer and spirits is continuously evolving, the vessels are, too. Nowadays, there’s a glass specific to just about every beverage out there: Riedel has a wine stem that’s meant for both zinfandel and riesling; Spiegelau makes a glass intended just for American wheat beer; and Cocktail Kingdom sells mini coupes designed purely for tasting.
Wine, of course, has historically led the fray in the glassware department, from the incredibly expensive to Ikea-cheap, but beer and cocktails are starting to catch up. To help navigate that wide and ever-growing pool, PUNCH reached out to more than 50 sommeliers, bartenders and beer directors around the country. Here, their recommendations on how to fill your sideboard—and then some.
High-end: Zalto, Mark Thomas, Sophienwald
The Austrians have a stranglehold on the high-end wine glass category with Zalto (from $57), which is the resounding sommelier choice despite a pervasive fear about their fragility. “Without question, if cost were not an issue, my place would be fully stocked with Zalto stems,” says Eduardo Porto Carreiro of Atlanta’s Ford Fry restaurants. “A great bottle just tastes even greater from a Zalto.”
The mouth-blown glasses, with absurdly thin rims and gossamer-like stems came to the States thanks in large part to Le Bernardin’s Austrian sommelier, Aldo Sohm, who works with importer Wine Monger. There’s some discussion about which of these glasses is best: Andy Fortgang of Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon, prefers the Universal and Burgundy models, whereas Scott Ota at High Wire Wine Co. in San Antonio opts for Zalto’s Denk’Art White Wine glass for its “round shape as opposed to the sharp edges of the Universal glass; it makes for better swirling and a prettier pour,” he says.
A couple other Austrian brands make the sommelier covet list, too, including the faceted Mark Thomas Double Bend (from $60), favorites of Matty Colston from Parachute and Collin Moody of Income Tax Bar (both in Chicago). June Rodil, a Master Sommelier and beverage director of the McGuire Moorman group of restaurants in Austin prefers Austrian glasses from Sophienwald (from $50) to Zalto: “Not only are they lithe and elegant, they’re durable at the same time,” she says. “We use them at two of our restaurants and I have a set at home for when I’m feeling extra fancy.”
Getting sommeliers to agree on their favorite Riedel glass is sort of like trying to get a bunch of kids to agree on which kind of cookie is best. The brand is king for well-made, all-purpose glasses, and makes hundreds of different versions in over a dozen different lines. Its Veritas line (from $30) is machine-made but is the closest to the thin, refined quality of mouth-blown glasses on the market.
Moody, of Income Tax Bar, uses the Riesling/Zinfandel ($15) glass across the board. “[It’s] crazy versatile for bubbly, white and lighter reds,” he says. “It is smaller than what many people are used to, but the fill level is best at about four ounces in the glass—perfect for splitting a bottle of wine amongst a few people.”
Bargain: Schott Zwiesel
Being able to toss glasses in the dishwasher is key for everyday use. For this, Rodil goes with Schott Zwiesel’s Pure Line (from $14). “I use these for blind tasting at home,” she says, adding, “they’re great in a dishwasher, and I have literally seen one bounce off the counter and not break.” Andrew Algren of Chicago’s Cherry Circle Room and Fortgang, meanwhile, like Zwiesel’s slightly less expensive Forté Tritan series (from $10), which are made from crystal that’s fortified with titanium and zirconium. “They can take a beating, but have some nice modern angles to them,” Algren says.
Wild Card: Keith Kreeger, Akira Satake, Perry Haas
The clay cup has earned a fan base among wine drinkers these days, and everyone seems to have a favorite potter. Rodil uses one made by her friend and artist Keith Kreeger (similar to his Chelsea Cup, $44) for everything from Negronis to yogurt. Colston, meanwhile, has ceramicist in in the family: “My dad, Steve Colston, is an amateur potter. I love drinking out of his stuff as well as his talented friends’ vessels.” Among his favorites are cups from Perry Haas (from $60) and Akira Satake (from $24).
High-End: Rastal TeKu
Over the last decade, one beer-specific, stemmed glass has gained a cultish popularity amongst beer geeks: “I am married to the TeKu glass,” says Chris Elford of Seattle’s No Anchor. The chimney-shaped TeKus ($15), from German company Rastal, were designed in collaboration with brewer Teo Musso from Italy’s Baladin and Italian beer writer Lorenzo Dabove aka Kuaska (hence, TeKu). “Sturdy, beautiful and functional, they present a wide variety of beer styles very well,” said Jared Barker of D.C.’s All Purpose. “I’d be as comfortable putting these out with the fine china as with the everyday plates—there’s something to be said for that kind of versatility.”
All-Purpose and Bargain: Libbey, Ikea
Libbey, an important resource for glassware of all types, has become a go-to for beer as well; in addition to TeKus, Elford uses Libbey’s footed Munique at No Anchor, a steal at just over $3 a pop. “They’re great for farmhouse ales and Belgians, but I think a modern hazy IPA looks sharp in them as well,” he says. And, at Atlanta’s Porter Beer Bar, Molly Gunn stocks Libbey tulip glasses ($6). “They are sturdy, but still elegant, and you can fit an eight-ounce beer in them and have plenty of room for head.”
