Saturday, June 11, 2011

Glass & Tools With Dale DeGroff



Recently, I had the good fortune to attend The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, held (obviously), right here in New York City. When I saw that one of the courses was being taught by the legendary mixologist Dale DeGroff – AKA The King Of Cocktails – I immediately signed up so I could (literally) learn from the master himself. The course was called Glasses & Tools where DeGroff would talk about the history of glasses used to imbibe adult beverages over the centuries, finishing with a lesson on how to use bar tools where students were invited to build cocktails at DeGroff’s direction.

DeGroff said that he learned very early on in his career as a bartender that very often, the glass will make the cocktail – something taught to him by a very difficult, demanding boss. Using the right glass, he came to understand, was an important ingredient in cocktail preparation – as important as any ingredient you would pour, muddle or sprinkle into the libation of choice. Historically, however, this was something that was not always understood or appreciated by most people – proved by virtue of the fact that nearly everything was served in a wine glass, regardless of what it was.

While original glasses really had more of resemblance to bowls than of glasses and were made of metal, the evolution of the cocktail glass started with the Phoenicians who were the first to use glass when they realized that glass could be made from sand. Over the centuries, the style was gradually improved upon by the Mesopotamians in 50 B.C. when they discovered glass blowing to make the glass in different shapes. Later, this was further refined by the Greeks and Romans. By The Middle Ages, Venice furthered the drinking glass during the period that came to be known as “The Age Of Enlightenment”. This was a significant turning point because they figured out how to add color to the glasses around the 15th century.

It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that the cocktail glass was finally developed in the forms that we know them today. Although the glass makers designed their glasses in a way to reflect the ancient designers, they somewhat modernized both the form and technique for manufacturing, making the process less dangerous. As an example, the Venetian glass makers from an earlier time were forced to practice their craft on a remote island because it was feared that the factories where the glasses were made might easily go on fire and potentially burn down the entire city.


During this 19th century timeframe, the saucer style champagne glass – often known as a coupe – was originally developed. Interestingly, the original purpose of the design was to extend the surface area of the glass to get rid of the bubbles in the champagne so people would find it easier to drink. By contrast, as most folks already know, today, the preferred glass for champagne is a flute – a tall, thin glass with a very narrow surface area used precisely so that the bubbles in the champagne could be better appreciated.

Well, that’s about it for now. Do you have any interesting stories about the history of cocktail glasses? Or have you ever had “a brush with cocktail greatness” either with DeGroff or someone of his ilk? If so, then please post a comment and share it with the rest of us.

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