The Whisky Glass – Choosing the Right Sampling Tool
Whiskys from around the world always managed to capture the imagination and the senses of connoisseurs, aficionados, and average drinkers alike. The sheer diversity in terms of geography, blend character, and distillation technique provides the unique opportunity to explore an entire spectrum of flavours, and in some special cases, time – a good whisky having the ability to speak volumes about its origin and history through just a sip.
Anybody who claims to enjoy their glass of whisky would wholeheartedly agree that there is an art underlying the entire process of pouring, mixing, and savoring the drink. Water, edible accompaniments, and breathing time aside, whisky glass is a critical part of the entire experience.
What’s in a Shape?
Why? Because a good whisky deserves good glassware. It’s not just about blunt aesthetics either. Whisky glasses in all their variations are designed to enhance and enable the tasting experience. The basic idea is to have a glass which has enough room to let the spirit breathe whilst focusing the entire bouquet of aromas around your nose when you pick up the glass for a sip. However, your choice of glassware for sampling whisky of any sorts is equally dependent on the kind of tasting experience you are looking for.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll go by the numbers, and start at the most common choice for a drinking vessel, slowly graduating to more complex, purpose designed glassware meant for tasting.
the shot glass
Direct in delivery, the shot glass is designed for a quick drink and not much else. Be it bourbon or scotch, the shot glass can hardly be called on as an ideal sampling instrument. Once you pour a measure of whisky into it, you will quickly realise that no matter how long you let your drink breathe, the nose remains weak – the wide mouth of the glass being incapable of capturing and directing anything other than the alcohol vapors. Sans the focused aromas, the olfactory experience is remarkably distorted, leaving each sip bland.
Commonly known as the rocks glass, it is the go-to choice for whisky drinkers around the world and is widely used by bars and restaurants. F.or the explicit purpose of tasting whisky, the old fashioned is definitely a better choice than the shot glass, although it leaves much to be desired in terms of refining the sampling experience. The depth of the glass does help your whisky open up a little better, but its wide mouth delivers a very overwhelming cacophony of fumes and flavours with the first sip, making it difficult to distinguish the separate notes that make up the bouquet. As you take in a few more sips, you will realise that the flavours are present but have been heavily muted.
Drinking and tasting whisky are two significantly different activities. A good old rocks glass will definitely suffice for the former, but for sampling purposes, a regular brandy snifter with curved, elevated sides is an ideal alternative to more specialised glassware. To start, you will be easily able to swirl your dram of whisky around without any spillage, allowing the drink to release its aromas. The curved walls of the glass help focus the bouquet around your nose when you sip. You will feel a definite difference – a much softer nose which allows you to pick up on the subtleties of a fine whisky, and the layered palate buildup with every sip.
Derived from traditional nosing copitas, the Glencairn whisky glass is designed for a very singular purpose – sampling whisky. Designed by Raymond Davidson, and launched in 2001, the Glencairn was developed in close collaboration with master blenders from the five largest whisky houses of Scotland. Other manufacturers are known to produce similar glassware, but the Glencairn continues to be the only one which has won the Queen’s Award for innovation and is also the first style to be endorsed by the Scotch Whisky Association. It is used by every distiller in Scotland and Ireland. The inward-curved glass is the choice of connoisseurs – its design intended to hold and focus the aromas critical for a comprehensive tasting experience.
Unique in design, the NEAT glass is short and squat, unlike any of the other pieces of glassware on this list. The wide lip of the glass produces an overwhelmingly prominent bouquet when you begin nosing your dram, but the magic peculiarly ends at that point. The glass is somewhat difficult to drink from given its shape, and the distance between the bowl and the wide rim is so significant that it ends up producing a remarkable disconnect between the nose and the palate, rendering complex whiskys flat and boring.