Bartenders mix many drinks according to traditional recipes and they serve them in specific types of glasses depending on the ingredients. Highball and lowball glasses are two of the most common types of glassware found behind a bar. Before blender drinks and faux martinis in every flavor became popular, bartenders served most mixed drinks a highball or lowball glass.
During the late 19th century, trains heading into stations would look for the highball, a colored ball that was attached to a pole as a signal to engineers that all was clear, full speed ahead. Bartenders serving railroad workers, named their favorite drink after the signal. Made with 1.5 oz. of whiskey served in a tall glass with ice and plenty of ginger ale, the highball was a relatively light drink that could be gulped full speed without worry. The highball gave its name to the tall, smooth glass in which it was made. Highball glasses hold 10 to 14 oz. of fluid and are used to serve drinks made with a lot of juice, mixer or soda.
Drinks Served in a Highball Glass
Many popular warm-weather drinks call for 1.5 oz. of spirits and 3 or 4 oz. of juice, and most bartenders serve them in highball glasses. Familiar cocktails such as the Cape Codder, screwdriver, seabreeze and Tom Collins are all served in highball glasses. Bartenders also favor highball glasses for many drinks that need blending such as a white Russian that starts with a highball glass filled with ice. Servers pour in vodka, Kahlua and cream and then transfer the mixture to a metal shaker. A highball glass fits into the top of the metal cup and forms a seal. The bartender shakes the drink, pours it back into the highball glass and serves it.
The short and wide lowball glass holds 4 to 10 fluid oz. Also called a rocks glass, bartenders use the glass for simple drinks with a limited number of ingredients served over ice. Classic drinks such as scotch and soda and bourbon and water are served in a lowball glass.
Lowball glasses are also called old fashioned glasses after the once popular drink. An old fashioned calls for a spoonful of sugar, a dash of bitters, 1.5 oz. of whiskey and a splash of soda. Mixed drinks that are primarily alcohol and use sugar, bitters and liqueurs for flavor are served in lowball glasses. The popular black Russian, made with vodka and Kahlua poured over ice is usually served in a lowball glass. The Godfather cocktail, a mix Scotch and Amaretto, and the Godmother, vodka and amaretto, are served in a lowball glass.
References and ResourcesDrink Street: Tending Bar: Glassware
"The Oxford Campanion to American Food and Drink": Highball
Mixdrinkapedia: The Godfather
"Esquire: The Old Fashioned