Best Glass for Scotch Whisky: Glencairn, Copita, Reidel Vinum, or Tumbler?

Best Scotch GlassesWhen I visited Scotland and went on a few distillery tours, I noticed that the glassware varied as much as the scotch. I had figured, after centuries of enjoyment and experience, we’d have settled on one type of glass best suited for scotch. Unfortunately, that issue remains unsettled. Watch a few episodes of Mad Men and you come to the same conclusion – it’s not entirely clear which type of glass is best for this special spirit.

So I set out on a quest to find out which one was best. The four contenders were a Glencairn style glass, the Copita Nosing Glass, a Reidel Vinum, and a classic tumbler style glass (these are the glasses I had).

Glencairn Whisky Glasses

The Glencairn Glass was created by Glencairn Crystal Ltd. and the design was inspired by the nosing glasses used in whisky labs. It’s a distinct design that I fell in love with when I visited distilleries in Scotland (I picked up two branded ones from The Macallan and The Glenlivet, which became the basis of this test). As you’d expect from a design based on nosing glasses, the smaller tapered opening allows for a concentration of the scents of the scotch.

When you put your nose into the glass, you very clearly get a lot of the aroma. When you sip scotch, again the aromas are directed, almost like a laser, to your nose for maximum enjoyment. If you’re new to drinking scotch, with it’s 43%+ ABV, this can be overwhelming. You might have to add a few drops of water in order to open it up and take a bit of the edge off.

These glasses are best designed for someone who is enjoying their scotch neat or with a few drops of water. While not impossible, it is more challenging to put ice in the glass given the smaller opening.

On the plus side, Glencairn whisky glasses are inexpensive.

You can get buy one glass for ~$10 or a set of two for ~$15.

Copita Nosing Glass

The Copita Nosing glass is the only glass I don’t own but it’s the glass that Richard Paterson, Master Blender of Whyte and Mackay, recommends you use.

The Copital is shaped like a tulip, which facilitates nosing, and it’s what they use at the distillery. Much of what I said about the Glencairn glass applies to the Copita too, you can see how similar the two are.

Pricewise, it’s reasonable and it resembles a wine glass in its shape.

Buy the Copita Nosing Glass

Reidel Vinum Single Malt Glasses

Reidel Vinum Single Malt Glasses

I was given a set of Riedel Vinum Single Malt Whisky Glasses by my wife for a previous Christmas and I’m a big fan of the glasses. Reidel makes a whole line of glassware and their hallmark, at least in my mind, is that the glass is often high quality and remarkably thin.

From a design perspective, it opens up at the lip rather than closes in. Whereas the Glencairn almost focuses the aroma on your nose, this one doesn’t. The idea behind opening it up like this is so that the spirit “opens up” as it hits your tongue and lips. As a frequent user of the glass, I don’t know that much happens different if it “opens up” for the few millimeters before it gets to me!

What I do like about the glass is that it’s thin, so I don’t feel like I’m carry a bulky glass, and the opening is better suited for my nose. I don’t feel like I’m inhaling everything and so I don’t get an overwhelming nose, which I would get if I was too enthusiastic in sniffing a scotch in a Glencairn.

As was the case with the Glencairn, it’s best to avoid putting ice in this as it’s a more delicate glass and there isn’t really much room. On the downside, it’s more expensive than any other option here.

Buy Reidel Vinum Scotch Glasses (pictured)

Old Fashioned Tumblers

Ravenscroft Old Fashioned Glasses

An Old Fashioned Tumbler is what most people think of when you talk about a tumbler (or lowball tumbler, as opposed to highball glass). It’s designed for mixed drinks, like the Old Fashioned after which it was named, and for enjoying whisky on the rocks. (Incidentally, an Old Fashioned is a lump of sugar, two dashes of bitters, ice, a lemon-peel, and a jigger of whiskey)

I don’t often enjoy my scotch on the rocks but if I did, I’d go with a tumbler. It’s the only glass where ice “feels” right and there isn’t much of a design here to accentuate any particular aspect of the scotch. I don’t think you lose anything from drinking scotch neat from a tumbler, the other designs just accentuate something that’s already there that you are getting anyway.

