Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Trendy new garnish: Haptics!


I recently ran across the term “haptics” (oddly enough in a promotional brochure for a local supermarket chain) and having never heard it before, did what I imagine many of us do when the giant cartoon question mark appears over our heads: scurry to the nearest computer to see what we can find.

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Haptics is the study of touching behavior”. As I delved further, I discovered haptics also deals with how human beings interact physically with technology, in devices such as video game controllers, artificial limbs, etc. Neat stuff.

Naturally, I wondered how haptics relates to booze. Surely this sophisticated science has some role to play in the realm of cocktails. I thought about how all of us in the drinkblogging community spend a lot of time discussing what goes into our drinking vessels…but maybe not much time thinking about the vessels themselves.

There’s plenty of information both in print and online as to what glass a particular drink is served in. What I’m curious about is not the correctness of the drink/glass pairing, but rather how do different glasses feel in my hand- and does that affect my perceptions of the drinking experience?

Now before anyone thinks I’m gonna go all scientific-like and lay out some master’s thesis…relax. I can be obsessive, but a comprehensive empirical study isn’t the goal here. (However, if you really want to see some top-shelf glassware analysis, check out Gabriel's treatise here). What I’m attempting is a more direct, intuitive approach. Basically, I wanted to riffle through my collection of glasses and see how I reacted purely to their shape, weight, texture etc., regardless of their contents. That counts as haptics, as far as I‘m concerned.

Like I said, this is off-the-cuff and completely unscientific. Also, my barware collection is relatively modest, so there are several glass types not represented here. I can only swipe so many from the corner bar before they get wise to me.

I’ve also assigned a letter grade to each glass type for style and ease-of-use. It’s just the kind of arbitrary abuse of power I relish.

On with the data…



I’ve probably consumed more drinks out of the iconic cocktail glass than other type. With all that practice, you’d think I’d be more at ease when holding this type of glass, but I still often feel like I might slosh my drink out of it. As a matter of fact, I don’t really get confident with a cocktail glass until I’m about a third of the way through my drink.

As a result, I favor the smaller 3 ounce-ish size, since the big fishbowl-sized ones in vogue now seem even more unwieldy to me. I tend to hold mine by the stem, just under the upper part because I’m paranoid about my hand warming up the drink. I’ve seen people cradle the upper part of a cocktail glass like a brandy snifter, but this just never felt right to me.

Still, for undiluted elegance I think this glass takes the crown. It takes a bit of concentration and attentiveness to use, but anything worthwhile takes effort, right?

Style: A
Ease of use: C-



Although it’s easier to hold than a cocktail glass, I feel like I have to actually be more careful with the cordial glass. It’s probably due to its small size- there’s an inherent daintiness that makes me feel like I should be handling it with padded, silken gloves. The damn thing just looks so fragile.

Plus, I don’t think there’s any way to look masculine holding one of these. I could be wearing an eye patch and drinking motor oil out of it, and it still wouldn’t help.

Style: C-
Ease of Use: C



Now I’m at the other end of the spectrum. The rocks glass is solid, cylindrical, and fills the hand nicely. It’s a utilitarian design to be sure, but it’s earned style points over time.

Holding it evokes gritty film noir detectives and hasty splashes of whiskey, but can also be classy with a crisp gin & tonic. Regardless, the rocks glass has heft & weight, and works almost anywhere. Although because of the straight sides, I do the “pinky-bracket” underneath to prevent slippage.

Style: B-
Ease of Use: A



Easier to hold and much more comfortable in the hand than a cocktail glass. The fingers naturally wrap around the distinctively shaped upper part, and despite it’s width, it rests comfortably. Only a barely-there grip is required The heavy, thick-walled types need a bit more muscle to hoist, but still feel natural.

I’ve field-tested the Margarita glass for over a decade at Jimmy Buffett concerts and can say that even while walking with one on uneven terrain after being over-served I experienced minimal spillage. A classic, functional design.

Style: A
Ease of Use: B



Not my favorite. The highball/collins family of glassware makes me feel like I’m drinking out of a length of pipe. Awkward, but could probably be remedied with a long straw. Also, it’s straight-sided design necessitates use of the pinky-bracket. Looks nice though.

