Unless it arrives in a hollowed-out pineapple, it’s rare you think twice about the vessel your drink is served in. What matters most is the liquid inside.

So it’s surprising to hear from someone such as Matt Stirling, a professional bartender and recent Diageo World Class Australian finalist, that he considers the glass before the cocktail.

“Before I think of anything else,” says Stirling. “If I like the glass, I think, ‘What’s the best thing I can put in this?’”

You won’t find any “cheap” triangular-shaped martini glasses at Stirling’s workplace, The Black Pearl. The bartender has a soft spot for the curvier coupe, which he uses for cocktails and champagne. “It evokes class,” says Stirling, but it’s not just aesthetics he’s concerned with. “You’re going to lose more liquid if you’re drinking from a triangle nightmare rather than a saucer shape.”

The science of glassware extends to champagne. Served in a flute, the elongated glass will keep the drink’s carbonation concentrated and extend the fizz. While the presentation of spirits generally leans towards style over substance, there’s still purpose behind a choice.

“The taller the glass, the more mixture and carbonation there is,” says Stirling. “But if you’ve got a short glass, it’ll keep the drink nice and stiff.”

Stirling admits there’s a slight gender bias at play. “There’s a lot of chat about presentation” suggests Stirling, “but I do think it’s a gender thing. It’s a little more feminine to hold a tall glass. But it’s not a spoken rule.”

The weight of a glass also comes into play. According to Stirling, a heavy glass is associated with value.

Glassware for some other drinks is easier to understand. A simple handle and a chilled glass will keep beer cold over the amount of time it takes to drink, while wine glasses are designed to retain their scent. “Over time the smells escape,” says Stirling. “So the design and shape of the glass tries to hold them in.”

And cocktails? “Cocktails are fun and so they should be presented in a fun glass,” says Stirling, who likes to use anything from large milkshake glasses to tiny plastic wheelie bins.

“As long as they provoke a bit of fun and they’re big.”

Glass Glossary

Boston
Tall, heavy glass designed for beer. Often used as a cocktail shaker with a tin, or as a mixing glass for stirred drinks.

Coupe
A stem glass with a wide, shallow bowl, for champagne. Similar to a Martini glass, but with a curved bowl.

Collins / Highball
The classic tall, straight glass (a highball is slightly squatter, but holds the same amount, generally 250–350 ml).

Flute
The tall slim design helps maintain carbonation, making flutes perfect for champagne, and champagne cocktails.

Hurricane
A big-bowled glass with a stem, for frozen drinks. If your drink has a pineapple wedge or paper parasol in it, this is the right glass.

Margarita
The two-step glass used predominantly for the cocktail of the same name.

Martini
What was once just called a ‘cocktail glass’, the classic triangle-shaped glass should be no bigger than 200mls – your drink will warm up too fast in anything larger.

Old-Fashioned
Another glass named after the drink commonly served in it, Old-Fashioned glasses can be interchanged with a Rocks glass for serving whisky.

Rocks
A squat thicker-rimmed glass than the Old-Fashioned. As it’s tougher, a good option for drinks that require muddling in the glass.

Sling
A narrow and elegant glass for tall drinks served over crushed ice, such as the Mojito.

Snifter
Also known as a brandy balloon, this is a big, bulbous glass for cocktails and aged spirits such as cognac.

Handle
Used to hold beer and hot drinks such as Toddys, this glass was popularised by the now-seldom-drunk Irish Coffee.