When 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 GlassesThe 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 GlassThe 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.
Riedel Vinum Single Malt GlassesI 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. Riedel 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 Riedel Vinum Scotch Glasses (pictured)
The NEAT Whiskey GlassThis is a relatively new entrant into the world of whiskey glasses. NEAT stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology, which is hokey and terrible sounding, but by the shape of the glass you can already see that it looks the part.
The logic behind the NEAT glass’ shape is that you want a large surface area on the whisky in order to maximize evaporation of vapors, which helps in nosing. The neck tapers to concentrate – all of this is similar to every other glass. Then the neck widens and they claim it allows the harsh alcohol to diffuse leaving you without the alcohol punch.
I’ve never used it but it is the official tasting glass of the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, which is one of the most prestigious competitions for spirits. I’m not sure if it was adopted for 2014, though I suspect so.
Old Fashioned TumblersAn 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)
My favorite of the bunch is the one in the image above from Mofado. What’s nice is that it’s lead-free crystal but they’re heavy. The feel premium because of how nice they look and the weight they carry in you rhand.
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 Mofado Premium Whiskey Glasses – Lead Free Hand Blown Crystal – Thick Weighted Bottom – 12oz Set of 2 – Seamless Design – Perfect for Scotch, Bourbon and Old Fashioned Cocktails
The RestThe 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.
Finally, you could always skip glassware and buy a whisky flask if you’re on the go. 🙂
Susquehanna Glass Brandy Snifter Glasses, 12-Ounce, Set of 4 (pictured)
Do you have a favorite glass for scotch?
- Top Row, left to right: Glencairn, Canada Glencairn, Normann Copenhagen Liqueur Glasses, Canada Glencairn w/ Whiskey Soapstones, Normann Copenhagen Whisky Glass
- 2nd Row, left to right: Glencairn, Blade Runner Deckard Whiskey Glass, Libbey Foodservice Whisky Glass, Rosendahl – Grand Cru Whisky Glass
Hi Jim, I’d
like to get my husband some really nice old fashioned tumblers. Do you have any recomendations? Thank you!
It depends, does he like the clear glass look or more like what crystal ones look like?
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.
Can the glasses be purchased in Ontario?
Thanks for the info.
Can you recommend a set of crystal old fashioned tumblers?
My wife has given me six Waterford tumblers for Christmas presents and they are the perfect glass from which to shrink good single malt on the rocks.
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.
I agree, it’s a fantastic glass!
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.
I agree, the Glencairn is a great glass.
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.
Fantastic recommendations, the Riedel XO Cognac glass sure is pricey though!
Go to the second hand store, I found several whisky glasses, turned out to be well worth it
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 🙂
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?? 🙂
That was ‘Chef & Sommelier’ Ambient open up spirit glass.
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.
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.
Hello, My husband is a big bourbon drinker and I’d like to get him a nice set of drinking glasses. He prefers to drink it neat. Any recommendations? Thank you.
Nearly any of the ones on this list would be a great gift!
I received these glasses for a wedding present 30 years ago. They are elegant, sophisticated and the perfect size for drinking Fine Scotch. unfortunately I don’t know the name of who made them. Can anyone help me out as I’d like to buy them for a scotch aficionado.
How do I add the photo ?
I have a Bowmore branded glass at home that seems to be a hybrid between the Glencairn and the NEAT. (picture)
Does anyone know if this is another type of glass, or simply an interpretation of the NEAT style?
Do you have a link to a photo we could see?
I am in desperate need of a set of HEAVY-based, straight edged glasses. My boyfriend is very picky when it comes to his glassware, and hasn’t found the right ones yet. His drink of choice is scotch on the rocks, but I can’t seem to find any glasses with a heavy enough base. Any ideas?
This set seems nice, heavy (it’s in the “heavy” category on Amazon), and probably what you’re looking for? Lead-free crystal too so a nice gift.
I own the NEAT glasses. After researching a number of glasses on sites such as this I was sold on the glasses. The aromas on first nosing weren’t overwhelmed by the spirits alcohol content. With an added spritz of water the aromas, although not as concentrated, were easy to sense. A really enjoyable experience. Of course, if you prefer a more concentrated nosing, another glass may be preferable to you. So many different tastes, so many glasses.
After using the Neat glasses for some time I have changed my opinion of the glass. The shape of the glass (the wide rim) causes the whisky to spill over the narrowest part of the glass. This makes the sip a more conscious and careful effort to avoid a spill and taking a bit away from a nice scotch drink.
I am now off to find a better glass. I did enjoy the Glencairn, but I think I would enjoy a glass with the same shape, just a larger opening.
Does the chemical composition effect the liquor? In other words, does a high quality crystal glass make a difference than just cheepo glass of taste.
Im assuming the answer is no, and that such qualities are based upon the physical strength of crystal along with clarity and a very long shelf life.
