The Expert's Guide to Whisky Glasses

by Matt Chambers
at Whisky for Everyone

Why glass choice is so important

The shape and size of the glass that you choose can have a profound effect on the whisky that you are drinking from it. This may not be something that you have particularly paid much attention too, but your choice can greatly alter what you get from a whisky.

The best option is also dependent on what you are looking for from the whisky – are you analysing it at a tutored whisky tasting event, or simply sitting and relaxing with a nice dram at the end of a working day? But which style to choose?

The Glencairn

For many in the whisky industry and beyond, the go-to whisky glass is the Glencairn. This distinctively shaped glass first appeared in the early 2000s but feels like it has been around forever. It is a true market leader.

The narrow, tapered opening and wider base give the perfect basis to assess and analyse the whisky within, as the aromas are channelled directly to the nostrils. This makes it perfect for all scenarios, but especially whisky tastings. The heavy base also gives a good weight and feel in the hand.

The glass was designed by Raymond Davidson, the founder of Glencairn Crystal – the designers and manufacturers of high-end glassware and crystal decanters. He sketched out the idea for the glass in the 1980s, but it remained in a folder on a piece of paper for the next 20 years until rediscovered.

The inspiration for the Glencairn design came from the style of glass used by the Scotch whisky blenders – this has a narrow opening but wider base and was set on a stem with a flat base. Davidson was frustrated that whisky did not have its own definitive shape of glass as other styles of drinks have – think Champagne flute or brandy glass – and wanted to make something that was easily usable by consumers.

The rest is history as they say. The Glencairn glass has become a classic for drinking and assessing whisky. It sells a staggering five million glasses worldwide per year and is a huge success story.

Other glassware

The Tumbler

Several other glassware styles are associated with a dram of whisky. The tumbler is a popular choice, especially for relaxing and sipping. The weight and shape of a tumbler adds to the decadent feel of drinking and adds an air of luxury.

But the wide opening and straight sides do not capture the aromas as the Glencairn glass does – this makes a tumbler not the best for analysing a whisky. The modern flat-bottomed tumbler was developed for cocktails such as the Negroni and Old Fashioned but is great to enjoy a dram of whisky, especially if you enjoy drinking it with water or over ice.

A classic whisky cocktail

The Copita

Another good option is the tulip-shaped copita glass. Like the Glencairn glass, the copita’s shape with a narrower opening and wider base is great for analysing and assessing a whisky. The main body of the glass sits on a thin stem that allows you to hold it without warming the spirit.

The copita glass was originally used in the bodegas of southern Spain for the sampling of sherries as they matured. The UK was the main export market for sherry and the copita travelled with it. The glass would be used by workers at British ports to check the quality of sherry upon arrival, becoming known as a ‘docker’s glass’ along the way.

The copita remains popular in the whisky industry and to a wider audience alike. They are often used for whisky tastings as they are particularly good at showcasing whisky aromas. The style of glass was adopted by the Scotch whisky industry, particularly blenders and Master Blenders, for this reason and they remain hugely popular.

The Quaich

Prior to glass becoming widely manufactured on a commercial basis, the vessel of choice for drinking whisky in Scotland was the quaich (pronounced quake, as in earthquake). This is formed of a central bowl with a handle on either side and was originally made of wood. The name comes from the Scots Gaelic word ‘cuach’, meaning cup.

Over time the wooden quaich evolved to become metal or pewter. Their ownership became seen as a status symbol amongst the Scottish clan leaders, but their popularity was short lived. They are now largely ceremonial or ornamental.

The quaich has also historically been used as a symbol of friendship. If two people drink from the same quaich in turn, then they are said to be bound in friendship forever. This custom remains today.

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