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Whiskey Glassware for Nosing and Tasting

Let’s say you’ve gone out and spent some good money on a bottle of fantastic whiskey. If you are like me, you can’t wait to head home and pour that sucker in the first glass you see. This might typically mean reaching for a “rocks” glass, the one that’s squat low and sturdy.

After pouring that sweet amber nectar you raise the glass to your sniffer and then………and then………nothing. Or perhaps very little, if anything, pushes it’s way to your nostrils. That’s because the rocks glass (or lowball or whatever you wish to call it) is fitting for some of the great classic cocktails (like my favorite, The Old Fashioned). It does not however enhance the aroma of the whiskey that’s glimmering and sloshing around in the bottom. The straight sides and wide opening permits way too much of the aroma to escape, leaving you looking like a basset hound rooting the top of the glass to collect what you can.

The Nose Knows
The human nose is powerful. While we can taste 4-5 basic flavors (including umami), our sense of smell can detect 30-plus (I think more than that but I’m no scientist). On top of that, the interplay between nosing and tasting a whiskey makes the experience so much fuller than tasting alone. There are whiskeys out there that I’ve sat down and nosed for 10 minutes before ever taking a sip. I was perfectly happy doing so because the nose of a whiskey can be captivating.

The bottom line is nosing is a huge part of overall enjoyment. I urge you to spend more time doing it (if you don’t currently). In order to get the most out it, you’ll need the right hardware for the job.

The Right Tools
Please drink your whiskey however you want to and enjoy it. I cannot underscore that point enough! But if you are a whiskey geek like me and really want to explore that whiskey, then investing in good glassware is a great place to start. The type of glassware I’m referring to is a nosing/tasting glass.

You can start by looking for a glass that might hold anywhere from 6-10 ounces of liquid and pinches in reasonably at the nose. Picture a white wine or chardonnay glass. The “tulip” shape provides enough of a “bowl” for which to swirl or agitate the whiskey easily, releasing aromas. The tighter, “pinched” opening then concentrates those aromas so you can experience them more easily.

If you are new to whiskey, just exploring, or not ready to invest in glassware – no problem. Don’t make it a chore or put more formality on yourself. I’d rather see you focus on enjoyment rather than stressing over glassware. Use a white wine glass or something in line with the description above. It’s a perfect starter, and I use them today from time to time.

The Next Step
If you are looking for something a little more specialized, give the following suggestions a try. All of them are fantastic for getting the most out of your whiskey. Please click the “red” link titles to view each option more closely.

Riedel Vinum Port Glass: Yep, that is not a misprint. It’s a port glass, but it’s a hell of a whiskey glass too. The 7+ ounce bowl provides plenty of room for the whiskey. The gradual pinching of the opening is not too tight and allows a nice even aroma to leave the glass. This is honestly a favorite of mine. $39.99 for 2 online and in many finer glassware stores.

The Glencairn: The Glencairn has been widely adopted by the Scotch Whisky industry. And with good reason. Notice the nice bowl and smaller opening – perfect for nosing. The thick, sturdy base provides a ideal place to hold the glass or rest it on a table. Not to mention, this glass is nice and sturdy itself. Personally I prefer a stemmed glass. To me they are easier to pick up and I don’t risk warming the whiskey too much with my hands. Overall this is an excellent option, and probably the most popular among enthusiasts. Approximately $10 a glass. You can usually find them for around that price.

The Glencairn Copita Glass: The classic “copita” shaped nosing glass is the perfect whiskey glass to me. This one is my favorite of the entire group. It’s not quite as deep as a port glass, but still ample room to swirl the spirit. I prefer how this glass doesn’t pinch in quite as dramatically as the standard Glencairn. That’s especially good when you are nosing whiskey with really high proof/alcohol percentage. The problem is these glasses are tougher to find, but this link (click the “red” title) will allow you to purchase them for $11 plus shipping.

Riedel Sommeliers Series Cognac XO Glass: This is an expensive one, but a great one. Notice the shape shares some similarities to the Glencairn. It’s a good bit more delicate than the Glencairn and smaller. I would classify this as a great special occasion whiskey glass, but it comes at ridiculously high price – $50+/ glass. Yep, that’s robbery and not worth the money in comparison to the others, but a great glass.