Buy Ravenscroft Crystal 10-1/2-Ounce Classic Double Old-Fashioned Glass, Set of 4 (pictured)

The Rest

The Glencairn, the Riedel, the Copita and the Tumbler are the classics when you think about whisky glassware. There are, however, a million other types of glassware and any one that holds a spirit you could sip near (brandy, bourbon, tequila, etc.) will have properties that make it suitable for drinking scotch.

There are also fun rocking glasses, like these Normann Copenhagen Liqueur Glasses. Rocking (or swirling) glasses can be fun but they always make me nervous, so my case just has the classics.

If you’re looking for a more traditional looking glass that looks like a wine glass, might I recommend a snifter. Brandy is “burnt wine,” which is to say it’s distilled wine (whisky is distilled beer), with a typical alcohol by volume of 35-60%, which is the same range as whisky.

Susquehanna Glass Brandy Snifter Glasses, 12-Ounce, Set of 4 (pictured)

Do you have a favorite glass for scotch?

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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15 Responses to Best Glass for Scotch Whisky: Glencairn, Copita, Reidel Vinum, or Tumbler?

  1. Esther says:

    Hi Jim, I’d
    like to get my husband some really nice old fashioned tumblers. Do you have any recomendations? Thank you!

    • Jim says:

      It depends, does he like the clear glass look or more like what crystal ones look like?

      • William says:

        Before you purchase, you should consider the Nova Scotia Crystal single Malt scotch glasses and water tumbler. As a frequent visitor to Nova Scotia, I can say that the crystal is gorgeous and the design very unique. The craftsman are former Waterford descendents and its simply beautiful.

  2. Vincent says:

    Put in a vote for the Glencairn glasses, the heavy base is great and I like that it closes up near the top and lets you catch all of the aromas.

    • Jim says:

      I agree, it’s a fantastic glass!

      • chambolle says:

        I know the Glencairn has become more or less the ‘official’ scotch whisky glass, but it doesn’t really appeal to me. The shape is correct for optimal enjoyment of a malt – but so is the shape of any number of other glasses that are more aesthetically pleasing and constructed of finer glass. The Glencairn has the look of an upscale “schooner” for serving beer. And somehow, when I’m pouring and drinking golden elixir that may have run me $10 or $20 an ounce, I’d like to drink it from something more elegant. I really wish that Zalto “Denk’Art” would make a glass for single malts. They do make a “digestif” stem, alas it is too small and flute-like for whisky. But for a really grand old single, that nearly weightless Zalto lead-free crystal and pencil thin stem would be a joy. On a different note, another tumbler to look at is the Ravenscroft whisky tumbler. It has a pinched in waist and a flared lip — quite nice, although the Villeroy & Boch “Highlands” glass to me is still really a wonderful tumbler that beats most other options in the looks department and is also very functional.

    • Stew says:

      I agree, the Glencairn is a great glass.

  3. chambolle says:

    The Villeroy & Boch ‘Highlands whisky tumbler’ is very nice. Quality glass, heavy base, tapered to a relatively narrow rim that brings the aromas up. You can find for about $35 a pair. I also find that the Riedel Sommelier series XO cognac glass works very well, although it has a somewhat small bowl and is quite delicate, it has a nice tulip shape with a pinched ‘chimney’ that concentrates aromas well. Good for that precious 40 year old Glenfarclas and other whisky you want to sip and savor in small dribs and drabs. It’s spendy, about $50 or a bit more per stem.

  4. Louise says:

    Hi, I’m looking for a whiskey glass for a friend of mine. He just started drinking whiskey but doesn’t have any glasses for it. He doesn’t really know what he is looking for and neither am I, so could you please help me with a great beginers glass :)

    I always thought there only were the tumbler glass, so I’m a bit confused and need help :)

    Thanks!

  5. Hemanth says:

    The ‘Chef & Sommlier’ open up series is a relatively new addition to this league. It is almost like the Glencairn on a stem. I find the quality and the finish quite good. This one has the advantages of the ‘Copita’ & the Glencairn, but as Jim says putting ice in it would still be tough! But I keep wondering why would one want to?? :)

  6. Jason says:

    Out of curiosity, what is the glass on the bottom row second from the left (the square one)? I didn’t see it in the links but I like the look of it.

    • Jim says:

      It’s called a Blade Runner Whiskey Glass because it’s inspired by the movie. I didn’t list it because it’s $90 but you can find it for sale on eBay.

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