The reason I ask is that “dollar tree” sells glasses similar with some shapes of Glencairn (well not really Glencairn but the similar to classical margaritta glass shapes) and Copitas. (well maybe not pure Copitas, but smaller tulip shaped wine glasses) but I find them suitable but not as strong. (they break easy) They are common glass and I have broken a few by accident, but at only a dollar, its ok.
What is your opinion on this?
I don’t think it has an appreciable effect, the better crystal glass just sparkles more. Then again, branding and image is everything.
Hi Jim I am trying to find a great combination of items as a wedding gift for my friend. I want a nice bottle of scotch and some different glass and essentials for a scotch lover. Any ideas?
Great thread! I read through the thread to see if anybody had the same problem I have with the glencairn – nope, guess im an oddball. But…. for me the Glencairn is great for the first 1/2 of the drink. The shape though makes the 2nd 1/2 difficult especially the very last portion. You have to tip the glass almost vertical. Its obviously doable but just sort of annoying. That’s why a nice heavy based tumbler is just easier sometimes. I see some others mentioned here that seem to have a slightly less narrow neck and wider mouth so might give those a try.
Hi! Looking to get my groom a nice bottle of Whiskey (he never buys really expensive whiskey) but I want to keep it under $100. Any suggestions? 🙂 Thanks!!
WOW! what a choice there is! First of all, and not to be snooty, Scotch is spelled Whisky – everything else is whiskey. Second, if he has never tried a single malt scotch then a scotch from the isle of may be too peaty/smoky for him. I would recommend a highland scotch such as Glenmorangie Lasanta or Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, Oban or Dalwhinnie. These are all safe bets for an easier drinking whisky.
If you want to get a heavy hitter then try any Lagavulin or Laphroag. But please note these last two have a strong peat smoke presence to them – not for everyone.
Wonderful suggestions from Brian. But allow me to put my 2 cents in, in keeping with under $100, I’d recommend Macallan 12. It’s a Speyside whisky and is aged in a sherry cask so it will take on the characteristics of the barrel while also offering notes of woodsmoke and spice. However if you want to go with an Islay whisky, then I would recommend Lagavulin 16.
I’ve just now tried the Glencairn glass and like it very much. At this moment I am enjoying a wee dram of Lagavulin, my personal favorite among single malts (not for the faint hearted, that is true, but magnificent just the same). I’ve been drinking and sampling single malts for I don’t know, probably 50 years plus, so I suppose you might call this a “considered” opinion . At any given time I have a half dozen singles on hand, but keep coming back to the Lagavulin. For an introduction to the very special Islay malts, try the Bowmore – less powerful, but has all the essential elements in well balanced combination: peat, seaweed, ocean air . . . I’m an oceanographer, grew up on the rocky coast of New England, have a lot of Scots ancestry, so I suppose it’s natural.
On another tack, “copita” glasses have been mentioned here. The “copita” is the classic sherry glass, and having lived in the sherry country in Andalusia for a year I became addicted to the “manzanilla de Sanlucar” type of dry sherry. So where to find real “copitas” for tasting sherry? I lived in a fair-sized farming village (population about 15,000) that had 55 bars, count ’em. Not places to get drunk, but places to drink a copita of the local product, and consume “tapas” – specialties of that particular bar owner (well, usually his wife . . .). A wonderful way to assemble a meal while strolling along and meeting all your friends. There are worse ways to live. So, where to find real “copita” glasses? The sherry is available here (Emilio Lustau, for example), but the glasses?
My wife has these tall shot glasses that I use for drinking every type of alcohol neat. I would send you a photo but unsure how
Enjoyed reading this post and the spirited comments that followed. We’d love to invite anyone interested in a revolutionary whisky glass to seek us out on social media and get updates on our Kickstarter campaign, launching near the end of October. Sláinte!
I hope you are still reading these replies. I am shopping for my husband for christmas and I saw these “Rock Glass” at akadwelling.com however I can’t find much information about them. Have you heard of eternal glass or purchased these glasses before? Wanted to check before I bought since they are $72 a piece. Thanks in advance.
I haven’t heard of them but $72 seems steep, I’d look elsewhere…
I’m really looking forward to try this one here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/norlan/the-norlan-whisky-glass As for now, the Glencairn glass is still the one for me
Thanks for the article. I found the Glencairn Copita to be not as good with giving away the aromas, as their traditional nosing glass. Copita is otherwise great, if you get the shape right, like in Ardbeg’s own branded Copita glasses.
Curiosity question: We have a bottle for Four Roses Canadian Whisky. The tape across the cap is dated 1944. Obviously, it has never been opened. What are the chances that it would still be good to drink?
If it’s sealed, chances are pretty good that it’s good to drink.
Your thoughts on the Norlan ?
I haven’t tried it so no opinion on it.
Few months later….have you tried it?
No, not yet… I have a ton of Glencairns and would rather spend the money on more whisky. 🙂
I have a pair of the Norlan and a pair of the Riedel.
I think the Norlan tastes better but its ergonomics are not as good as the Riedel.
I feel I’m about to drop the Norlan as I drink from it.
I don’t like Glencairn because you have to tilt your head back too far. Maybe my nose is also too big for the Glencairn