I need a new set of whisky glasses. I’ve been drinking whisky a lot longer than I care to admit. When my friends were trying to score a six of Bud or Schlitz in high school, I was on the prowl for a pint of Seagrams or if the saints be kind, a bottle of Four Roses! I just liked the taste of whisky, and neat at that! And I am embarrassed to say, we often drank it from the bottle, no need of a glass. We thought we were manly, truth is, we were simply young and foolish.
It would be another twenty years before I really discovered the taste of whisky. I’ll never forget the day I did though! It occurred in Conor O’Neill’s Pub in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I am in town on business and at the end of a long day I stop by a pub for a bit of refreshment. I decide to splurge and venture away from my usual and order a dram of The Macallen’s Fine Oak 15.
But it’s not the whisky that turns my head, it’s the glass! You see Conor O’Neill’s is a classy place and they don’t mess when it comes to serving their whisky. The barkeeper served my drink in the strangest glass I had ever seen. He served me The Macallens in a Glencairn whisky glass, not in the usual tumbler I was expecting. He saw the confusion on my face and kindly gave me a five-minute lesson in the art of whisky tasting.
I suddenly discover the taste of whisky and all its subtleties. For those of you not familiar with the Glencairn glass, it has a tulip shape. The bowl of the glass is broad but it narrows and flairs out at the neck. The Glencairn glass concentrates and channels vapors up through the glass opening, enhancing your ability to perceive subtle aromas.
I now reserve the tumbler for those social occasions when I feel like having a Wild Turkey on the rocks. It’s a an old stand by and it’s taste brings back many a memory of my Navy days, well sorta. But when I’m focusing in on the tasting experience I opt for a classic whisky glass.
The classic whisky glass? Well, it turns out there are many different types of whisky glasses. Essentially, they all do the same thing. They are designed to give your palate and nose, exposure to the greatest amount of flavor compounds and aromatic vapors. But since all our snoozes are all a little different, the Glencairn glass may not be the best one for you.
Below I have profiled several whisky glasses you may want to try. Experiment and find the perfect glass that works just right for you, you will find it was worth the effort.
The Shot Glass
I can still see John Wayne bellying up to the bar, “Barkeep, pour me a whiskey.” Then he would cup his large fingers around that tiny glass and pound it back. “Barkeep, another.” That tiny glass, a shot glass right?
Wrong. You see what we refer to today as the shot glass did not become commonplace until after Prohibition ended. In fact, shot glasses before 1940 are rare and can be quite valuable. In the 1950’s and 60’s “shot glasses” became popular as souvenirs or advertising gimmicks. Why there’s hardly a home in America that does not have, hidden away in a kitchen cabinet, a shot glass emblazoned with the family crest or favorite vacation spot .
A couple of things to know about the trusty old shot glass. First of all, there is no standard size and it holds anywhere from 1.25 oz to 2 oz.. Second, bartenders seldom use a shot glass to measure whisky when making a cocktail. A bartender uses a special tool for that, it’s a jigger. And lastly, drinking shots of whiskey is a dumb way of drinking whiskey. Savor your whisky, sip it and experience all it has to offer.
So, unless your whiskey cabinet is filled with rock gut or bathtub gin, save the shot glass for souvenirs!
This is the glass you think of when you hear your favorite Noir detective order up a “Scotch on the Rocks”. Another name for it is, an Old Fashioned Glass. The design easily accommodates the multiple ingredients of a cocktail, including the ice. Typically it’s brim is wide with a thick base to allow for the mashing of various ingredients right in the glass. It’s short, and comfortable to hold.
It became popular back in the 1800’s and remains the glass of preference for most “lowball” cocktails. It’s main drawback is its straight sides and wide mouth. The ethanol quickly releases into the air but so do many of the flavorful esters. However, this is not a problem when mixing a cocktail. While it is not the glass of choice for savoring the subtleties of a single malt, it’s perfect for those times you just want to kick back and enjoy your whisk(e)y with ice.
The Coptia Nosing Glass
The traditional nosing glass used by a distillery manager in creating “new make” whisky and by the master blender when nosing mature whiskies to make various blends. Known also as a “Dock Glass” its roots go back to the 17th century. The Coptia Nosing Glass is six inches tall, with a wide bowl, tapering neck, narrow mouth and a stem, similar to a wine glass.
The Coptia Nosing Glass can be ordered with a cap or lid. To use the lid properly, pour the whisky and cover the glass with the lid. Let it stand for five minutes before nosing. The lid prevents the the esters and other flavor compounds from escaping.
This style glass is tasting and for drinking your whisky neat.
The Riedel Vinum Glass
The Riedel Vinum Whisky Glass is 4.5 inches tall with a capacity of 7 ounces. Georg Riedel first conceived the idea of a special whisky glass in 1992. Working with a panel of whisky experts he tested 19 designs. Following that he worked with a number of master distillers in Scotland to create his unique design.
Unlike the other glasses, the Riedel Single Malt Whisky glass is not tulip shaped but more thistle-like. The neck of the glass is equal to its bowl in diameter. The lip of the glass turns slightly outward, setting it apart from the Glencairn or the Coptia Nosing glasses. Proponents say it directs the whisky to the tongue and does not force the aromas around the nose. The concentration of alcohol is less, resulting in a more pleasurable experience for those with sensitive noses.
This style glass is for drinking your whisky neat.
The Glencairn Glass
First introduced in 2001, the Glencairn Whisky Glass is designed specifically for drinking whisky. It was developed by Raymond Davidson, managing director of Glencairn Crystal Ltd, Scotland, with input from several master blenders. Inspired by the traditional nosing copitas used in whisky labs around Scotland, the glass won the 2006 Queen’s Award for innovation.
The glass is 4.5 in in height,and has a capacity of 6 oz. The glass is reminiscent of a closed tulip, with a wide bowl and tapered neck. The wide bowl allows one to swirl the whisky and closely examine its color and viscosity. The tapered neck concentrates and channels the aromas and flavor compounds toward the user’s nose at the mouth of the glass.
The Glencairn is the first style to be endorsed by the Scotch Whisky Association. And, is designed for drinking your scotch neat or with a few drops of water.
The Neat Glass
One of the more recent arrivals on the whisky glass scene is the NEAT Whisky Glass. NEAT stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology. Sounds a bit forced but effective. The shape of this glass is completely unique and bears no relation to the bulb like forms of the others.
The glass was designed by George Manska. He collaborated with the University of Nevada and refined the glass through 52 iterations. Its perfected form consists of a short, squat glass with a wide bowl, very short but tapered neck and a wide, gracefully flaring mouth.
The science behind this glass is the wide bowl provides a large surface area for the volatile alcohols to escape and quickly diffuse. The narrower neck concentrates the denser esters and flavor compounds, and the wide flaring mouth distributes the spirit evenly over all your palate, not just the center.
I think it’s fair to say the NEAT glass is not as elegant as the Glencairn glass but what it lacks it looks it makes up for in performance. Due to its wide bowl and the wide flare of the rim, the alcohol is rapidly dispersed, allowing the flavors to shine through. And because the alcohol is not concentrated, the NEAT glass significantly reduces alcohol burn.
Sales have increased dramatically since its release in 2011 and it is quickly gaining a strong foothold in the industry. In 2013, it was the official tasting glass of the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and has been chosen by many other competitions around the world.
The Norlan Glass
While the glasses mentioned above are all good drinking whiskey glasses get ready to experience what may truly be the ultimate whisky drinking glass.
The new glass is truly a child of the twenty first century. Ninety, 3D computer designed prototypes are created in the laboratory; twenty-five second generation models are field tested and refined in distilleries throughout Scotland. And finally, the Norlan Whisky Glass is here!
The project receives its investment funds through Kickstarter, one of the first online crowdfunding companies, making it truly a child of the new millennial. The Kickstarter Campaign started in October of 2015 with an initial goal of $75,000. To date (3/17) they have had almost 11,000 contributors pledging more than $800,000.
First of all, it looks “fabulous”. It’s classic yet modern. It’s chiseled and polished but retains just the right number of curves to qualify this as sculpture let alone domestic glassware. It’s also sexy, sophisticated and approachable. Cudo’s to the design team!
But is the glass any good? Does it work? While I have not tested in personally, the reviews are looking very positive. The glass is comprised of two separate walls creating a unique hollow body. The exterior walls resemble a traditional but elegant tumbler. While the profile of the inside wall closely resembles the shape of the Glencarin glass.
It’s wide interior bowl provides a sufficient surface area to quickly release the ethanol and dissipate through the wide mouth but the tapered neck concentrates the esters, enriching the aroma and flavor profile.
I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more about this glass in the future. Use it when drinking your whisky neat or with a little water.
Other Whisky Glasses
In addition, to those above, there is a plethora of novelty glasses perfect for a unique gift or whisky drinking experience. There is the Wedge Glass; a traditional tumbler style glass but with a plastic insert that creates a diagonal block of ice. Simply insert the wedge into the glass, add water to one side, freeze, remove wedge, add whiskey and voilà, whiskey on the”berg”. The advantage to this glass is that the ice melts a great deal slower than an ice cube and with less surface area contacting the whiskey. This cuts down on the dilution of the whiskey.
Bedsides the wedge glass there is the tilting glass. The design of the bottom of the glass keeps the whisky level but it seems that the entire glass is tilting. Slip that to one of your guests after a long evening of imbibing and watch the expression on their face! It’s kinda cruel, I know, party killers.
There are also skull head whiskey glasses, glasses with jagged lips and even 50 caliber casing shot glasses! If you are looking for the best tasting experience, focus on either the Glencairn, the Neat Glass or perhaps the new kid on the block, the Norlan glass.