Why do you put scotch in a decanter?

It’s mostly for looks.

When you decant red wine, you are trying to do two things: separate the sediment from the wine and allow the wine to breathe. Over time, sediment in the wine will separate and settle at the bottle of the bottle. By decanting, you are pouring the wine into another container, the decanter, so that you may leave that sediment behind in the bottle. This is not an issue for whisky.

As for letting the wine breathe, it releases some of the wine’s aromas, which have been trapped in a bottle for however many years. By letting it breathe, the flavors are released and the wine tastes much different than straight out of the bottle. You want as much surface area as possible, the more wine that touches the air, the better. It’s recommended that you let it breathe for half an hour to an hour and never more than eight.

How does that apply to scotch? I don’t believe it does. While it’s nice for the scotch to breathe, the reality is that you will likely not finish a decanter of scotch within eight hours. If you do, well then the added subtlety produced by decanting would likely be wasted on you. 🙂

While it’s good to let scotch breathe a little in your glass, with or without the addition of water, putting it in a decanter is mostly for looks (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). Sometimes it’s nice to have a display in which you have whisky in a decanter without all the commercial labels. So if you do want to decant, by all means go for it. Chances are it won’t hurt your whisky any more than if you left it in the bottle.

What should you look for in a decanter? There are three crucial things to keep in mind when selecting a decanter. First, make sure there’s an tight seal that doesn’t let air escape or enter. When you you have a decanter with a good seal, it’s not much different than the original bottle itself (you do get a little aeration when you transfer from bottle to decanter, so pour gently).

Next, makes sure it’s big enough! 750ml, the typical bottle, is a little more than 25 ounces. Make sure your decanter is large enough to fit the whole bottle if you plan on pouring it all in. If you don’t, then you can use a decanter of any size.

Finally, make sure it’s lead free crystal. Most new decanters will be lead free but it’s always important to make sure. Why are leaded crystal decanters dangerous? Over time, the lead can leach into the whisky to very dangerous levels.

Here are a few decanters that I really like:

Ravenscroft Crystal 70oz Beveled Orbital Magnum DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal 70-Ounce Beveled Orbital Magnum looks amazing. I don’t own it, it’s enormous (70 ounces is a lot of ounces) but it just looks awesome. To give you a sense of size, 750ml is just 25 ounces. So this magnum decanter can hold nearly three bottles of scotch making it completely impractical but I still wanted to show it to you because it looks great. 🙂

Ravenscroft Crystal Beveled Blade DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal Beveled Blade Decanter is a beautiful lead-free crystal decanter that has the classic crystal pattern for the lower half of the bottle but is clear at the top. I really like this 34 oz. decanter (enough to fit an entire Liter) because it nice and clear at the top, like a bottle, so you can see the beautiful colors of the scotch but it pays homage to the classic decanter style at the bottom.

OK, onto more realistic decanters.


Ravenscroft Crystal Thomas Jefferson DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal Thomas Jefferson Decanter is a modern looking lead-free crystal decanter that comes in a beautiful gift box that makes it perfect for any Scotch lover. The design is a reproduction of a decanter owned by Thomas Jefferson and is a massive 46 ounce decanter that could hold a liter of Scotch (and more!). It doesn’t have the distinctive sharp lines of classic decanters and it’s lines are similar to that of a bottle itself, albeit a beautiful crystal one (rather than a class one with labels).


Ravenscroft Crystal Larchmont DecanterThe Ravenscroft Crystal Larchmont Decanter looks stout in its photo but it has a 30-ounce capacity, which is over 887 milliliters (the standard size for a bottle of whisky is 750 milliliters), so it’s more than up to the challenge of holding your favorite spirit. It is lead-free crystal and sits at 10.5″ high and 5.5″ wide. It is also shipped in a gift box so it’s perfect for a gift if you’re looking to spend less than $85.


Luigi Bormioli Rossini Decanter with Stopper,23.75 OzA Luigi Bormioli Rossini Decanter with Stopper,23.75 Oz is a nice lead-free decanter that has a cork finish to ensure a nice seal. Only one downside, the decanter can only hold about 700ml, so comes in 50ml short of a standard 750ml bottle. The look is elegant and much nicer than you’d expect at this price tag.


