With all the time and craft that goes into making a high-quality whiskey, it’s only fitting that we drink out of a glass that highlights its most subtle flavors and aromas. When it comes to the best whiskey glasses, there are a variety of options on the market, each designed to enhance the drinking experience. Jordan Zimmerman, the Premium Whiskey Education & Advocacy Lead at Brown-Forman Corporation, says that occasion determines form. “Sometimes I'm drinking whiskey to professionally evaluate it,” says Zimmerman. “Sometimes I'm drinking whiskey on a casual night out with friends and want to do so over a rock or two. And other times, I want to sip my whiskey poolside and in a cocktail. Each occasion calls for a different glass." Here’s how the shape of the glass can impact flavor and the ones to use for certain occasions.
What’s in a whiskey glass?
The basic structure of any whiskey glass includes the rim, body, and stem.
The rim is the outer edge of the glass that’s responsible for revealing aromas in the whiskey. Glasses with small diameter rims keep the smell concentrated on the nose and reveal a given whiskey’s subtle aromas. Wide diameter rims disperse alcohol into the air and away from the nose. Wide rimmed glasses are preferable for drinking cocktails or whiskey on the rocks, when nosing isn’t a priority.
The shape of the body accentuates taste and aroma. Round or bowl-shaped glasses with tapered rims enable swirling with aeration, which releases the whiskey’s aromas while directing aromas to the nose through a tapered rim. The thickness of the body also matters. A glass with a thicker body will maintain greater insulation, protecting your drink from the warmth of your hand. This is favorable for enjoying any iced whiskey drink.
The stem is another important element when it comes to temperature regulation. Glasses with stems are less likely to be impacted by the temperature of your hands. In addition, long-stemmed glasses are easy to swirl.
The best whiskey glasses for any occasion
How to choose the best whiskey glass can be as challenging as choosing a spirit to drink. What glass you choose ultimately depends on the overall goal of the experience.
The Glencairn whiskey glass
The Glencairn is the gold standard of sipping glasses and was specifically designed with whiskey in mind. Most distilleries serve whiskey in this glass because it’s the best multipurpose sniffing and tasting glass for various types of whiskey. The tulip-shaped body allows for easy swirling, while the narrow opening focuses the vapors toward the nose.
Tumblers are the most popular whiskey glass thanks to their timeless shape. Commonly referred to as a rocks glass, old fashioned glass, or lowball, it’s best for drinking cocktails and whiskey on the rocks. Due to its wide rim, it’s not an ideal shape for nosing high-quality whiskey, but it’ll do just fine for mid-range whiskeys and cocktails.
The taller sibling to the tumbler, highballs are ideal glasses for ice and a mixer. We recommend these glasses for classic long drinks like a Scotch and soda or whiskey and lemonade.
The snifter, also known as a brandy or balloon glass, is a short-stemmed glass with a narrow top and wider bottom. Like the Glencairn, this shape accentuates the aroma of the spirit by funneling it toward the top. For this reason, it’s best reserved for appreciating whiskey neat. This is an easy-to-swirl glass and it can be held nearly horizontal without spilling.
The NEAT glass
This glass is the result of a mistake made in a glass blowing factory, but it has quickly become a favorite of technically-minded whiskey drinkers. Utilizing Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology (NEAT), this glass directs harsher aromas away from the nose, while highlighting more subtle aromas. The odd shape of this glass makes it tricky to hold, but it may be worth it to appreciate the aromas of a good whiskey.
How to hold a whiskey glass
Properly holding a whiskey glass gives you the ability to accomplish multiple things. It allows you to swirl without spilling. And if you’re drinking whiskey on the rocks, it allows you to slow the ice melting. Depending on the shape, you may choose to hold the glass by the base, stem, or bowl. Here are the benefits of each option.
If you’re drinking out of a tumbler, you’ll want to hold the glass by the base. The thick base will insulate the ice cubes from the heat of your fingertips, ensuring your ice cube melts slowly. To do so, support the base of the glass with three to four fingers and stabilize the side closest to you with your thumb.
For snifters, Glencairn, and other tulip-shaped glasses, hold the stem between your thumb and a few fingers, with the rest of your fingers gently resting on the foot of the glass. Holding the glass in this way ensures that the whiskey stays at room temperature since excess heat from your hands stays in the stem, not the drink.
Glasses with a thin stem, like snifters and tulip-shaped glasses, can be held by either the stem or the bowl. Holding these glasses by the bowl allows for slow and steady swirling, and warms the whiskey slightly, subtly enhancing flavor if you’re drinking it neat. Place the stem of the glass between your middle and ring fingers and support the entire bowl with your palm.
Can a glass improve the taste of whiskey?
Absolutely. Each glass brings out different qualities of a given whiskey, enhancing the drinking experience. Glencairn, snifters, and NEAT glasses allow aromas to breathe, opening up the more subtle notes of whiskey, while tumblers and highball glasses disperse harsher aromas through their wide rims.
Regardless of which glass you choose, it all comes down to a matter of taste. David Fudge, co-founder of nonalcoholic-spirit brand Aplós, recommends picking a glass you would actually enjoy drinking out of, because “it’s all about elevating the whole experience. For me, when you’re drinking out of an antique crystal glass, there’s something about the drink that’s more special, and it does taste better.”
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