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Yes, You Need a Tequila Glass—and It Isn’t a Shot Glass

Yes, You Need a Tequila Glass—and It Isn’t a Shot Glass

I’m sitting at the bar at the harborside Barren’s Distillery and Restaurant in Camden, Maine, and I’ve just unboxed what I can’t help but feel are a very fussy pair of tequila tasting glasses. 

Not shot glasses, not rocks glasses and nothing you’d splash a batch of frozen margs into. No, these are Riedel’s varietal-specific tequila glasses and I feel very much like a man who—too refined for a dive bar’s in-house billiards set—has shown up with his own pool cue, rack and balls. I am eager to test the glasses, but would settle for not getting laughed out of the place.  

Thankfully, Barren’s owner Andrew Stewart is not the type. Instead, he joins me in an impromptu tasting of two tequilas and a mezcal, lining up a shot glass, rocks glass and a tulip-shaped Sherry glass called a “copita” alongside my tequila glasses to assess which brings out the best in the agave spirits. 

The Anatomy of a Tequila Glass

Like a Champagne flute, a tequila glass has a long slender stem and a long narrow bowl. Wine Enthusiast

If I’m honest, I’d only heard of tequila tasting glasses just a few days prior, and it wasn’t until I spoke to Maximilian Riedel, CEO and president of the venerable Austrian glassware brand, that it became at all clear why a person would need the stemmed glasses, which look as though they’re designed more for Champagne than Cazadores.  

“This glass isn’t something we at Riedel said, ‘We must have.’ No. My father, Georg Riedel, was invited by the government of Jalisco to a meeting with 24 tequila producers,” Riedel told me.

That was in 2002, when Mexico’s National Chamber of the Tequila Industry wanted a glass that would showcase the color, aroma and complex flavor of their local distillate. Riedel, who began making varietal-specific wine glasses in 1958, was an obvious choice to design and produce a glass for serious tequila drinkers. 

Over the course of two trips to Mexico to taste, learn and fine-tune, Georg Riedel arrived at and released a first-of-its-kind crystal tequila tasting glass. 

The long side of the glass is designed to keep just the right distance between the drinker and liquor, reducing that blast of alcohol on the nose delivered by a traditional shot glass or caballito, a narrow style of Mexican drinking vessel. At the same time, it allows drinkers to discern bottom, middle and top notes of the spirit. 

As for the stem, according to Riedel, “that was the choice of the tequila producers. They said, ‘We want people to sip it, not to slam it. We put as much or more effort into our product as wine producers. It should be as cherished as wine, consumed like wine. We want to create the same atmosphere.’” 

A Brief History of Serving Tequila

In his 2023 book The Field Guide to Tequila, spirits expert and Jalisco resident Clayton Szczech confirms that Riedel’s Overture is a taster’s best bet for unlocking all there is to experience in a fine tequila. But he was quick to note that the qualities Riedel described—space for the nose, a long side of the glass and the elegance of a stem—can also be found in a standard Champagne flute. 

When he ran a tequila tasting room in Jalisco from 2016 to 2019, Szczech told me that it was Overtures behind the bar, but Champagne flutes for table service. 

“If you can afford it and feel the need to go to the top, the Overtures have clear benefits,” he told me. “But for most of us, most of the time, a standard flute will do nearly all the same work.”

A Field Guide to Tequila: What It Is, Where It’s From, and How to Taste It
Image Courtesy of Amazon

As I got deeper into the vagaries of the tequila glass, I started to wonder if this insistence on proper barware wasn’t the work of a snobbish, experience-optimizing Western palate spreading across an earthy Mexican spirit. I put the question to Szczech, who noted that tequila has always had bourgeois associations. 

“The drink’s roots are rustic and Indigenous,” he told me, “but since it’s been called tequila, it’s been the product of people who were capitalists and felt ties to the European continent and the States.” 

The distillation of cooked agave began in Mexico in the early 17th century, but tequila hit a commercial milestone when King Carlos IV of Spain granted José Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo y Montaño permission to produce it commercially in 1795. Other hacienda owners had already been distilling for decades. 

Szczech described how the current tequila tasting trend draws some of its language and custom from the worlds of wine, Cognac and single-malt Scotch. In short, tequila culture has long had a high-brow European flavor. After all, many of the oak barrels it’s aged in have already done tours of duty aging whiskey and wine.  

Are Tequila Glasses Worth It?

Variation of tequila glasses on a tan background
Tequila is often served in shot glasses, tequila-specific glasses, rocks glasses and Sherry copitas (left to right). Images Courtesy of Wine Enthusiast, Reidel, Drinkstuff, and Getty Images

I spoke to a few other tequila experts and bartenders across the country to see how they serve their patrons. 

At Suerte and Este, sister restaurants and bars in Austin, staff serve tequila in small glass copitas. 

Celia Pellegrini, Director of Operations at Suerte, told me that they “don’t find the need for new-age drinking” vessels, noting that the copitas work for her customers because they provide “a short way for the aroma to travel.” 

Grace Pérez, bar lead at Damian in Los Angeles, told me that “we use veladoras—small ridged shot glasses—for our unaged tequila spirits and all-purpose wine glasses for aged tequila.”

In a sense, Pérez’s take echoes what I heard from Maximilian Riedel, which is that to truly catch all tequila has to offer, you must venerate it enough to drink it out of a glass designed to spotlight its flavors and aromas. 

“Serving tequila in a proper glass is our way of giving respect to Mexico and its beautiful agave distillates,” Pérez said. “It’s a way to respect the actual spirit itself. We want guests to get the full experience and taste the craftsmanship of the people in the field or running the mashers.”

If anyone can appreciate a thorough respect for farmers, masters and distillers, it’s Stewart, whose gins, rums and vodka are produced with local Maine ingredients like blueberries. 

What did he make of Riedel’s tequila glasses in our seaside, late afternoon tasting?

“They’re the best, easy,” Stewart told me.

He noted that the Riedel glasses offered a softer, more aromatic and flavorful experience than the shot glass, rocks glass and copita. Stewart is Scottish, and well accustomed to savoring single-malt Scotch in a Scotch-specific glass called a Glencairn. He found the Riedel glasses afforded some of the same sensory pleasures, but for tequila. 

So what will he do the next time someone like me stops in with his own glassware?

“If we’re five deep at the bar, then no, sir, we cannot accommodate your specific preferences,” he says. “But if it’s calm like it is now, and you’re serious about tequila? You can come with your own glass if that’s your foible.” 

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Riedel Tequila Glass (Set of 2)

In Stock | $39

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