Dublin Crystal 8 Piece Whiskey SetIf you’re looking for a decanter set, the Dublin Crystal 8 Piece Whiskey Set is a gorgeous set that has a decanter, six double old fashioned (DOF) glasses, and a tray. It’s made by Godinger, a company that been making beautiful glass and silver pieces since 1972 in New York. This set is lead crystal.

If you aren’t in the market for a whisky decanter set, all of these decanters make for fantastic gifts with paired with some Riedel Single Malt Whisky Glasses! 🙂

Decanters make a fantastic gift for any whisky aficionado. While you don't need to decant whisky (in fact I don't recommend it), having a beautiful glass piece in your library can be a fantastic accent to any whiskey cabinet.

Photo Credit: katinalynn

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+.
This entry was posted in Barware and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to Why do you put scotch in a decanter?

  1. Mr J says:

    Traditionally it is seen as poor form to leave a cigar ring on when smoking in the company of others. The reason was that it was seen as being a way of showing off, almost like saying “look at the brand of my cigar (and how wealthy I am…)”
    It is in this same spirit that decanters for scotch became more common. They enable the person receiving the drink to better appreciate the taste of the scotch, the timing of the offer, the context of the celebration and the value of the friendship rather than the brand (and monetary value) of the scotch.
    One cannot blame the gentlemen of today for proudly displaying the beautiful scotch bottles on offer – the artistry and quality are truly astounding. But a scotch decanter truly is a gentleman’s salute to a civilised time when men drank like men, wore hats, shaved with a straight razor and smoked from a pipe.

  2. Greg Logan says:

    And now we wear berets, use a vaporizer and don’t shave at all….

    BUT we still know what good scotch is!

  3. Adam says:

    @Mr J
    Mr. J – Traditionally, the band on the cigar was created to protect the white gloves that gentlemen wore in formal attire from tobacco stain. As such, it was not considered bad form at all to leave the band on. If it is considered bad form today, that is a modern invention. Tobacco stains on one’s white gloves, however, were definitely uncouth.

  4. Chris Cannella says:

    Just wondering, why lead free? I received a spirits decanter as a gift (Royal Doulton Mode Seasons Decanter Set). The RD website says its ‘crafted of lead crystal’.

    Any input appreciated.

    • Jim says:

      The concern is when you store the whisky (or any spirit) in the decanter because the lead can leach into the whisky (source). If you only use the decanter for entertaining (pour it into the leaded crystal decanter for show, but then pour it back into the bottle when you’re done), then it’s OK.

  5. Barak says:

    Great article! Is there any way to figure out if a used decanter has lead in it? I suspect that the answer is ‘no.’ Thanks!

  6. Nathan says:

    Hello, my good friend is about to graduate from college and we’ve always drank the cheap whiskey’s and beer, or whatever we got our hands on. For his graduation I have it planned to get him a very good whiskey or even a scotch and a nice decanter. Is there any suggestions on a good scotch or whiskey that you guys prefer? Also, drinking this expensive stuff, does it actually have a great taste or is it like walking into a bar and taking a shot of a well whiskey or Crown Royal, etc? Any input is appreciated. I’m currently looking into visiting a scotch/whiskey tasting event for my own information but any suggestions with feedback are great.

    • mark says:

      Scotch variety is as diverse in their tastes as beer. You can go from a Corona to a Guinness. Scotch from the Highlands tend to be more sweet and light in flavor compared to scotch from the isles which is heavy in Peat and have more smokey wooded flavors. I’m personally partial to the isles and prefer Laphroaig or Lagavulin.

  7. Mike says:

    Jim,

    Is this decanter that you listed lead-free?

    Bormioli Rocco Selecta 33-3/4-Ounce Decanter with Stopper

    I was looking to keep my scotch in it full time for show on my bar.

  8. Rob says:

    Jim,

    Excellent article! I ordered the Ravenscroft Crystal Beveled Blade and love it!

  9. Gurdev says:

    Great article – I enjoy drinking whiskey and have recently looked at a decanter set. As someone else earlier in the chain said, I am also looking at the Royal Doulton Mode Seasons Decanter set.

    Do you or anyone else know if this is crystal – lead free or otherwise ?

    • Jim says:

      According to Amazon, this Royal Doulton Crystal Decanter is lead free. In my research, I’ve seen other Royal Doulton decanters made with 24% lead crystal, though I suspect they’re older. I would trust Amazon’s listing for that particular item for sale.

