If you would ask every whisky enthusiast which type of glass is the best to appreciate a whisky expression at its finest, you would probably get a different answer for each person.
And no one of them would be wrong.
Each type of whisky glass has its own peculiar characteristics. It is not just the quality of the crystal we are talking about. Nor the colour and weight of the glass. While the visual aspect certainly plays a significant role in the overall experience of consuming whisky, it is also true that depending on the type of glass you choose to drink from, it will magically alter the whisky’s flavour. Or better still, it would be more accurate to say that a particular glass can help bring out certain aromas.
So it’s not just marketing. There is a reason why there are several whisky glasses you can buy (besides, of course, filling your cabinet with curious examples you can show to your guests to amuse them). If you’ve ever tried to drink whisky out of a plastic cup (please, don’t do that!), you know that a particular kind of glass can make all the difference.
The Characteristics of a Whisky Glass
As a matter of fact, whisky glasses are created considering three important dimensions of the tasting experience:
- Drinkability. The shape of the glass has an impact on the flow of the drink when tilted. Thus, the glass can have narrow openings to reduce the amount of liquid in a sip or wide openings.
- Flavours. The narrower a glass is, the more the aroma of a whisky wafts directly towards the drinker’s nose. The wider the opening, the more the whisky’s aromas are dispersed into the air.
- Appearance. Last but not least, the appearance of the glass highlights the drink when it is served.
The options are virtually endless. However, there are some types of glasses that have become established classics. Therefore, a Glencairn glass is great for doing a blind tasting. A tumbler is ideal when drinking cocktails. Some glasses are designed to highlight the spirit in its purity, others are made for long drinks with lots of ice. Which of these to choose ultimately depends on the type of experience you seek. Even simpler, it depends on your personal preference when you sit down to enjoy a good whisky.
Although it is true that a glass of whisky is designed to be used in a certain way, no one forbids you to experiment. After all, there is no such thing as the whisky police. Unless you use a plastic cup. We are sorry, but we have to draw a line there.
But you have to start somewhere to explore. So here is a handy guide to the 6 classic glasses commonly used for drinking whisky.
The 6 Classic Whisky Glasses
- The Whisky Tumbler
- The Highball Glass
- The Tulip Glass
- The Glencairn Glass
- The Balloon Snifter Glass
- The NEAT Glass
The Whisky Tumbler
The Tumbler is the most common of all the whisky glasses. Given its wide rim, the glass is ideal for filling with ice and making great whisky on the rocks or serving timeless cocktails such as the old fashioned.
Indeed, its wide, sturdy base makes it the ideal glass for mixing cocktail ingredients. While its simple design lets the drink be the absolute star of the moment.
The Highball Glass
The Highball is affectionately regarded as the tumbler’s taller brother. It is associated with one of the world’s most beloved whisky-based cocktails: Scotch and Soda.
Overall, this is a glass well suited to drinking cocktails slowly and quietly. Its elongated design manages to hold a generous amount of spirits and other mixes, and invites you to take all the time in the world to enjoy your drink.
The Tulip Glass
This glass draws its inspiration from the Copita, the traditional Spanish glass used for sherry tasting. Curiously enough, it has also become the tasting glass per excellence of all master distillers and blenders.
What makes this glass so special?
Its long stem prevents the drinker’s hand from getting too close to the nose, thus avoiding any pollution of the aroma of the whisky contained in the glass. In addition, its shape ensures that all the flavours concentrate on the narrow edge of the opening. Overall, this is a glass made to appreciate all the nuances of single malt whiskies.
The Glencairn Glass
The Glencairn is a robust and stable glass, designed to show off and enhance the colour and aroma of the spirit. Because of its size, the Glencairn is perfect for learning to swirl whisky, a practice used to open up the whisky’s aromas for full appreciation (try adding a splash of room temperature water. It will help open up the spirit!). As the tulip glass, its narrow rim directly conveys the aromas to the drinker’s nose. This is the standard glass commonly used at most distilleries: the perfect glass for the perfect immersive whisky tasting.
The Balloon Snifter Glass
When you look at this classy glass, probably the first things that will come into your mind are gentlemen’s clubs and cigars. Commonly used to drink brandy, it is now a glass used primarily for the consumption of dark, aged spirits in general. The snifter is designed in a way that, if held partially tilted horizontally, the spirit won’t spill out. But beware. The wide-body and narrow rim of the snifter can encourage the release of ethanol vapour, inevitably overpowering other aromas.
The NEAT Whisky Glass
Mistakes can result in extraordinary discoveries. This glass is proof of that. The NEAT glass – which stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology – was born out of a mistake made in a blown glass factory. However, later tests revealed that the glass’s unique shape perfectly directs alcohol vapours away from the nose. Thus the NEAT glass pushes the lighter ethanol molecules out of its opening, leaving the heavier, and more beguiling, whisky molecules behind to be fully appreciated. It is particularly recommended for people new to the spirits category precisely because of its capacity to wipe out harsh aromas.
Now, all you have to do is carry out your own experiments and decide which of these is your favourite glass!
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