For serious (read: obsessed) whiskey drinkers, everything matters when it comes to whiskey consumption—from the origin of the whiskey to the temperature of the spirit to the setting in which it is consumed. The choice of glassware is especially important. Though a regular old rocks glass will suffice, a number of opportunistic companies now offer glasses designed to “better” the whiskey drinking experience by funneling the spirit’s aroma or more efficiently aerating the whiskey or allowing for more whiskey movement. But do these features actually make a difference, or is it all gimmick?
We tried five glasses made specifically for whiskey, boasting special whiskey “enhancing” features, to see if they’re worth the hype. Here’s what we discovered.
The Glencairn Whiskey Glass was first put on the market in 2001 and was designed with the help of master blenders from the five largest whisky houses in Scotland. It has since gone on to become the go-to tasting glass at distilleries and whiskey tastings. Like its website claims, the glass’s narrow, tapered mouth helps trap and direct the aroma of whatever it holds toward the drinker’s nose, making it easy to identify the whiskey’s key attributes. Have a bottling that’s supposed to smell of leather and caramel? You’ll pick those notes up along with many more using this glass.
The glass is also extremely comfortable to hold, with enough of a base to grasp to avoid warming the whisky too much with your hand. Its base also provides a nice amount of heft toward the bottom of the glass to make swirling and tipping the glass almost effortless. When drinking out of it, however, the edge of the rim hits directly on the tip of the nose, so you have to lean back to get any liquid out.
If you’re fan of sipping your whiskies neat, you’ll want to add one of these glasses to your collection—there is also a crystal cut version available, if the plain glass is too boring for your precious bottling.
With a more pronounced tulip shape than that of the Glencairn Whiskey Glass, the Norlan glass takes the design—and science—of whiskey glassware a step further, combining traits of both a traditional whiskey tumbler and a stemmed snifter. The glass’s most obvious design feature is the double layer of glass, which not only makes it visually appealing, but also prevents your palm from warming the liquid inside of the glass as you drink. The mouth of the glass also opens up a little wider than that of the Glencairn glass, ensuring that it fits nicely over your nose as you drink. The lip of the glass—where the inner and outer layers meet—sits comfortably on the lips. The one misstep, though, is its lightweight design—the glass takes more effort to swirl and aerate as it doesn’t have a hefty base to aid in inertia.
The company claims that, “when swirled around the glass the fluid forms a standing wave shape, which increases the surface to air ratio and rate of oxidization,” which supposedly causes a greater amount of ethanol to evaporate, leaving behind only the more important aromas and “improving the taste of your whisky.” Those are some grandiose claims, but the Norlan glass delivers. While it isn’t much different than the Glencairn glass as far as flavor delivery is concerned, it does seem to push some of the more intrusive ethanol aromas out of the glass, leaving behind only the most delicious and delicate scents.
The Normann Copenhagen Whiskey Glass would be a lovely addition to anyone’s glassware collection, but it may be a bit too much glass to handle. While it’s plenty hefty and does provide stability (like the company’s website claims), the base is nearly four inches wide, and the glass slants up at an angle to create a triangle shape that is awkward to hold and will slide right out of any less-than-firm grip.
The company also claims that this glass “closes in at the rim intensifying and drawing aroma to the nose.” To some extent, it does, but not as effectively as the more narrow opening of the Glencairn or Norman whiskey glasses. And, like the Glencairn glass, it tends to hold in some of those ethanol aromas rather than releasing them, resulting in a more intensely alcohol-forward nose. The one thing this design does offer over the previous two, however, is the ability to hold ice. If you like minimalist design and a bit of dilution with your whiskey, the Normann Copenhagen Whiskey Glass is the way to go.
Do you get bored drinking at home? This glass from Epicureanist will keep you entertained—or, at least, that’s what the company claims. The Helix Whiskey Glass, whose design was vaguely inspired by the shape of the same name, is essentially a glorified highball glass. Though it’s made for whiskey, the shape does not curve one way or the other. Its one defining characteristic is the point on its base that allows it to spin like a top. Though the company says this motion will both enhance the taste of your drink and aerate the whiskey for you, the result is no different than sipping out of a rocks glass. For the most part, the aroma escapes up the walls of the glass, leaving hardly a trace behind.
Made from crystal and modeled after the famed 14,692-foot-tall Alpine mountain, the Matterhorn Glass is, essentially, a standard rocks glass with one obvious addition: the mountain-shaped obstruction in the center of the glass. Though it may look cool (and it definitely does), this glassy protrusion leaves you with less space for the good stuff and makes it virtually impossible to add even one decent ice cube to the glass. Perhaps that’s why its maker, South Korean company Tale Design, calls it a “crystal on the rock glass.” Like the Helix glass, the straight walls have a hard time containing the aromas while you drink. That said, it’s perfectly fine for sipping whiskey neat. However, the company’s idea that the “liquor filled in this glass feels more clear and pure” is merely a marketing ploy.