      • Mike says:

        Why would you trust Amazon. Another user explicitly mentions that the Royal Doulton website says that the item is “crafted of lead crystal.” It’s possible the person is wrong, but Amazon is wrong about details quite often. I will be contacting Royal Doulton directly about this.

        • Mike says:

          I called Royal Doulton’s NA service center. The woman told me that if the Royal Doulton site says “crystalline” (which it does for this item), then it is lead-free. So, there you have it. It’s lead-free.

  10. Fredrick Wolfgang Schatz says:

    I am amazed at the ignorance displayed by almost all of you especially, the writer of this piece. Apart from being a Physician (Cardio Thoracic), I am also a PhD in Toxicology. Lead has minimal to no effect on fully grown adults and I presume, most scotch drinkers and commentators to this article are. Lead primarily has debilitating effects on Little Children and Pregnant Women and I am sure, neither of them are suppose to consume alcoholic spirits or disallowed in most of your countries.

    Btw here is the guide for your reference:

    At levels above 80 µg/dL, serious, permanent health damage may occur (extremely dangerous).
    Between 40 and 80 µg/dL, serious health damage may be occuring, even if there are no symptoms (seriously elevated).
    Between 25 and 40 µg/dL, regular exposure is occuring. There is some evidence of potential physiologic problems (elevated).
    Between 10 and 25 µg/dL, lead is building up in the body and some exposure is occuring.

    Most ingestion of lead though decanter and glasses if drunk on regular basis over 22 years straight, will at the most be around 3.5 µg/dL to 5.7 µg/dL.

    I won’t get into the merits and demerits of decanting as, I am not much of a drinker. But, this lead free BS is just that, BS. Wake up and smell the conspiracy.

    • Jim says:

      Where are you a licensed physician and where did you get your PhD in toxicology? Anyone can be anything on the internet.

      • FWS says:

        Doesn’t that apply to you as well self proclaimed Scotch-Guru, anybody can be anything on the internet? Btw there is a place in Germany called Stuttgart if you haven’t heard, google it and then google my name.

        Unlike you drunks, I need not hide my identity. I only want. to dispel the wrong notions that are been circulated by fakes & dimwits like you.

        • Jim says:

          Yes anyone can be anything but I don’t claim to be a physician or have a phd in toxicology. I’m also telling people to do something 100% safe rather than something with even a minute chance of being harmful. You can’t get hurt if you store whisky in glass and people can verify that on their own. You may be fine with a lead crystal decanter, but I’m saying go with glass to be safe.

          You sure don’t write with a level of class generally associated with physicians and phds, I’ll tell you that.

          • FWS says:

            Sometimes, you have to stoop to the level of your audiences to get your message across. I am not a programmed ROBOT to adhere to stereotypes.

            I find all this subtle promotion of your Glassware on Amazon deplorable and feel sorry for gullible who fall for your canard.

            Btw safe, so by what medical definition is Scotch Drinking Safe.? You have me in splits, dude. Literally!!!

          • Andy says:

            Well, to be precise you’re advocating drinking alcohol and that is definitely NOT safe. Alcohol, if you don’t know is a poison itself. And, I’m afraid, the amount of alcohol, contained in a decanter, is much more poisonous than any amount of lead that could acquired from a lead crystal decanter.

            I mean, it’s better for your health to drink water from lead crystal decanter than scotch from lead-free decanter.

          • Jim says:

            This is all very true, but water is less fun. 🙂

          • Pete says:

            So informative! And with so little condescention! Who woulda ever thunk that someone with a PHD could be so humble? Thank you for your elegant contribution. You’re a gentleman and a scholar, Mr. Schitz.

    • Mike says:

      I googled your name. Didn’t find much. Share a link? I’ve been to Stuttgart myself. Pretty place. Your English is impeccible for a non-native speaker.

      • FWS says:

        Mike,

        I am not sure if you just dealt me with a underhanded compliment :). I am now in the US of A where English is the Lingua-Franca. Anyways, don’t go by the BS this self proclaimed scotch guru, keeps spouting via his blogs.

        He is just another wannabe who I can bet doesn’t know his Vodka’s from Scotch. When and Where were you in Stuttgart?

        • Chiron says:

          The aggressive manner in which you wrote your comments is rather unnecessary. Accusing the audience of this site of being a lower class of individuals because they have an appreciation for an alcoholic beverage is simply rude. There is no evidence to suggest that Jim is advertising his own brand of glassware on Amazon, in fact, he advertised two separate brands. And I am quite impressed that you are so entertained by such an unimportant argument that you would ‘literally do the splits’ for no apparent reason. You, Mon amie, are priceless.

