Why Glencairn Glasses Are Superior For Sipping Whiskey

Whiskey drinking is full of options and strong opinions, whether you prefer yours smooth, smoky, strong, or peaty, to how much water you should add to whiskey for the best tastings. But, what's not often as considered is the actual glass you're drinking it from.

Champagne, wine, brandy, and beer all have their own distinctive glassware. But when you order a shot of whiskey in a bar, it might be served in any number of glass types, from tumblers to tulip-shaped flutes. Different shapes of whiskey glasses offer different experiences, affecting everything from how well the spirit swirls, which allows drinkers to appreciate the aroma, to how comfortably it sits in your hand.

Until 2001, the whiskey world was lacking a glass that specifically addressed all the needs of serious tasters. That is, until Raymond Davidson, founder of UK-based glassware company Glencairn Crystal, launched a glass with a shape designed to enhance the 'nose' and palate of whiskey tasting. Endorsed by the Scotch Whisky Association, as well as the Council of Whiskey Masters, the attractive yet sturdy glass was developed to encourage the optimal whiskey tasting experience. Today, you can find the Glencairn glass in every continent across the globe — even Antarctica.

The unique glass design lets you sip whiskey like a pro

The Glencairn glass is designed to hold a standard pour of whiskey (35 ml in the UK) and has enough room to add water if desired. It's also large enough to appreciate the color of the spirit inside and to give it a swirl before sipping. But it's the unique shape that really makes it work for whiskey drinking.

Similar to a tulip-shaped glass (also known as a 'copita', or sherry tasting glass), the Glencairn has a shorter, more solid base rather than a thin, fragile stem, allowing it to sit neatly in the hand. It's also robust enough to handle the boisterousness of a busy bar environment. The shape of the glass likewise allows the optimum amount of liquid to make contact with air, releasing the aroma of the whiskey towards its tapered neck. This design allows the drinker to appreciate the 'nose' of the whiskey, which can sometimes be lost if drinking from a tumbler-style glass, where the width stays the same.

But unlike a copita glass, which continues to taper, the Glencairn glass also has a flared rim. This means you get less of the harsh, heavily-concentrated ethanol vapors, which sometimes can be overpowering, and also makes it easier to actually drink from, thanks to its broader shape. So essentially, you can swirl, sniff, and taste your drink just like a pro with a Glencairn whiskey glass.

Other glasses good for whiskey tasting

If you don't have a Glencairn glass, there are several other options which will help you get the most out of your whiskey experience, depending on what you're drinking. Shot glasses and tumblers tend to be too small to swirl, so are not ideal for the pricier single malts or rarer aged whiskies where you want to appreciate the full aroma. But, a tumbler does have the advantage of being able to take in an ice cube or two, if that's how you prefer your drink.

A cognac glass certainly looks classy enough for neat whiskey, though it's not always the most practical for serious tastings due to its large bowl and narrow rim, which can mean the strong alcohol vapors are overwhelming, and subtle aromas can get lost. A smaller copita (tulip-shaped) glass has a similar issue, though less pronounced, and it still is the choice of many whiskey connoisseurs. And while the delicate shape of a copita makes it a little fragile for some bars, the glass is a decent choice for home tastings, where it can be handled more carefully.

A newer kid on the block, launched in 2012, the NEAT (Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) glass offers a technical design to enhance the different subtle character aromas of whiskey, while keeping harsh alcohol vapors away from your nose. If you can get used to the quirky shape, it could be a useful addition to your glass collection.