The best bargain, however, comes from Ikea, according to Joe Carroll of Brooklyn’s Spuyten Duyvil. “For many beers that aren’t pilsners, basic lagers and pale ales, I prefer to use a Bordeaux style wine glass,” says Carroll. And while he’s especially fond of Zalto Universal and Riedel Ouverture Syrah glasses at the high end, he’s also partial to Ikea’s 20-ounce Hederlig red wine glass. “Like all things from Ikea, it’s $1.99 for something that would cost $7.99 anywhere else—and it’s designed better.”
High-End: Urban Bar
Long coveted (and shipped or schlepped), the detailed glasses from London’s Urban Bar are now available in the U.S., thanks to Brooklyn Bartender Jeremy Oertel. The entire line, with numerous shapes and styles, is stunning, but its elegant coupes (from $10) have the eye of Meaghan Dorman from New York’s Dear Irving. In LA, Bar Accomplice’s Gaby Mlynarczyk, too, goes for the engraved Retro Coupes ($13) for stirred drinks, but she also has an affinity for Urban Bar’s squat, squared-off Retro Fizz glasses ($9) for standard-issue sours and fizzes.
All-Purpose and Bargain: Cocktail Kingdom
Cocktail Kingdom’s Leopold coupes ($6), with their short stems and nicely rounded, six-ounce bowls have been a go-to for bartenders since they first hit the market. But Pablo Moix of LA’s Scopa Italian Roots prefers a coupe that’s a little larger. “The problem with a six-ounce coupe is the minute you want to add something to a drink, say a Daiquiri with pineapple, you’ve exceeded the fill of the glass.” He goes for the eight-ounce coupes from Rona’s Minners line ($7.50).
High-End: Toyo-Sasaki Glass, Urban Bar
Many bartenders are stirring drinks in etched Japanese cocktail mixing glasses, which are particularly seductive on a well-lit bar. This same style, in rocks glass form, is just as compelling. At his Pacific Cocktail Haven, in San Francisco, Kevin Diedrich uses Hard Strong Petal Double Rocks glasses ($14.50), which have a simple, scalloped pattern, plus the weight that he’s looking for when serving stirred drinks. Mlynarczyk’s pick: stylish Koto glasses from Urban Bar ($12), which have a diamond pattern at the base of the glass.
All-Purpose and Bargain: Cocktail Kingdom, Libbey
For something less expensive, but with the same cut crystal look, Mlynarczyk favors Cocktail Kingdom’s Yarai Rocks ($5), which is dishwasher safe and great for spirits served on a large cube. Boston’s Ezra Star also goes with Yarai, but the larger 10-ounce double rocks version, which costs just slightly more, and has a more curvaceous shape.
As for bargain glasses, one of the best around is the 12-ounce Libbey Stinson DOF ($3). “It’s as classic a tumbler as you will ever get,” says Nathan O’Neill of New York’s The NoMad Bar. And, given the price point, the straightforward, laser-cut glasses are fully replaceable should they not make it through a night.
High-End: Urban Bar, Hario, Zalto
There seems to not be a consensus as to whether a highball should be weighty, ultra thin or even have a little foot. Whereas Mlynarczyk continues with the etched and substantial theme (Koto’s taller brother, $12), Pablo Moix prefers an ethereal Japanese glass that he gets at Tortoise General Store in Venice Beach, Hario’s 14-ounce glasses ($10). “There’s something about a really thin glass,” he says. “There’s not much to a whiskey highball—whiskey, soda, maybe a lemon peel—but it’s so good in a thin glass.” Star goes to the much pricier side of things and likes to use Zalto’s Water Glass ($55) for Collinses and highballs, which has a foot and a slight curve that will really show off garniture and ice.
All-Purpose and Bargain: Cocktail Kingdom, Libbey
For a straight up Collins, Mlynarczyk opts for Cocktail Kingdom’s dishwasher-safe Buswell glass ($3.50). The proportions of this lanky, 12-ouncer mean that a stack of ice cubes tower in a really pretty way.
Continuing on the theme, Libbey is a bartender’s favorite brand for cheap highballs and Collins glasses. To give long drinks a little lift, Mlynarczyk looks to the company’s v-shaped Footed Pilsner (from $3), whereas O’Neill goes with the straight-sided Chicago tall highball (from $1.50). As for Adam Bernbach of D.C.’s 2 Bird’s 1 Stone, an avid vintage glassware hunter, he seeks out the brand’s old-school, frosted Carousel Collins, which depict cartoonish, brightly colored animals, for frozen drinks.
Finally, should you be looking for such a thing, consider the “Zalto Digestif Glass,” says Star. “It is the best shot glass in the world.”
It also costs $55.