Artful Drinking: Raising the Bar on Contemporary Glassware
In my younger days, I spent close to five years behind a bar. Working in pubs, lounges, and clubs I bore witness to the different cultures and ceremonies of the drinking world, some highbrow (Shall we have an after-dinner cognac?) and some lowbrow (Who’s in for a shooter?). Most of these rituals come with a traditional or typical glass in which they are served, which is central to the experience. It is rare to find a proper bar glass that is not transparent, almost like a small display case.
The right cocktail in the right glass can be a beautiful thing. Consider a pousse-café. It requires a great deal of skill and time to prepare. Different densities of liquors and liqueurs are floated upon each other, creating a layering of colours and flavours. A proper pousse glass is tall and very slim to show the layers to their best without using excessive amounts of alcohol. This combina¬tion of tradition, ceremony, and aesthetics is part of what attracted me to cocktail culture, and I have no doubt that the same features later drew me to the worlds of crafts and design.
In my time representing the work of Canadian designers and makers I’ve noticed that handmade, functional glassware is not as common as one might expect. Hoping for some insight into the world of glass and drink I posed a series of questions to three people involved in functional glassware production. Glass-blower Brad Turner hails from Toronto via Calgary and is currently pursuing his MFA in glass at Alfred University in New York State. Sally McCubbin is a Toronto-based glass artist who is also a partner in Timid Glass, a collaborative studio. Stephanie Forsythe is a Vancouver-based architect. With her partner Todd MacAllen, she runs molo design alongside their architectural practice Forsythe + MacAllen.
Shaun Moore (SM): Could each of you say what your favourite bar drink is? How is it presented?
Brad Turner (BT): I usually choose beer, preferably a wheat beer or lager. I do enjoy a tall slender weizen or Pilsner glass.
Stephanie Forsythe (SF): Scotch on the rocks—served in one of our float “tea cups” over a Japanese ice ball. Travelling to Japan over a ten-year period for a museum we designed there, we were inspired by many things, one of which is the custom of serving Scotch over a sphere of ice. The sphere is always the same size, and moulds for making the ice spheres can be found in any Japanese kitchen-supply shop. The bowl shape of our float tea cup happens to be the perfect fit for the standard-issue Japanese ice sphere.
Sally McCubbin: I like to drink beer from straight-sided pint glasses that increase in diameter by 1cm from lip to base. I also like mojitos. They’re often served in highball glasses with lots of mint, lime, and ice.
Shaun Moore: Do you feel that there is a link between drinking culture and the glass world?
Brad Turner: I imagine the drinking world is more concerned about the relationship between the individual and the characteristics of a particular drink. Glasses tend to be standardized, so are disposable in a sense; a glass can be replaced with another that still delivers the experience. The handmade glass world tends to be more concerned with the relationship between the individual and the object.
Sally McCubbin: If “drinking culture” is a small piece of the populace of drinkers and the “glass world” is drink-specific-designed, high-end glassware, then yes, I think there is a link.
Excerpted from Spring/Summer 2013 Ornamentum. Click here to subscribe.
Shaun Moore is a Toronto-based furniture designer and co-owner of MADE, a showroom and studio dedicated to functional works made in Canada by independent Canadian designers.
Photograph courtesy of Stephanie Forsythe