Cocktails David T. Smith Issue Six

In a glass of its own

Five colorful gin tonic cocktails in wine glasses on bar counter

Searching for a glass with class 

By David T. Smith

The world of the Gin & Tonic has changed dramatically with the introduction of the Spanish Copa, or Balloon glass, in 2010. Designed specifically for the Spanish serve of “Gin Tonica”, this originated in the kitchens of some of the Basque Country’s finest restaurants, where a large glass was essential to hold all of the ice cubes required to keep the drink cold in the hot conditions; the chef’s natural culinary flair also came through with the creation of imaginative garnishes.

But, after such a dramatic transformation that left both the familiar tumbler (aka rocks glass) and the highball (aka Collins glass) behind, what’s next for Gin & Tonic glassware? What does the future hold? And does the glass really make a difference?

These were questions posed to me by distillery ambassador, Sam Carter of Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Mill and the purpose of a visit to the distillery a few weeks before Christmas. Our task was to analyse a selection of glasses – more than thirty in total – to see how the different styles impact upon the overall experience of enjoying a Gin & Tonic.

Our research team collected around thirty glasses and each evaluated using three main criteria:

1) Sensory;
2) Aesthetics; and
3) Practicality.

Here’s a little more detail on what these entail.


• How does the shape, style, and material of the glass impact upon the aroma and flavour of the drink?

• How do these factors affect the drink’s fizz?

• Aroma is an interesting, but difficult measure of a Gin & Tonic, because many of its drinkers may not be greatly concerned about their drink having a wonderful bouquet – it’s primarily about taste. Powerful garnishes often tend to mask the subtle aromas of many gins. As this initial exploration did not consider garnish, aroma was taken into consideration, but less so than the other characteristics.


This was a more straightforward set of criteria to do with what the glass looks like and how it feels to hold – a point that could be easily overlooked, but which is nevertheless important to maximise the drinker’s experience.

Considerations include: 

• Is the glass visually attractive, does it catch the eye?; 

• Is it easy to pick up?; and

• Is it easy and enjoyable to hold?


When it came to how practical a glass is, it quickly became clear from our discussions that the demands of a glass can be quite different depending on whether the user is a bartender or a Gin & Tonic drinker at home. For example, thick-bottomed glasses may have a luxurious feel, but, when washed in a dishwasher, can remain warm for quite some time, which makes them less practical in a bar, where glassware generally needs to be quick and efficient to clean. Similarly, stackable glasses are very attractive for bars, but not really necessary for home-use. 

Our considerations for practicality included:

• How durable is the glass?;

• Is it easy to store? Does it take up a lot of space?; 

• How easy is it to clean?; and 

• How much ice fits into the glass?


With all this in mind, our team discussed each of the glasses in turn, focusing in particular on  aesthetics and practicality. Once we had determined a list of our top ten glasses, we moved onto evaluating taste, testing each glass with a mix of Bombay Sapphire and tonic water without ice or garnish. This whittled our list down to six glasses, which were tested with Bombay Dry and tonic water along with four ice cubes; this second combination was used as the gin has a more classic botanical mix and a lower ABV (37.5% ABV). 

Finally, our top three glasses were tested with Bombay Sapphire East (a higher ABV gin and with more spice), ice, and a garnish: a thin wedge of both lemon and lime. 

Here is a summary of our findings.


Certainly flavour of the month at the moment, this glass is twice the capacity of any of the others tested and is synonymous with the Spanish Gin Tonica serve.


With its large, open bowl, the Copa glass provides a vibrant sensory experience; this Gin & Tonic was well chilled and particularly refreshing, although after a little while milder gins may be a little lost.


The glasses are visually striking, with plenty of potential for brands or bars to customise their design and colour. Their large capacity also makes them a great way to showcase a drink, including an exciting array of garnishes.


The great capacity means that it requires a lot of ice to fill one of these glasses – probably a whole ice tray from most freezers – so, when entertaining, an alternative ice generally needs to be found. They can also be quite heavy and difficult to hold for those with average or smaller-than-average sized hands.

In addition, due to the shape and size of the glass, they are particularly difficult to store, resulting in a lot of wasted cupboard or shelf space.


A classic example of a glass, with materials ranging from inexpensive glass to cut lead-crystal. This is a go-to glass in many homes around the world.


Unfortunately, despite its popularity, this glass is average in terms of nose and taste, and the drink’s fizz tends to dissipate relatively quickly.


This is easy to hold and easy to drink from. The cut-glass or lead-crystal examples are particularly luxurious and add to a sense of occasion when drinking.


Easy to store with some stacking potential, this glass is also easy to clean, however thick-bottomed versions may retain heat for a while after being washed in a dishwasher.


A bit of a sideways move, this glass was specifically designed by Riedel to be the ultimate glass for serving Coca Cola in, with a particular focus on managing the drink’s bubbles. Given the importance of fizz in a Gin & Tonic, it seemed worth a try.


The nose and taste were good, but what was most remarkable about this glass was how intense the fizz was; not only this, but how the intensity remained over time. It made a really noticeable difference and gave the drink a great liveliness.


This glass has a unique shape, eye-catching design and a pleasant weight to it, although a little more heft may add an extra
luxurious feel.


Small footprint, easy storage and easy to hold and pick up. However, given the shape of the glass, ice cubes tend to stack one on top of another and you can’t rely on the fizz to fully mix the ingredients, so it does need a stir. The slightly smaller opening meant that some tasters had a tendency to hit their nose on the rim when drinking.


Additionally, we tested the following three glasses that had been specifically designed for the Gin & Tonic.


Before the Copa glass boom, Dartington designed and released their own Gin & Tonic glass. It is almost identical to a modern highball, although its base is wider and thicker, and it has a slightly nipped-in waist and a flared opening at the top.


This glass kept the drink fizzy for a long time and the flavour was very good. Whilst the nose was a little flat, overall, this was a solid scorer across the board and was some testers’ favourite glass.


Easy to hold and, although this is similar to the more commonplace highball, this design has a touch of panache that sets it apart. However, for some of our testers, the opening at the top was too small and dug uncomfortably into their nose.


Whilst this one is easy to store and reasonably sturdy, this glass is difficult to clean without a long brush and there would be some restrictions on what garnish could fit in it.


Inspired by a 1960s advertisement from an American newspaper showing a Gin & Tonic served in a latte-style glass, we decided to test its design: the advert shows a tall glass with a narrow bottom and larger opening, atop a flared base. It also has a small handle, making it almost identical to the modern-day latte glass.


The flavour was reasonable, but the glass gave off very little aroma and the tonic water went flat rather quickly. Our testing panel was split on whether the glass was pleasant to hold.


The design is simple, but effective and was quite pleasant to drink from. The biggest drawback that was encountered was the psychological connection to a latte glass and, by association, hot drinks, “It just feels wrong,” noted one tester.


Some testers really liked the handle, which provided a way to hold a tall glass without too much contact and made it feel more secure in their hands, whilst others thought that it was a waste of time. The glass was hardy, easy to wash, stable (thanks to the flared base, and had reasonable space for both ice and garnish.


Produced by Tyrone Crystal in Northern Ireland, which sadly closed in 2010, this glass has a short stemmed base and a particularly ornate, almost egg-shaped bowl.


This had a minimal nose and a medium impact upon the fizz, although the taste was quite good. Overall, it scored respectably with any shortcomings easily made-up by the other criteria.


This glass is a delight to look at: the way it catches the light, which then reflects off of the drink’s bubbles, is a thing of beauty. The weight was also appreciated by our testers, who noted that it had a luxurious feel. One tester thought that it was a bit “old school”, whilst another thought that it also had good versatility for a range of other drinks, such as sours.


The capacity of this glass it quite small, although you could just about fit a double measure in it with ice and a slice. It’s certainly not stackable, but it also doesn’t take up much space on a shelf and its short height would make it a good fit for a narrower, shorter shelf. The primary downside to this glass is its high price point.

Overall, our investigation made it clear that it’s not just what you drink, but what you drink it from, that impacts upon how much you enjoy a Gin & Tonic. There were certainly some surprising conclusions from our discussions, including that assessing the aroma of a Gin & Tonic is probably not that important to everyday drinkers. Perhaps the biggest revelation was the impressive performance of the Riedel Coca Cola glass, which preserved the drink’s fizz remarkably well. Perhaps with some adjustments, the Gin & Tonic glass of the future may be just around the corner – watch this space.

A special thanks to Sam Carter of Bombay Sapphire and Laverstoke Mill for hosting, as well as our intrepid team of testers and – importantly – our designated driver for
the day. 


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