Does the Scotch Whisky Glass Really Matter?

Credit: fronx

Credit: fronx

Whisky glasses come in all shapes and sizes. From the old school Old Fashioned tumblers with straight sides to the various snifters styles with a tapered mouth and Glencairns – there’s a lot of debate over how important the shape of the glass is in the enjoyment of Scotch.

Personally, I think to the average enthusiast, the nose and taste differences are minor. If you’re just embarking on your exploration of scotch, whether the mouth of the glass tapers or not will not have a big impact. I think a perfect analogy is that you’re hearing the symphony and trying to find the stringed instruments and then the violin.

Whether you sit front row or back row, stage left or stage right, matters very little because it’s the first time you’ve heard a symphony.

That said, I think the whisky glass you use is important for other reasons.

First, having a special glass rounds out the experience, especially when the special glass costs only $6-8 (it’d be another issue if it cost $40!). By having a special glass you use for drinking scotch whisky, you elevate it from something that’s pedestrian to something that’s special.

You’re giving the whisky and the craftsman who made it the proper respect. The elixir sat in a barrel and aged for years. Can you imagine waiting 18 years? Or even just 12 or 10 years? Why not go the extra few feet, get a nice Glencairn, and enjoy it as the creators intended?

Lastly, the glass you use will have an impact on how much you enjoy it, even if it doesn’t change any discernible characteristics about the whisky. The value of a bottle of wine is affected by the design of the bottle and ratings are affected by the glass it was in when it was enjoyed.

And if all that didn’t convince you, I think one of my fellow Scotch aficionados, Allen, put it best in our Facebook group:

Would one eat a grapefruit with a soup spoon? Perhaps use a butter knife to cut the rib eye?

An old fashion doesn’t allow the proper shape for the aroma’s to dance, nor to reach you nose to allow your olfactory nerves to interpret the subtle aromas inherent in the juice.

Imagine aging a whisky 15/20/25/30 or more years creating a special elixir which your going to stick into a rock glass thereby offending the whisky gods or a brandy snifter with it’s bulbous girth.

However a nosing glass, a glencairn for instance (there are others) hold just the right amount of juice in it’s main body allowing the aromas to condense in it’s narrower neck to gather and expose themselves to you at the perfect opening not only for your mouth but your nose. Small enough to pass it along your nose the 1st time to introduce yourself to your expressions and then to become more intimate with it as you put your nose and senses deeper into the glass, at different angles and depths to envelope it with the many different types of smells.

Then of course what this glass in it’s whole of its shape does to enhance the taste of the juice. Properly allowing the alcohol burn off, the juice to breath within the shape of the glass bringing together the compleixities not to mention when and if you add a drop or two of water and the impact of opening up your aged elixir allowing the hidden subtle scents, flavors, sweetness,sourness, saltiness to show its hidden and mysterious self.

Or you could just use a rock glass or shot glass shoot it back

The man makes a great point! 🙂

Do you think the whisky glass you use matters? And what do you use?

15 thoughts on “Does the Scotch Whisky Glass Really Matter?

    • Glass? Agreed!

      On a more serious note, one can catch a fish with a safety pin and string; using the proper tackle enhances and, usually, simplifies the process.

      Most of my scotch is consumed from a small glass that was my father’s. It’s not fancy or shaped like that of the pro’s. It has straight sides and holds 3 fingers+. The bottom is thick and heavy, and it feels good in my hand. I’d swear I can smell my Dad’s pipe when I put it to my nose. No scotch tastes better than when it comes from that simple container!

  1. I’ve been using a glass shaped similarly to the illustration, with perhaps a bit more flare to the lip. Imagine the hybrid offspring of a Glencairn and a NEAT glass and you’ll have a good idea. I have no idea how it compares to either of those, but I can state categorically that it’s a vast improvement over a plain tumbler.

    Not terribly long ago I would have scoffed at the notion, but it really does make a difference. Of course, you have be drinking good enough whisky to notice. With the budget stuff I don’t think it really matters.

    You’ve inspired me to try a Glencairn to see if I can tell any difference. I’ve had an Amazon cart open for a while, waiting to add a few bucks to bump it up to free shipping. $12 seems reasonable for a SCIENCE EXPERIMENT.

  2. If you are just drinking whisky. then a bucket is a fine tool. In my humble opinion, I prefer a Glencairn or similar style glass when I am trying to savor the blend. I find that my nose does a better job, when sniffing in a Glencairn glass, rather than in a bucket, where the aroma is less concentrated. So in conclusion, if you are in a drinking mode, a bucket is okay, but if you are in a tasting mode savoring the full experience the Glencairn will provide a better experience. I agree with Alan on his budget comment, simply because one is more likely to favor a more expensive whisky. The other advantage of the Glencairn glass is that the narrow opening makes it harder for people to spoil the flavor by dropping in ice cubes and retarding the flavor.

  3. great write-up!

    When drinking something really special, I’ll break out the fancy glasses… if it’s just the wind-down for the day whiskey – a tumbler will do fine.

  4. I’ve been drinking from a Glencarin for several years now, due to all the things mentioned above (nosing, concentrating aroma, prestige…lol) but not long ago we found some cool “wobbly” glasses at Bunnahabhain that had no base, just relied on gravity to keep them upright (kinda like one of these toys you punch and it pops back up) and decided we had to have them.
    So far we’ve only used them twice. The first time we didn’t really like them and the second time verified it. They just don’t serve the same function as the Glencarin when sampling whisky (volume drinking is diferent)
    We’ve switched back to the good old faithful Glencarin and have no intentions on changing it up again any time soon.

    Lets all raise a glass to the glass we raise!!

  5. Yes, the glass matters, but not nearly as much as the contents of the glass. If one is in search of the true Scotch experience, then a Glencairn or similar glass is a requirement. I find this particularly true when tasting a new Scotch or Scotches. However, if you are just enjoying one of your regular everyday drams, I find it less of a necessity. In the latter case, I’m more likely to be found with the Scotch in one hand, and a good cigar in the other.

  6. I do believe a glass of your liking is important. I have Glencairn glasses. I use them, but I actually like the baseball shaped glass better because appreciating the “nose” is really a nose-mouth experience, and it is hard to get both in a Glencairn glass. Glenmorangie came up with a great Christmas gift set a few years back which included two baseball shaped glasses with their 750 ml bottle. Drinking anything out of a shot glass is a bit crude…although I have done that too in my past. Having a little class in the selection of the glass is certainly a good thing when enjoying a decent dram.

  7. I’m not saying that marketing doesn’t play its usual naughty role, but it all depends on the depth of experience one is looking for. For me it does change the tasting experience but only for those ready to indulge in all the nuances offered by the world of whisky – and I would like to think of myself as one of that kind.

  8. The size & feel of a comfy glass in my hand has always been on of my idiosyncracies. When you add the dynamic of the shape that most benefits the scotch experience, it just makes sense to use the “right” glass. I came upon the Glencairn style glass well into my years of enjoying scotch, but interestingly enough, I had gravitated to a glass of somewhat similar shape over the years anyway. Irony? I dunno, but all’s well that ends well!!!

  9. Last week we did the tour at Highland Park and they gave us a dram of their 12 year old to finish the hour.

    And then gave us little boxes to pack the glass in as a souvenir. Nice touch.

    We’re using them now on tour in Italy, where we’re drinking Auchentoshan out of them. They are very like a Glencairn apart from the chunky base. They basically have no base, but otherwise the tulip shap is the same.

    I like this wide bottom narrow top shape to concentrate the nose, which is a big part of the experience. That’s half the pleasure right there, don’t let any aroma escape!

    Plus there’s the feeling that this is a special drink and deserves special attention. Just like drinking champagne out of flutes and beer out of pint glasses enhances the whole sensory experience, differentiating one drink from another, so too is drinking an expensive dram from an appropriate glass.

    I bought that Glenmorangie gift set, and the glasses are fine, but I don’t use them for Scotch. I like my Glencairns. They aren’t expensive, they take up a narrow footprint in the glass cupboard, they complete the experience.

    Add in a water jug, and a straw to get just the right amount.

    After that, it’s up to the Scotch.

  10. Yes, the Glencairns, or similiar tulip tapered style glasses, do indeed make a big difference to my enjoyment of Scotch, Irish or whatever whiskey.

    Lots of the more delicate aromas are lost with Old Fashioned type glassware. I’ve experimented with the glasses side by side and the difference is immense with some expressions. The difference is particularly noticeable with fruity Speyside and with Irish Whiskies.

    I would agree however with a previous comment in that “tasting” certainly requires the right glassware whereas everyday “drinking” can of course be less stringent.

  11. I am a glencairn fan too. With wine it is easy to demonstrate the difference that different glasses have on the flavor profile of a wine. The shape of the lip of the glass, the diameter of the opening, the size of the bowl, etc. There is a huge difference between drinking a nice wine from a thick rimmed basic wine glass vs. a thin rimmed riedel. Scotch is similar, though tougher for more people to note because of the higher alcohol and less familiar notes that people don’t quite get.

    I have used a pair of glencairns for a while now, however one just broke in the dishwasher so i have to source some new ones. Maybe try something different???


  12. Have used a glencairn glass, rocks glass, and coffee cup. I like them all. I don’t feel I get enough of a nose from the glencairn. Have never used a shot glass, interesting as that might be. I do believe you should use what you enjoy the most.

  13. I can see no one is really familiar with the NEAT Glass. Many of the Whisky’s you review have been judged in the NEAT Glass. It is the official glass of the larger competitions due to its performance. Science built a better glass. Check it out!

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