Whisky is a gloriously diverse and expansive drink. I have long claimed that there is not a single person in the world who can say they do not like whisky, just that they have never tried the right one. Of course, the right one may be a ludicrously expensive Yamazaki 35 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whisky – currently Amazon’s most expensive bottle of whisky – in which case you may never get to discover that you love whisky. But to look at the other end of the scale, your Bell’s, Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker Red Label, all have a variety of flavour to them. Though some may see them as ‘cooking whiskies’ rather than something of any value, but they are also gateway whiskies. Not many people I currently know who enjoy whisky would start on anything other than a blend unless by chance. I myself started by drinking Famous Grouse, which I soon began to find was nowhere as nice as Bell’s, which was nowhere as near as Johnnie Walker Black Label etc.
This variety lies in part to the fact that the distillation process, though fairly simple, has evolved over many years to offer a vast variety of noses, tastes, finishes and hues to become what it is today. As it turns out, there is also a huge variety in drinking glasses. You have two different types just for Champagne/Prosecco/Cava, you have glasses specifically designed for brandy, specifically designed for the relatively young Martini cocktail, three different types of standard pint glasses (tulip, straight, bowed). It is basically a ridiculous minefield that you have to go through if you are to preserve perfect etiquette and serve the right drink in the right glass. But whisky? Stick it in whatever.
I am not going to say there is necessarily a right and wrong answer to this question – there are actually several right and several wrong answers – but I am going to attempt to give you a rough guide to the pros and cons of each vessel.
Normally found in: Pubs – generally pubs which cater to regulars, lager drinkers and vodka/mixer drinkers. They have nothing other than the cheap whisky on the optics. Bartender tends to ask if you want it with Coca-Cola or Diet Coke.
Pros: Not many in all honesty. Of all the glasses I am semi-regularly served pub whisky in, this is far and away the most frustrating. The only one I can think of right now is that it doesn’t leak.
Cons: It’s really the height of the tumbler which lets it down. It is just not a glass which is conducive to whisky drinking of anything better than a supermarket blend. There is no room for the nose to circulate or get out so anything that you do drink has none of the delicious, pre-emptive smell which is what gets the juices flowing.
Normally found in: Pubs, homes – generally decent pubs which cater to a mixture of clients and have at least something other than an optic blend, many homes will have these but often used as small water glasses.
Pros: As this is the most likely glass you be served your whisky in it is fortunate that it does indeed have at least a few pros to speak of. Mainly is its size. At about half the height of a regular tumbler or hi-ball glass and normally a little wider it is far more comfortable to hold. With the lower height, it also means that it doesn’t get the opportunity to stifle the nose of your dram either. It is a good all-rounder that deserves its common appearance but is definitely not perfect for the enthusiast.
Cons: As I have said it’s not perfect and, frankly, it’s a little boring. It does little to nothing to encourage the idea of holding, savouring and consuming the luxury product that it is whisky. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with its design but it is more Billy bookcase than handcrafted luxury furniture.
Normally found in: Homes/clubs – Usually found in the homes of baby-boomers and the well furnished but have also been seen serving whisky in Gentleman’s Clubs.
Pros: These are often exquisitely hand crafted vessels that can accentuate the elegant look and style to the art of consuming whisky. Having roughly the same dimensions of the above traditional glass, it is good for the nose as the as the clean cut taste on the pallet.
Cons: Crystal is beautiful and generally hand crafted. This is what leads to its downfall – it becomes expensive and usually quite heavy. It is an excellent choice for a civilised night at home with friends, but not so much a night out where you will be moving around.
Normally found in: Homes, whisky shop/festivals and specialist pubs – The likelihood of being served whisky in this glass will depend on the company you keep but expect it to be handed to you by someone who knows their whiskies.
Pros: I love this glass. It is perhaps the most comfortable to hold glass I have in my home and I do not only mean glasses for whisky. It sits well in the hand, is not too heavy and it showcases the whisky extraordinarily well. Its stumpy, heavy based bottom gives it a beautiful balance and makes it easy for newcomers to learn to swirl and nose whisky. This is, and barring some dramatic revelation, always will be my go to glass for a dram.
Cons: Can you tell I like this glass? There aren’t many cons for me but if I search to find one I recall that I have had to replace a fair few in my time. They are well made but remain more fragile than a ‘day-to-day’ glass. Can’t say that is unexpected though, and if you are feeling flush there is a heavier, crystal Glencairn glass available.
Normally found in: Tasting events, distillery tours, specialist shops – these glasses are generally the reserve of master blenders and it is rare you would be served whisky in these outside of a curated tasting event.
Pros: If it’s what the pros use… A beautiful glass which is interchangeable as a sherry or brandy tasting glass gives a sublime appreciation of the contained spirit. Delicate and light, it offers a wide yet narrowing rim, not unlike The Glencairn Glass but with a smaller area for the spirit. If you are serious about tasting and nosing whisky at all times, then this is the glass for you.
Cons: Not too many really, other than the fact that it is perhaps not an appropriate glass for all occasions. Sure if you are hosting your own tasting night, or supping a rare or old whisky then go for it. It just doesn’t seem right to serve anything that isn’t out of the ordinary in this glass.
These are just some of the options you may find to drink your whisky from, but they are certainly the most appropriated vessels for the privilege. Whatever you do, try them all. All tastes are subjective and it’s down to you to find out what works for you and, more importantly, the whisky they contain.
What do you think? What glass do you reach for when you treat yourself to a dram? Is it always the same? Or do you like to mix it up every now and then? Let me know in the comments.