The words we have for drinking vessels are old ones. Glass, mug and cup are all very old ideas.
Hence, there’s quite a bit of culture tied to them. So, though, I’m not an overly particular person in many household respects, I have a lot of opinions about them.
I remember being a teenager and finding a common bond among friends because we all agreed (and struggled to explain why), we thought it was strangely discomforting to have milk served in a plastic cup. Understand, we weren’t richly cultured.
We were middle -class teenagers who for the first time were confronting together an opinion developed independently based on culture and lived experience. This was new.
This is going to be a strange little post about feelings and memories about tiny, meaningless things. If you’re paying attention, you might draw conclusions to feelings about language and fashion and so many other cultural elements.
I’ve continued to have feelings about from whence I drink.
Contrast that with my very late and uncertain approach to clothing. Or my openness to sharing my home with strangers. Yet if you’ve been in my home, you’ll have seen me think about what to serve that drink of yours in.
I still haven’t entirely decoded yet why, but it is a mix of presentation and intention. I am very aware of how idiosyncratic this is. These are clear and personal opinions. There is nothing universal here, so I want to share, not because I view these as rules, but because I think there is something fascinating about how we can develop very personal feelings about such strange things.
I’m most flexible with water, of course, given its fundamental utility. I’d take a cool, clear, fresh clear cup of water in anything. At home, I prefer one of a set of child-like, colorful plastic cups we have. With lots of fresh ice (an English culture journalist in 1855 wrote “Ice is an American institution—the use of it an American luxury—the abuse of it an American failing,” but I’ll spare you that for now), I like the look of it all piled together in a big, frosty glass on a hot summer day. Often I’ll take a whole carafe of water, with any cup, and plug away over a meal or relaxing, no matter the season.
When I drink juice, I prefer a short, clear glass. I want to see the juice’s bright colors and think it should come in small amounts.
As shared above, I first found others shared my quirky drinking opinions when discussing the abhorrent idea of milk in plastic cups. I think the origins of that might be that if milk can so easily go sour, you want to be able to see it on display. I only drink milk (for a delicious pairing with fresh chocolate chip cookies, of course) from a short, preferably stout, glass. (Others have milk drinking opinions too).
I am all for any and all ceramic mugs — along with silly phrases or images. I drink coffee and tea from both. I do like a nice teacup and saucer set in more formal settings. I picture my grandmother putting out a matching set for special occasions.
I may have the most dearly-held opinions on various to-go containers for drinks.
I (secretly?) love the thin, plastic, one-time use cups popularly used for iced coffee today. Iced coffee manages to look elegant to me, particularly either black or with the perfect amount of dairy, to give it an attractive color, preferably with a good cut of ice. For hot coffee, I rather like the containers common today, cardboard-feeling with plastic tops, over styrofoam. But there is a very specific kind of small, white styrofoam to-go coffee container that I remember from construction sites I used to work on that hits a particular feeling for me.
At home, I’ll fix an iced coffee in tall glasses — a Collins glass, perhaps — provided it’s clear and frames the drink appetizingly. I have been known to re-use one of those plastic to-go cups for my own iced coffee, if I have one lingering around.
Clearly the most vibrant and familiar culture is for booze. Likewise, I have growing opinions here. (Like for my first homemade whiskey flight)
For one, I feel as though beer absolutely must be served in glassware, to see its color and head. As a fairly inexperienced American beer drinker, I do like the standard pint glass, but I am aware of its criticism.
A friend gifted me a beer glassware set of various shapes and stems and openings, depending on the characteristics of the drink, and I’ve tinkered with it some. I do try to follow but I at least hold on to the basics and the fundamental rule of wanting to see my beer while drinking (and smelling). Having had my share of secret beer drinking (on beaches, at public concerts), I do like a certain kind of summertime beer drinking from a discreet tall plastic cup — but that calls for a very particular kind of cultural moment.
Put on the spot, I couldn’t make my own independent match between beer and glass but I admire this effort, with its up-market push following wine culture.
Though I know even less about wine than beer, I appreciate the very simplest of rules for those drinking vessels.
Red wines tend to be more aromatic, so we often use glasses that are taller with more of a bowl. White wines, including many sparkling varieties, are often narrower.
But we’re years into the democratization of wine. At the time of the American Revolution, wine really was the drink of the upperclass; George Washington had a profitable rye whiskey still but himself preferred brandy, and Thomas Jefferson wanted to develop a domestic wine industry that would only come 200 years later, hoping to calm the beer and spirit drinking masses, as I read earlier this year in Bourbon Empire. Wine was expensive because it was all imported. But that’s changed with a surging American wine market and popular food chemistry.
So, interestingly, likely because I love this rise of wine drinkers who reject centuries-old pretense with a down-market push, I am more open than even beer to prefer drinking wine out of a strange vessel. Yes, I still want it to be clear, but I’ve had more wine (and champagne) out of plastic cups and mason jars than maybe any other spirit. If expensive wine is for suckers, this feels like an act of subversion.
Liquors and cocktails should be in clear cups — as is custom.
Preferably glassware, but I’ve made my fair-share of beachside margaritas in clear, plastic one-time use cups that I find rather suitable. (There are exceptions, of course. I’ve had my Mint Juleps in Kentucky-approved tins, and a Moscow Mule in a silver mug, but the intentionality of this aesthetic is the point.)
I use prefer Rocks glasses (and their like) all around, but I like a good, tall Collins glass for displaying more than just a Tom Collins, including the citrus of a Gin and Tonic.
I’m not someone who collects an array of spirit-specific glasses (that may change in the coming years, I suspect). I do like developing my rather rudimentary understanding, including the reasons why different shapes developed.
Whiskey is something of an exception; a resolution of mine last year was to become better informed in my drinking there. I have the most opinions on where I want to drink whiskey from.
Like much of the whiskey drinking world, I use Glencairn glasses for nosing whiskey (though some think they’re not the best for general tasting). More generally, I often prefer Rocks glasses, not necessarily because I’ll be grounding a cocktail (though sometimes!) but also because I prefer the aesthetic and the feel of something sturdy and heavy. It gives the feeling of something slow-moving, which I associate with relaxation, permanence and control.
Those feelings are very much my own. But that’s the point, isn’t it?