Raising a glass: the evolution of celebratory toasts

As we celebrate the first anniversary of our Classico Vintage Barware range, we got to wondering about how toasting, glasses and drinkware came about.
Raising a glass: the evolution of celebratory toasts


The earliest evidence of humans enjoying a tipple dates from 7000 BC China where the contents of an ancient storage vessel found in the Yellow Valley points to a heady mix of fermented rice, honey and hawthorn fruit.

Early grape-based wines appeared in the Middle East around the same time, give or take a few hundred years.

Though no solid evidence of toasting appears until much later, ritualistic use of alcoholic beverages does seem to be a common tradition among many global cultures from the ancient Chinese to the Mayans, Mongols and Egyptians. According to National Geographic, “Tutankhamun’s tomb held 26 wine jars with vintages”.

Early glassware

Alcoholic drinks have evolved over millennia, and so have the vessels used to drink them.

Glass is thought to have first appeared around 5,000 years ago in Western Asia, Egypt and Crete, though it was very unlike today’s highly refined material.

Evidence suggests that glass vessels were being produced in Mesopotamia and Egypt in the 16th century BC, drinking vessels being among the trappings of nobility and wealth.

The importance of glassware

Most of us like to match our glasses to our drinks.

Some of this is down to habit and preference, but actually the vessel and its shape really does affect how the drink tastes.

Take the difference between the shapes and sizes of red and white wine glasses.

Many red wines are fuller bodied than their white counterparts. So the best way to appreciate a good red is to serve it in a taller and larger red wine glass. The larger glass allows three things to happen:

  1. The larger glass increases the wine’s exposure to oxygen, allowing a faster release of ‘volatiles’
  2. This in turn lets you appreciate the wine’s bouquet (your nose can get closer into it)
  3. The larger glass allows you to take the wine in a slightly larger quantity so the flow into your mouth is different, again affecting your tasting experience.

Think too of sparkling wines, best taken from Champagne flutes which retain the bubbles and effervescence longer than a glass with a wider brim would.

Dawn of elegance

By the 15th century AD, glass making had evolved to a more industrial scale with Venice at its heart.

The elegant glassware consisting of the wider rimmed bowl, stem and base that we know and love today originated here, though due to the way it was made, early commercial glassware tended to degrade over time and eventually shatter.

Fast forward 200 years, and the British started using coal instead of wood to heat their glass furnaces, generating higher temperatures and much stronger glass.

Glasses made from clearer, crystal-like glass arrived later in the 17th century courtesy of George Ravenscroft, whose company still bears his name to this day. See our range of traditional and vintage crystal here.

Toasting etiquette

Toasts are used at occasions in almost every culture and country and have been practiced for hundreds of years.

From births to funerals, baptisms and, of course, weddings, toasts are made as a mark of celebration, respect, condolence and thanks.

Each comes with its own formalities and customs such as who leads the toast, when it is made, words used, whether it’s made seated or standing and whether a response is given.

On a more practical level, a simple ‘cheers’ to health and happiness among friends with a clink of glasses is enough in most situations.

Cheers around the world

It’s unclear exactly where the word “cheers” originated but being in ‘good cheer’ has long been synonymous with being in good humour.

Today, it’s a traditional and universal sign of camaraderie to go with virtually any social drink.

Around the UK, to Europe, South America, South Africa and the Far East, there are up to 200 ways to say cheers. Here are a few translations…

Afrikaans: Gesondheid

Czech: Na zdravi

Dutch: Proost

French: Santé

Greek: Yamas

Irish Gaelic: Sláinte

Italian: Salute

Japanese: Kanpai

Swedish: Skål

Welsh: Iechyd da


Whatever your tipple, we say good health and happiness to you, wherever you are and whatever language you speak.


For more tips and advice, as well as all your cocktail and glassware requirements, visit Urban Bar. We’re open through the COVID-19 lockdown. Check in again soon!

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