If you have only recently discovered the world of whiskey, you might be curious about the best way to enjoy it. What type of glass should you use? Here’s an in-depth look at the options so you can drink with confidence and build your kudos as a connoisseur.
What’s in a glass?
Like most spirits, the best way to enjoy whiskey is from a drinking vessel made of glass. In Scotland, someone may offer you whiskey from a Quaich. It’s a shallow Celtic drinking cup traditionally made of wood with handles on either side. Modern versions tend to be stainless steel. Don’t be fooled, drinking whiskey from a Quaich is not standard practice and certainly isn’t a recommended alternative. Most will reach for a glass every time!
Glass is the perfect material for any spirit, as long as it’s clean with no chips or cracks! There’s little chance of flavor contamination from previous contents, and the transparency allows you to appreciate the beautiful color of the spirit. However, not all glasses are created equal, and some do a better job of enhancing the whiskey experience than others. There are three primary considerations when it comes to selecting a glass for drinking your whiskey:
- Appearance: The look and feel of a glass will directly influence your enjoyment of the drink. Sipping a malt whiskey from a crystal tumbler is superior to consuming the same whiskey from a chipped water glass. The actual flavor doesn’t change, but your perception of flavor does.
- Function: The shape of a glass will alter how liquid flows. Some glasses restrict the flow of fluid, forcing you to savor and sip, whilst others have no restriction at all.
- Aroma: The shape of a glass alters how you ‘nose’ or smell the whiskey. Glasses with a broader bottom and narrow top concentrate the aroma and give the drinker subtle hints of what’s to come.
Choosing a glass
There are several types of glassware associated with whiskey drinking. The style of glass you choose ultimately comes down to personal choice and depends on how you plan to enjoy your drink.
The iconic whiskey glass. The tumbler is your traditional glass and is suitable for drinking whiskey any way you choose. The wide rim on the glass makes it relatively inefficient for concentrating the aromas but certainly makes it much easier to drink from.
Use a tumbler when you drink whiskey neat, over ice, whiskey and coke or a whiskey cocktail. A substantial, heavy tumbler is a good personality match for whiskey. It’s simple, reliable and fuss-free. If you’d like something more ornate, consider crystal tumblers, personalized tumblers or tumblers with a matching decanter.
This glass resembles a tulip flower with its long stem, wider bottom and narrow opening. It’s a delicate glass, and the design is based on the Copita, the traditional glass for tasting sherry. This glass is mainly used for sampling whiskey rather than drinking it for pleasure and is the preferred choice of master distillers and blenders. The long stem keeps the hand away from the nose and limits interference with the aroma of the whiskey. The glass’s shape also concentrates the smell of the whiskey and allows a drinker to warm the whiskey in the palm of their hand if desired.
When drinking spirits from a tulip glass, you always drink them straight or with a little water. If you plan to compare different whiskeys, follow tasting notes or make your own, then this is the glass for you.
The Glencairn is a more substantial version of the tulip glass and is suitable for everyday use. The shape is very similar to the Copita, but it is usually made of thicker glass and has a short, stubby stem. This makes it more stable and better suited to everyday use. The Glencairn was designed in Scotland specifically for drinking whiskey.
The Scottish Whisky Association endorsed the glass and distilleries now use it across Scotland and Ireland for whiskey tastings. While the original Glencairn glass holds approximately 50ml or 1.69 fl oz of liquid, there is a smaller version for tastings and a larger size designed specifically for Canadian whiskey which you typically serve with ice.
This glass is the taller, narrower version of the tumbler and the traditional glass for the classic Scotch and soda cocktail. The glass is generally not as heavy as a tumbler. The extra volume of the highball glass allows for a longer drink with plenty of space for ice as well as the spirit and mixer. It’s the perfect choice for whiskey and ginger ale or whiskey and lemonade. In Japan, a whiskey highball is fast becoming the most popular way to drink whiskey.
The snifter glass, or balloon glass, is usually associated with Cognac and brandy but its use with other darker spirits is now fairly common. This glass is for drinking whiskey neat or with a little water. In the same way as the tulip and Glencairn glasses, it does a good job of concentrating the whiskey’s aroma.
However, due to its size, it does focus more ethers which can overwhelm the more subtle aromas of the drink. The snifter is a very forgiving glass thanks to its design. The large body allows you to hold the glass almost horizontal and not spill a drop.
The NEAT (Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) glass is a relatively new concept and has only been available since 2012. However, in only a short time it has gathered quite a few converts who claim it has transformed their whiskey drinking experience.
This American innovation came to life after a mistake at a glass-blowing factory. Its unusual shape allows aromas to concentrate without the harsh ethers and gives the drinker a more authentic and enjoyable drinking experience. The makers claim it will enable you to discover new aromas and flavors. The NEAT bridges the gap between a good-tasting and drinking glass, but its odd shape does take a little bit of getting used to.
How much whiskey to pour in your glass?
It’s all well and good knowing which glass you should use to serve your whiskey. However, you also need to know how much whiskey to pour. There is a fine balance between too much and too little, especially when drinking whiskey straight.
Obviously, you can pour as much or as little as you like when using a tumbler or highball. It’s a matter of personal preference. When it comes to drinking from a Glencairn, Tulip or NEAT glass, you want to pour roughly 1 to 1 1/2 oz or 35-50ml. You can use a jig if you’re unsure, but it’s best to learn to eyeball it. This amount will give you plenty of space in the glass to swill the whiskey and enjoy the complex aromas before drinking. Too little liquid and the aromas will be faint and hard to identify; too much and the liquid will be close to the rim and hard to nose.
If you’re pouring a whiskey over ice, then add the ice to the glass before pouring the whiskey. If you’re drinking your whiskey neat, then pour it into the glass and then add water to your liking to release different flavors and aromas. A small splash is all that’s required, but some people like to add more.
Does whiskey taste better in crystal?
As mentioned earlier, glass or crystal doesn’t change the flavor of a drink, but it enhances the experience and your level of enjoyment. Sitting by roaring fire with a heavy cut-crystal tumbler in hand can make an average whiskey far more enjoyable. It’s all about the ambiance and overall experience.
While a cheap or expensive glass doesn’t change the taste of a whiskey, other materials can. When possible you should avoid drinking from reusable plastic cups as they can hold flavor from previous contents and spoil the whiskey. The same applies to ceramic mugs, especially ones used for coffee or tea.
Are whiskey and bourbon glasses the same?
Bourbon is whiskey, and there is no difference between a bourbon glass and a whiskey glass. Generally, Bourbon is drank from the classic tumbler style glass, but the choice is yours. Try drinking Bourbon from a Glencairn, tulip or NEAT glass if you want to appreciate the subtle aromas and flavors.
Paying close attention to the glassware you choose to serve your whiskey can elevate your whiskey drinking experience from ordinary to extraordinary. The style, shape and quality of the glassware all combine with the spirit itself to complete the experience.
If you are serious about whiskey and want the most from your drinking experience, it’s worthwhile investing in whiskey-specific glassware. Glasses don’t need to be expensive. In fact, it’s best to try a few different shapes and find the glass style that best suits your drinking style before investing any serious money.