We’ve all heard before how the shape of a wine glass affects the taste of the vino within. Whether you believe that at face value or choose to be a bit more skeptical, study after study has proven that the shape and composition of a vessel does in fact make an impact on how our senses decode the taste and scent of a sip of wine. But does the same rule hold true for boozy beverages that aren’t grown on the vine? Does the shape of your glass also affect the taste of your cocktail?
The question may sound lofty, but it’s part of a growing field of study called gastrophysics, or the science of eating. Note, I didn’t say the science of food. That’s because gastrophysics is concerned with “everything else” besides the actual cuisine itself. Can a white plate make strawberries taste 10% sweeter? Does flavorless red food dye make white wine taste differently? Does food served on a textured plate appear spicier? The answer to each of these is, surprisingly, yes. Thanks, gastrophysics author, and head of Oxford University’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Charles Spence.
Gastrophysics is the same umbrella of research that explains why some people don’t like the taste of water, and why Skittles “taste” differently even though they all contain the same flavoring. So clearly, there are real answers to be found here. But with all of that said, what does the science have to say about the shape of your cocktail glass?
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Also called a tumbler, lowball, or even an old-fashioned glass, the go-to glasses for nearly anything bourbon-based have thick bottoms to stand up to the muddling of fruit and spice that precedes many pours. Designed to draw warmth from your hand into the glass itself, rocks glasses are designed to take your drink on a slowly evolving journey from start to finish. But the wide open rim, and straight vertical walls of a rocks glass also allow heavy fumes to collect in the air just above the drink itself. This imparts your first sips with a strong taste of ethanol, and the appearance of being much boozier than the spirit might actually be.
Martini glasses on the other hand, were designed with a long stem in order to prevent the heat of your body from warming the contents of the glass. A stemless cocktail glass may not possess the same height, but both it and the martini glass feature an inverted cone bowl that allows both alcoholic vapor and other fragrant components of the drink to escape across the expansive surface area. This means that our same drink first served in a rocks glass, possesses far less of a boozy burn, and can appear to taste softer, and more botanical when imbibed from a cocktail glass.
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Despite the legend about the bowl of this glass being shaped like a part of Marie Antoinette’s anatomy, the coupe glass was actually designed about 100 years before she was ever born. Originally designed to serve champagne, the coupe is quite likely the very worst vessel possible (next to perhaps a bucket) for doing so. That’s because coupes have one of the largest surface areas of any cocktail glass, shy of only the martini, allowing carbonated gas far more opportunities to escape from the liquid than it would find in a flute. Cocktails served in coupes heighten the natural sweetness of sugars, and reduce the sensation of the alcohol present. Drinks served in coupe glasses tend to taste blended, and drinkers may taste an amalgamation more so than any individual layered elements.
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Just as likely to be called a collins glass or even a delmonico, highball glasses are narrow, circular glass towers with tall, straight walls. Highballs are used to serve up cocktails that traditionally are made with one part alcohol and three parts mixer, topped off with ice. With that said, you certainly could still drink a cocktail served straight up from a highball, but why would you want to? Straight, vertical sided glasses trick our brains into experiencing high levels of sourness, even in cocktails lacking in acid. There’s a reason that vodka-sodas and Cuba Libres are garnished with limes in these glasses, further enhancing the sharp sourness caused by the highball.
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Seen by many as the Rolls Royce of glasses when it comes time to enjoy a whisky, the Glencairn glass features a relatively wide bowl that flares back inward as the walls climb to a high, narrower edge. The design is meant to unlock and then collect the aromas carefully layered within bourbons and scotches, kicking off every sip with a long sensory experience in your nostrils before the hooch ever hits your lips. A Drinkhacker taste test of the same whiskey in three different glasses found that the Glencairn unveiled rich notes of coffee and amaro that were lacking entirely from the other glasses. Glencairn glasses impart earthiness and richness missing from cocktails served in other vessels.
Nick and Nora glass
Originally just called a martini glasses, Nick and Nora glasses borrowed their modern name from the 1934 detective flick, The Thin Man. You’re just as likely to know them as princess glasses, owing to their romantic long necks, and small, narrow bowls. To the uninformed, Nick and Noras might even be mistaken for miniature wine glasses, but you’re more likely to discover them hanging from the racks at a fancy cocktail bar than anywhere with a deep wine list. Nick and Nora glasses behave like martini glasses dialed up to ten. Cocktails are kept doubly cool by the long neck, and the more concentrated shape of the bowl. These factors combine to actually dilute the flavors of a drink, instead pumping up the taste of the alcohol present