What is a cordial glass?

Photo by tehbieber, CC BY-SA 2.0

A question that people who are interested in glassware may be a simple one: what is a cordial glass?  What it is used for, and how is it different from other glasses?

I have looked at many cordial glasses in my day, and in my experience, a cordial glass is really just a vessel supported by a stem resting on a foot (though there are some variations to this).  It really serves two purposes: to limit the amount of liquid poured into it, and to provide a level of elegance not present in other glasses.  That’s about it.

There are reasons for both of these.  First, you obviously want to limit the amount of spirits in a glass so as to provide a civilized (i.e. non-inebriating) quantity.  There’s a reason why you don’t serve wine in a beer mug, and it’s not just because of aesthetics.  The cordial glass typically fits two ounces comfortably, which is a pleasant amount to drink in one sitting.

Artland Radiance Cordial Cups with Tray and Gift Box.

As for the second element – the level of elegance that cordial glasses provide – different occasions and different types of liquids demand different types of glasses.  Consider a related glass, the shot glass.  You will find this in places from your own home, to the neighborhood bar, to any frat house at the nearest college campus.  Like the cordial glass, the shot glass limits the quantity of alcohol that one can pour in.  The difference is that the latter does not have a stem or separate foot, and the vessel is usually cylindrical.  There are fewer parts to break, but also fewer parts to admire.  The shot glass is a decidedly more informal glass from which to drink from.

Artland 6 Ribbon Liqueur Glasses with Tray

With the cordial glass there are more parts, which means they are more fragile.  Yet, it also means that there is more to admire, and more potential for variation.  Just as you would probably not see drinks served in cordial glasses at a wild frat party, you would probably not see run-of-the-mill shot glasses used to serve liqueurs at a formal dinner party.

In the end, there may be no right or wrong way to drink spirits if you are at home with friends, but there are ways that make the occasion more or less festive, more or less interesting.  Using a cordial glass to serve cocktails or liqueurs – whether at a dinner party, as a complement to a dessert, or perhaps just to celebrate with a close friend – provides that special something “nice” that other glasses do not.

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