Picking the right whiskey glass feels… like it shouldn’t really matter. Are you drinking from styrofoam or a Solo cup? If not then you should be good, right?
Not quite. The shape of a glass can alter the smell and taste of a pour of whiskey pretty dramatically. Too wide of a mouth and nuances begin to get lost as the liquid spreads across the rim of the glass (sloshing into the sides of your mouth and landing directly on the mid-palate). Too wide of a bowl and the ethanol (or alcohol smell/heat) will concentrate and overpower the rest of the sip.
Will the wrong glass ruin your experience? Of course not. But if you’re having fun tasting whiskey, you might as well maximize that fun by picking a good glass for the occasion.
So what glass should you be using to drink your whisk(e)y from? That sort of depends on how or why you’re drinking whiskey in the first place. If you’re following the traditional tasting process — that is nosing, sipping, adding a drop of water, and sipping again– there are a couple of options with their own pluses and minuses. If you’re simply sipping for pleasure with no real structure, the number of options increases, though some might hold the whiskey back a little.
Today we’re breaking down the five iconic types of whiskey glasses. We’re also ranking them, based on which allows you to pick up the most flavor notes. Practicality was also a consideration, albeit a secondary one. Ultimately, by reading this guide, you’re sure to know which glass will help you maximize the whisky tasting experience you’re aiming for.
Price: $22.99, set of six
Also known as a brandy glass, Cognac glass, or balloon, this feels like it should be ideal as a tasting vessel. The glass bowl is usually six to eight ounces but can balloon in size well beyond that. The idea behind the shape of a wide bottom and the narrow top is that that allows you to hold the glass at a horizontal to check the viscosity and none of the liquid will spill out.
This is a classy look. The size is right. And you feel cool holding one of these in your hand, especially if you have a cigar in the other hand and are seated near a roaring fire.
Looks aside, the shape of this glass isn’t doing the whiskey inside any flavors. The wide bottom acts as a gathering pool for all that ethanol, which then gets directly planted in your olfactory and mouth when sipping thanks to the overall wide nature of the glass.
Though they look the part, these glasses are made for enjoying a nice, warming brandy. And it has qualities you don’t necessarily want when sipping a whiskey.
This is all looks over practicality. It detracts from the whiskey tasting experience by allowing the ethanol to pool in the bottom of that wide bowl.
4. Rocks glass
Price: $16.99, set of four
This is a classic vessel for whiskey. If you’re ordering a whiskey at a standard bar, you’ll likely get your whiskey in this glass, though it might be called an old fashioned glass, tumbler, or lowball.
The bowl of the glass is generally six to eight ounces. A double rocks glass will clock in at 12 to 16 ounces.
The standard size of a rocks glass allows you to eye-ball a pour pretty easily as either a 1/3 or 1/4 fill, equaling a two-ounce pour. The size and heft also make it perfect for whiskey cocktails. The sturdiness of the glass means you can mix your boulevardiers and old fashioneds right in the glass.
While you’re going to get a decent nose and taste from this glass, the amount of air in the glass and lack of narrowed rim means it’ll be a muted tasting experience. The alcohol warmth is going to sit on top of the whiskey and float right into your senses and the wide rim means the whiskey you sip won’t be particularly concentrated.
When it comes to really digging into a whiskey tasting though, this isn’t going to be ideal.
3. The NEAT glass
Price: $11.95, one glass
The NEAT Glass (which stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) is specifically designed to be a tasting vessel.
The hourglass design dials in a few things successfully. For one, filling the bowl to its widest point is exactly a 1.5-oz. pour. Second, the extra lip on the top of the bowl allows the ethanol to dissipate, leaving you mostly with the smells and flavors of the whiskey itself.
This is designed to maximize the whiskey tasting experience and it absolutely does that. It’s nice knowing the measurement of the pour every time by eye-balling it. The glass is also made of crystalline (lead-free crystal), making it much easier to clean (more on that later), and is dishwasher safe.
No handle or stem means your hand is going to be warming the juice in the bowl as you hold it. More importantly, if we’re being honest, for all of its ergonomic design flair, this is sort of awkward to drink from.
This really is a solid choice for tasting whiskey. It’s also a nice conversation starter, given the glass’s unique design.
Price: $43.46, set of four
The tulip is a small format glass with a stem and base that clocks in at around six ounces (usually no less than five ounces though). The glass is better known as a copita and is pretty widespread in port and sherry tasting circles.
The small bulbous — or tulip — shape of the bowl means that flavors can concentrate near the rim of the glass. The bowl is narrow enough that you’re not getting a massive ethanol pool and you have a good vessel for swirling the juice.
Then there’s the stem. This allows you to hold the glass without your hands getting near the rim (affecting the nose and so forth) or warming the whiskey in the bowl.
Since there isn’t an international standard “tulip” shape and size, the bowl can be a little narrow on some versions. That means you don’t quite get a universal, “same every time” experience, because it depends on the bar/venue/home you’re drinking at.
Also, as with wine glasses, the broken stem concerns are real. As is the possibility of tipping the glass over.
It doesn’t get much better than this… but there is some room for improvement.
Price: $16.99, set of two
The Glencairn is a crystal glass that’s specifically designed in Scotland for the ultimate whisk(e)y tasting experience. The glass holds six ounces with a two-ounce pour hitting right at the center of the bowl’s bulge.
This basically took the tulip and made it better. The bowl allows great swirling and the path to the rim allows for maximized flavors and odors to rise up.
The glass is also heftier. The base is a solid bulb of crystal that gives the glass weight while providing a handle so that you don’t have to hold the bowl while tasting. It’s not prone to tipping, thanks to the low center of gravity.
These are crystal and that’s kind of a pain in the ass. You can’t put crystal in a dishwasher. It’ll bruise the glass and turn the crystal-clear Glencairn a shade of purple, making it hard to get the visual experience of the whiskey. So you have to hand wash these after every use (check out professional glass-washing advice here).
Hand washing crystal aside, there’s just no better way to fully taste a whiskey than a Glencairn. The glass is designed to amp up every aspect of a tasting and it delivers. Yes, it’s a little fussy. But it’s worth the effort and is the agreed-upon industry standard.