Crate and Barrel sold a good, solid port glass for $4 – fantastic to stock up on for group tastings. Unfortunately they’ve sold out of them at this time, but keep on the look for them as a great inexpensive option if they bring them back. If I have people over for tastings they are perfect to pour many at a time. If 1-2 break – oh well!

Also I’d recommend steering clear of Riedel’s Single Malt and Bourbon glass. Riedel make great glasses, but I think they missed the mark on both of these. The Single Malt glass just simply sucks – period. The Bourbon Glass, while reasonably good for getting the notes from a whiskey, is designed with an extremely short stem that’s not very natural to hold.

Stock Up Slowly
Take a look at your glassware options on hand for nosing and tasting whiskey. Start small and add a few of these when you can. It’s even fun to have a couple of each over time in case you are in the mood to try something different. The right glassware will allow a fuller appreciation and evaluation of all the whiskey has to offer. It’s educational, fun, and even makes it easier to determine what you like (or don’t).

Coming soon I’ll be doing some videos on my tasting and review process for those that are interested. Please be on the look out.

So what is your favorite whiskey glass?

25 Comments

  1. JWC says:

    Jason, good article but how could you leave out the holiday freebies (including glasses) that come with some whiskies? I normally drink my bourbon and Scotch in a Glencairn or port glass but recently I had a dram of Aberlour at a steak house and they served it in a Riedel SM glass. It did not concentrate the aroma (but then again with an Aberlour, do you really have to?) but it did enhance the tasting/drinking experience. So much so that I am actually considering purchasing a set. Definitely much more fragile than the Glencairns.

  2. Drink out of anything you like. My experience is for the money there are much better glasses, but it’s subjective of course. As long as something is in a glass that works!

  3. JWC says:

    agree with you about value of the money. the riedels are what i would tell someone to buy LAST (if at all). the comment about the holiday freebies was just to point out that you can get good whiskey glasses for free – i’m a sucker for freebies!

  4. Free doesn’t suck!

  5. sam k says:

    Great topic, Jason. Good glassware is essential, but it definitely need not be elaborate or expensive. I love the Glencairn…I’ve acquired a number of them from WhiskyFest and various other sources, They’re the workhorse of the industry.

    That said, I generally prefer stemware. To me it just feels better. I have a pair of the Reidel XOs, engraved for Glenlivet, that I picked up in a thrift store for fifty cents each. I like them a lot, but until I read your post I had no idea they retailed at fifty bucks. Great glasses, but agreed that they’re WAY overpriced.

    I also have a number of gift pack freebies, and use most of them regularly. Now is the point where I’ll deviate from conventional wisdom. My favorite whiskey glasses are what I’ll call “shells”…straight sided, six-ounce glasses with a heavy bottom that I find perfect for American whiskey.

    I prefer whiskeys at 90 proof or above, and unlike most scotch, they need no curvature at all to accentuate their aroma…they’ve got boatloads to begin with. The relatively narrow opening helps with that, and they look good with about three ounces of amber current swirling inside.

    I appreciate your take that whatever glass works for you is the right one. I feel exactly the same about whatever whiskey trips your trigger.

    Go for it, and enjoy the ride!

  6. Sam, thanks a ton for the comment. I know you enjoy your whiskey and appreciate you opinion on what works well for you. In the end it’s all about enjoying the brown stuff so whatever it takes. I agree on the gift freebies. Junwon Choi mentioned something similar as well on this and you both are right on there.

    I am however floored at your 50 cent XOs. Nice!!!! That was a great score.

  7. sam k says:

    On comparing my Glenlivet glasses directly to your photo, they’re not quite the same. The XO has a longer, more slender stem, but mine are virtually identical otherwise.

    Love ‘em regardless, and still a good deal!

  8. Michael says:

    I have these from Crate & Barrel:

    http://www.crateandbarrel.com/dining-and-entertaining/cordial-glasses/sipping-glass/s312053

    Cheap and very enjoyable. Highly recommended.

    Now Jason, how do you like your old fashioneds? They vary so much from bar to bar (and person to person); I am always curious to hear, as few cocktails are subject to so much differentiation in ingredients, recipe, and technique.

  9. Stemmed glasses for bourbon is a new concept for me. We’ll try it….but come Kentucky Derby day you know I am all about a silver mint julep tumbler…giggles.

  10. charles says:

    great subject, i like using a variety of glasses. I use the Glencairns quite a bit, but the finger prints really bug me on these types of glasses. i’ll sometimes wash my hands obsessively before my first pour. stemmed glasses help me with this alot. one of my favorites lately is a brandy snifter, plenty of room to swirl and somewhat of a little stem to grab

  11. Joyce, it’s obviously important to enjoy it any way you see fit. And there is obviously no substitute for the julep cups. I mentioned in this post that the Old Fashioned was my favorite cocktail. I suppose I should qualify that statement and say that it’s my favorite cocktail that’s not a mint julep.

  12. Texas says:

    Jason, you always have the most pertinent blog entries around. My wife and I have two glasses at home that seem to really work well for Scotch for her and Bourbon/Rye/Scotch for me, but I had no idea what kind of glasses they are. Now I see they are the port glasses you list! They work as good as the Glencairn I had before I dropped it and broke it.

  13. Texas, thank you for the comments brother. Glad to see you’ve enjoyed them as well!

  14. Don says:

    I drink my whisky (single malt Scotch or Bourbon or Rye (when I can find a good one)) out of either a Glencairn glass or a brandy snifter, depending on what’s clean. What do you think of a snifter? I like my Glencairn better, mostly for the look. I don’t think I notice any difference in the nose or taste. The drawback I see in my brandy snifters is that they’re a bit bigger than my Glencairn, and I might pour a wee bit more than I ought to have.

  15. Don, a snifter is fine, and it works for you so use them. They do make smaller ones that hold probably 6-7 ounces that look like the might work well also. But I’ve never honestly drank out one. Thanks for sharing what you use – I’m sure a lot of folks that have them and give them a try and save some money. Cheers!

  16. Great topic, I’ve actually got some Glencairns on order been trying to get them for a good price for weeks.

    Can’t wait to whip them out!

    Cheers! Drink well!

  17. Ethan, thanks so much for the comments man. Enjoy those Glencairns. Great glasses.

  18. Jim Sanders says:

    Do you recommend the “watch glass covers” for the Glencairn glasses?

  19. Jim I absolutely do. Order them from ScotchWhiskyglass.com and you can get them for a buck. Great for nosing, tasting, then putting aside for some time before coming back to the whiskey. Cheers man. Enjoy that Pappy 20!

  20. steve says:

    what do you think about using 16 oz stemless white wine glasses from Target($10 for 4)

  21. Steve, I think you can drink it in anything you wish. That’s a tad large, but as long as the shape pinches slightly so it captures and concentrates the aromas you are good to go. Enjoy.

  22. LeMoyne Mercer says:

    My wife and I enjoy sipping our bourbon from Clencairn glasses and the Chatham Artillery Punch glasses (basically, small brandy snifters) we got in Savannah a few years back. On a tour at Maker’s Mark, we learned that how you sniff is at least as important as what you sniff from. Our guide suggested inhaling through the mouth instead of the nose. I find, especially with higher proof bourbons, that this helps prevent the alcohol from blowing out the nose–so to speak. Does this make sense to you?

  23. LeMoyne, thank you for the comment! The folks at Maker’s Mark are correct about technique, but in order of priority, tools first. For this reason the glass sets everything up for the best chance of appreciating all that whiskey has to offer. I do agree that the mouth open, and breathing in through both mouth and nose does help with alcohol “stun”. For me, I don’t tend to take that approach. I just dig in, cautiously at first, bringing the whiskey closer, and then once I’m acclimated I get my nose way in there. The best thing to do is to try it a couple different ways and see what works for you. You will find quickly which is best for you. Cheers!

  24. Bmac says:

    I have been watching your reviews and have been wondering. Do you do any preparations before tasting the whiskey? Such as eating certain foods, or having a sip of cola to prepare the taste buds? I have found that some days the whiskey tastes amazing and other days no real flavor and a lot of burn. I figured maybe it had to do with what i last ate or drank prior. Any thoughts on this?

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