How to Choose the Perfect Whisky Glass
July 8, 2020 –––––– Jeffery Lindenmuth
The right picture frame can make or break a work of art. Frames serve a practical purpose in protecting a valuable painting or print, but they also function best when careful consideration is given to scale and aesthetics. A well-chosen frame should aid the viewer's focus, enhance perception, and showcase the art. And, just like a masterwork of art deserves a suitable frame, a masterpiece of whisky demands a great glass for these same reasons.
What to Consider When Trying Out Whisky Glasses
In its most basic form, a glass is simply the vessel that acts as an intermediary between bottle and lips. But a well-designed glass can do so much more. Consider our steps on how to taste whisky and the importance of a quality glass quickly becomes apparent. Most tasters prefer unadorned glasses that permit them to see the whisky without reflections or obfuscation.
When it comes to swirling, the feel of the glass in the hand and the size of the bowl make all the difference. “When selecting a glass for a specific purpose, the bowl shape and size are two of the most important qualities in determining what wine or spirit will be enhanced within the glass,” says Maximilian Josef Riedel, 11th-generation CEO and president of Riedel Crystal. “The diameter of the rim, the bowl shape, and size of a Riedel glass are what dictate the nuances of the drinking experience.” According to Riedel, a larger bowl that allows the drinker to swirl freely offers more surface area to reveal aromas, and also excels at dissipating alcohol before it reaches the nose.
As you prepare to take a sniff, the way a glass concentrates and delivers aromas is another important consideration, determined largely by the size and shape of its mouth. Master blenders have traditionally used a stemmed nosing glass based on the copita, a glass designed for sherry. While this glass is ideal for nosing, it's less practical for actual drinking. This observation led Raymond Davidson to create what is perhaps the most iconic whisky glass, the Glencairn. “A copita focuses the aromas and you can swirl it around, swivel it around to get the air in there, and then nose it. In order to make a functional product for a bar, and offer aerating of the whisky, I made the bowl more bulbous, so you can really swirl it around. I also opened the mouth to make it a practical drinking glass,” says Davidson.
Having tested many options, the Whisky Advocate tasters almost unanimously prefer the Glencairn for evaluating whisky. However, depending on the interests of your group, you might well prefer a different glass. A sturdy tumbler is far more versatile—useful when you want to add ice or construct a cocktail. Even individual facial features can impact the effectiveness of a particular whisky glass across different tasters.
As with most purchases, price is a consideration, especially when buying enough glasses for a large group. Handblown crystal is the most expensive, followed by machine-blown, then molded glasses. And while thin-walled crystal glasses like the Riedel Vinum Single Malt and the mouth-blown Norlan are functional and elegant, they are also among the most fragile choices. If durability is a concern, you'll want to select glasses with heat tempering, like the Tritan Crystal options from Schott Zwiesel or the heavy-tempered glasses from Duralex, which often bounce off the floor when dropped.
Finally, two important practical traits that most people fail to consider—until the time comes to clean up—are dishwasher safeness and stackability. Glasses that stack neatly are worth considering because they save space, offering convenience in spite of their design constraints.
Once you weigh the pros and cons of the many whisky glassware options, test a few side by side and spend some time with them before you make a final decision. You'll need to invest in enough glasses for every taster and every whisky. “Whatever glass you select, if you are going to compare whiskies, it is important to use the same glass across all of them,” Davidson says. “Swirl them around, add some water if you think it's too powerful. To try different whiskies is always a great experience.” Just like the careful consideration you put into selecting whiskies, do the same for your glassware, and your tasting will be picture perfect.