  11. Andy says:

    I have a question, what exactly do you mean by “tight seal?” The decanters on your pictures don’t look like having ground stoppers. And virtually all decanters I see in stores (even relatively expensive) don’t have them either. Does that mean I have to ground it myself (if so, any practical advise would be appreciated) or how it is is tight enough?

    Or should I put a clear robber ring on the stopper or something like that?

  12. Paul says:

    Just curious, you don’t list it, but the decanter and glasses you show in the pic at the top of the piece are stunning, any idea whose product it is?

  13. Cassie says:

    I would like to get a decanter set for my husband as an anniversary gift and have it engraved. Personal thoughts on engraving a lead-free crystal decanter?

  14. Mary says:

    This is a very good article. However, I am very surprised at some of these comments. People need to be educated about how broad the term Whisky is. Scotch, for instance, is a type of Whisky, it’s not Scotch OR Whisky, it’s Scotch Whisky. Whisky is named based on the region it comes from. Bourbon Whisky, for instance is mostly made in Kentucky but can also come from Tennessee. Rye Whisky can be from Canada or the US, then there’s Irish Whisky, Scotch Whisky, made only in Scotland, and of course Moonshine Whisky, I get mine from Tennessee. So there it is; Bourbon, Scotch, Rye, Irish, Moonshine…all fall under the umbrella term WHISKY.

    P.S. There are plenty of women who enjoy Whisky, it’s not just for “gentlemen”.
    Happy tasting!

    • Joey says:

      @ Mary – I praise you for the clarification to the general reader in regards to Scotch Whisky. To build on your, “People need to be educated….” snip, you should try to spell whisky correctly. Irish WhiskEy/Tennessee WhiskEy/Bourbon WhiskEy. Scotch, Japanese and Canadian Whisky do not have the ‘E’ in whisky.

      • Mary says:

        @”Joey” Wow, how silly of me. Thanks for the clarification. I’m just a foolish woman…thank goodness I have you to set me straight.

        • Joey says:

          Mary – Wow, how silly of you. You say people need to be educated yet cant even spell the product correctly.

          P.S. How your incompetence has anything to do with your gender is beyond rational thought.

      • Randall Sisam says:

        …maybe you should check the header photograph!!!

  15. colin says:

    I like all whiskies, I was looking for a idea on decanters. I am happy with a leaded liquid receptacle long term, if I am going to die of a heavy metal related disease I will more likely blame it on air pollution on the roads or drinking tap water from leaded plumbing as a child from my gran’s flat in Paisley. I appreciate some of the effort that goes into some of these responses, FWS at first, but that soured like a poor bottling. Mary, slàinte mhath.

  16. Greg says:

    If this web page were a bar, then the people who comment here are the drinkers. Some come to appreciate the drink and enjoy themselves, and others come to start fights. Looks like some are more drunk than others.

  17. Christopher Kavanaugh says:

    One negative of acquiring a decanter is the reduction in funds to buy whisky. I frankly find it laughable we fret over lead in a world where western women’s breast milk is tainted with so many toxins it would be poisonous to a infant from a more pristine environment. A final observation: Doing business with a company with a 19th century view of their workforce -AMAZON is fine for apolitical Downton Abbey wannabees but not 21st century MEN.

    • Duncan says:

      You great goon, if I have the good fortune to ever be in a position to purchase a costly/fine/vintage spirit then I don’t want to run the risk of decanting it into anything whatsoever that would lend any taint to it

  18. Will D says:

    Whisky actually has multiple ways of spelling it…just sayin

  19. Josh says:

    Doesn’t exposing Scotch Whisky to light slowly degrade the taste and quality of the the drink? Putting it in a decanter as I’ve found does change the taste negatively. After doing some research it makes sense now why most Scotch’s are sold in dark bottles with cardboard sleeves that block the light. A decanter may degrade the taste. Any feedback on this anyone?

  20. Donald says:

    Haven’t laughed so much in ages. I’m guessing you guys are American, by the way you pontificate about things and can’t spell (not just whisky). More please!

  21. asdfsdfsdfsadf says:

    I still want to know about alcohol evaporation when it comes to not-so-air-tight decanter stoppers. Almost every fancy decanter I’ve seen does not come with an air-tight stopper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *