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Classy glasses: more sophisticated cocktail drinkers call for more sophisticated glassware.

DARN THAT PROHIBITION ERA. Before our government put the kibosh on spirits back in 1920, cocktail crafting was a real art form in this country. When access to quality spirits dwindled, cocktails started getting big because it takes a heck of a lot of mixer to mask the flavor of bathtub gin.

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We've enjoyed cocktail renaissances since then, of course, and we're entering a strong one now, according to Thad Vogler, bar manager of Jardiniere, in San Francisco, and its resident historian. Today's customers weigh the value of their cocktails not by how much is in the glass, but by what's in the glass, he says, and they're judging the glass now, too.

When you're talking top shelf and boutique spirits, fresh juices, fruits and herbs, homemade vermouth, bitters and syrups and other pedigree ingredients, you need to find a glass that showcases all the effort you put into the cocktail. "For the longest time, a glass was just a glass," says Tony Abou-Ganim, the renowned consultant known as The Modern Mixologist. "Now I see more commitment to every detail of the cocktail from ingredients and garnish, to ice and, especially, to the glass."

As a result, there's been a surge in operator calls for more elegant glassware that is authentically suited to the specific cocktail. Straight, smooth-sided glassware, many with heavy shams that produce a great feeling of heft in the hand, are in vogue. Rims are thinner and more refined; the glass is clear to show off the color and texture of the drink and its ingredients.

"Our whole system changed over to Series V from the much heavier Gilbraltar from Libbey," says Tony Garcia, director of marketing and beverage strategy for T.G.I. Friday's franchisee based in Phoenix, Ariz., The Briad Group. Islande from Cardinal is another hot seller, according to Karyn Chylewski of Boelter Companies, a distributor in Chicago. "The boxy, heavy, paneled glasses are out," she says. "Sleek with a heavy sham is in."

Seattle-based RAM International recently changed out the glassware at its upscale Prime Dining Group (C.I. Shenanigans and Murphy's Seafood & Steakhouse) to Cardinal's Cabernet, with a more rounded shape but still smooth sided, with a thinner rim and heavy sham. The nice part is that the former glassware can cycle down to the company's casual concepts, according to Kirk Aardahl, vice president of beverage.

SHRINKING SIZES

Experts say they're also seeing a demand for glasses with smaller ounce volumes. "In the '90s, it was all about big, colorful cocktails--heavy, dense, sweet," says Garcia. "Our strategy was to push the 18-ounce Ultimate cocktails with top shelf liquors. Today, cocktails are much more refined, and we're serving top shelf drinks in 14-ounce versions; that size would have been a house brand before." Patrons of the past would order three or four of the Ultimates; today, they'll only opt for one or two of the smaller, more refined, yet higher priced, crafted cocktails, he adds. "There's a big difference between bargain and value. Our glassware needed to be elevated to the new expectation."

Nancy Kamphausen, glassware product manager for Cardinal, based in Wayne, N.J., agrees, saying her company has been adding smaller volume sizes to existing lines, including Islande. "The chains want to have a full variety of ounce ranges and glasses, but in a single pattern," she says.

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Linda Szyskowski, spokesperson for Libbey Glass, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio, seconds that notion. "The company recently added more ounce sizes to its Series V and Biconic lines, both of which have a very sleek, Euro look. Taller, thinner, clean lines are what it's all about."

Authenticity is key, as well. "To quote Riedel, the content determines the glass," says Ann Rogers, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, an annual spirits event in New Orleans. "People want a Highball in a Highball glass, an Old Fashioned in an Old Fashioned glass. One size does not fit all."

Riedel, with U.S. offices in Edison, N.J., recently debuted its new line of tequila, Cognac and whiskey glasses at the Tales of the Cocktail event this past July. The shapes of the glasses were determined by panels of experts to bring out the perfect flavor and roundness of the most expensive, finely distilled versions of these spirits.

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENTS

While the chain players are asking for a full range of sizes within a given pattern, the trend on the independent scene is almost the opposite. Perhaps because the glass must fit the cocktail authentically in the high-end independent establishments, operators are looking for unique glasses, including antiques, as well.

"When I was consulting, I'd scour salvage shops, estate auctions, odd catalogs and other sources to find authentic vintage glasses," says Jardinier's Vogler. "We'd hit jackpots of 10- or 12-glass sets of antique glasses that were very specific to certain kinds of cocktails. Serving cocktails in these unique, yet appropriate, glasses turns the cocktail into an experience, and that's what you strive for."

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"People are really researching the old style cocktails," agrees Rogers. She too has seen a surge in antique shopping to find the old style glasses and a trend toward using the proper glassware for the cocktail. She just purchased a perfect replica of an absinthe fountain, glasses and spoons from La Maison d'Absinthe. "Think of the wow factor when you serve up four absinthe cocktails from an authentic absinthe fountain," she adds. (The fountain drips ice water onto sugar cubes set on slotted spoons spanning the rim of the absinthe glass. This sugar water drops into the absinthe below and creates the milky "louche" that defines this anise-flavored cocktail.)

"We're really harkening back to the golden age of the cocktail, when they were smaller and spirit driven rather than oversized and mix driven," says Vogler. "The glassware has to carry that presentation."

BEER AND BOMBERS

Of course, not everything's about sophistication and refinement, and plenty of customers still want their brews and bombers. RAM recently introduced two great money makers that have everything to do with the choice of glassware. "We have the 18-ounce Imperial pint and the 25-ounce beer mug, but we used to have a 14-ounce pint," explains Aardahl, who adds that it was RAM, 39 years ago, that started the trend of using Boston Shaker Mixing Glasses as beer pints in the states. "We've suspended the 14-ounce pint in favor of a 13-ounce tall pilsner we call the Skinny Beer."

The smaller beer glass hits a home run on two fronts, he says. Female customers in general prefer the smaller amount in the smaller glass and lunch time patrons who would shy away from ordering a large beer at midday have fewer qualms about quaffing the skinny version.

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Boelter Cos.' Chylewski adds she's seeing a real increase in demand for 8-ounce mini pilsners for beer tastings. "We've seen the mini Martinis, the mini wine flights and now the mini pilsners because people like to broaden their palate and taste something new."

RAM's other new glassware purchase is the all-in-one bomber from Lancaster, Ohio-based Anchor Hocking, a two-part glass that holds 2 1/2 ounces of chaser on the bottom and a 1 1/2 -ounce of shot on the top. "We used to drop the shot glass into the pint glass of the chaser like everyone did," says Aardahl. "But this two-part glass is a huge improvement." First, it provides perfect guidelines of how much chaser and shot to put in. Second, staff only has to wash one glass, not two. And finally, "We have a lot fewer broken teeth," laughs Aardahl. Not to mention a lot more sales.

Jenna Winthrop specializes in writing about restaurants and foodservice equipment from Chicago.
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Author:Winthrop, Jenna
Publication:Cheers
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:1290
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