What is the ideal glass for drinking single malt whisky, some often ask. Traditionally, you have the ‘Old Fashioned’ tumbler that are common in most bars and the tulip shape glass that is used at whisky tasting events.
Tulip shape glasses, with a narrower aperture at the brim, are ideal for nosing a single malt. Conversely, the tumbler, with its wide rim is better used with blended whiskies where ice and soda, cola, or green tea may be added. Their shortcoming is that the tumbler is only able to reflect the most ethereal and aggressive notes, losing much of the nosing experience to its surroundings.
Using different types of glasses creates different oxidation effects when the whisky is in contact with the air. The wider the shoulder of the glass, the more surface contact the whisky has with the air and the faster the oxygenation.
For nosing and tasting, some aficionados prefer a stemmed tulip shape glass to avoid heating the contents of the glass with your hand and to avoid any odors that the hand may give off. The tulip shape design allows for a concentration of scents. However, not every tulip shape glass has a stem and for those that don’t there are many to choose from.
For example, the Glencairn glass with its narrow opening is an ideal snifter that nicely captures the aromas of the whisky. As well, it also captures the ethanol and with a 43% plus ABV this can be overwhelming. Here, adding a few drops of water to diffuse the alcohol clarifies the nosing, rather than masking these notes with the alcohol. Some might argue that the narrow aperture of the brim of the Glencairn only allows enough room for the nose when snifting or the lips and tongue when tasting, but not both together.
There are other whisky designed glasses on the market that provide a slightly larger brim. Examples include the Riedel Vinum Single Malt Whisky Glass with its remarkably thin design.
There is the NEAT glass (Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) that looks like a flattened, wide belly version of the Glencairn. The NEAT is intended to redirect the harsh alcohol vapors away from the without having to add the splash of water.
New to the glass whisky market is the Norlan glass, a double walled, hand-blown borosilicate glass. With the Norlan, you have a concave lip that fits both the lower lip and the nose that enables the whisky to be more expressive. One of the Norlan glasses is the Vaild glass (yes the spelling is correct) with a black matte exterior that is feather weight to hold. This provides a rather unique tasting experience, as if blind folded, that is worth trying.
Whatever the choice of glass, it is the whisky that defines the tasting experience as the glass is the vehicle between the bottle and the nose (and of course the lips and the tongue). Although discovering the essences of the whisky is the magic, the glass is the enhancer. Whatever happens after that – is wrapped in story and another dram.