Style: B
Ease of Use: D- (see me after class)


Double Old-fashioned

I love this glass. It’s got more bulk than the rocks glass, but somehow manages more style. It’s tapered sides fit the hand well, and it has a comfortable weight, even when full. It’s a great combination of heaviness and balance, although people with smaller hands may find it cumbersome.

Style: B
Ease of Use: A-


Tiki Mug

The umbrella term “tiki mug” includes a wide variety of shapes and sizes but what I’m talking about here are the ones most commonly seen: vaguely cylindrical, and about 6-8 inches tall.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lover of tropical-style drinks, and therefore heavily biased. I think tiki mugs are almost the perfect drinking vessel. Their main drawback is that the contents of the mug are mostly hidden, (Oh, the mystery!) but there are many other advantages:

1) Their carved surface makes for a great grip. They’re almost impossible to drop, even when covered in condensation.

2) They’re thick, and can take a pretty good beating. This translates into a more confident state of mind while imbibing. Drink with confidence!

3) They hold a heck of a lot. Some larger specimens hold well over 12 ounces, so if you’re not a fan of frequent refills, this is your glass.

4) Cool factor. The majority of tiki mugs are fashioned in the shape of any number of pagan idols. Beat that, Pousse-Café glass!

Style: A+
Ease of Use: A (A+ with a straw)

Since no reputable crackpot study is complete without peer review, I encourage all of you to submit comments, suggestions, etc.. Feel free to bunk or debunk my assertions- I eagerly await your findings.

UPDATE: I just discovered Robert Hess recently discussed the iconic cocktail glass over at the Spirit World.


Blair, aka Trader Tiki said...

Teardrop has taken to using smaller, prohibition era cocktail glasses, and for regular cocktails, the fluted trumpet. It's nice thick barware, hold a good portion of drink, and is much more difficult to spill.

I stopped using Tiki mugs awhile back, as I started to appreciate the beauty of the drinks inside. Though your take on their ability to stay grippable even when doused with condensation is something I've noticed as well, though I've seen plenty of them part this mortal coil while in use.

The glasses I use primarily are highball/chimney/zombie glasses, in 12 and 13.5 oz. capacity, as well as some nice Trader Vic's double-rocks glasses I just got, finally. My Navy Grog now looks just as I remember it!

Anonymous said...

Damn you Bamboo! I was halfway through a similar post that I was hoping to finish by the end of the week. Now you have to go and beat me to the punch!!

Curse you and your faster typing fingers and fancy artwork and letter-filled words!!!

I'm a big fan of the the tiki mug as well, for the same reasons you list.

More often than not, my drinks are either in a standard Old Fashioned Glass or a Double-OFG (which is what I use for my reviews).

~ Dood

Anonymous said...

I just bought myself a decent set of highball glasses, and I'm quite pleased with them, particularly when filled with '34 Zombie Punch.

Anonymous said...

You can't beat the elegance of a cocktail glass as far as I'm concerned, though as you say they can be a little unsteady to hold when full. That's why I love the thick-stemmed glasses Urban Bar make - they look great and they're much more stable both in my hand and on a table.

Dr. Bamboo said...

This all reminds me: The one glass type I also use fairly regularly (mostly for Martinis)is the two-piece cocktail glass with the separate, bowl-shaped base meant to hold crushed ice and keep your drink chilled.

I like it, and it *does* seem to keep your drink from warming up as fast...but it doesn't seem practical for use anywhere other than at home.

Anyone else used one of these?

nerdling said...

Being possessed of a very, very tiny apartment kitchen with nearly no cupboard space, I rely on some very handy champagne saucers to serve bubbly, cocktails and margaritas alike. Anything that goes up goes in those (unless I need more room, whence I turn to the snifters).

As for the rest, chimney glasses and tiki mugs don't take up much room, and my small and large (12oz and 6oz) juice glasses are stackable and work for everything else!

Anonymous said...

The cocktail glasses I use have the upper half inch of glass set on a less severe angle. It still looks elegant and is obviously a cocktail glass but handles much easier. Bought them at Cost Plus World Market.