Here Joyce elegantly describes a moment in time, one to be savoured against the backdrop of modern life – an experience in the company of a dram.
But these words subtly nod toward another aspect of whisky drinking that, for most of whisky’s storied history, was of less concern. Joyce highlights the sound of the whisky falling into the glass, and in doing so draws attention not only to the act of pouring but also the sensory experience being offered by the glass in which our favourite whisky is being taken.
In the context of whisky’s 500-or-so years of history, the evolution of the whisky glass has been something of a slow process. Most whisky drinkers will be familiar with the origins of the ubiquitous but now rarely used quaich (from the Gaelic cuach, meaning ‘cup’) and, of course, the comforting tumbler that’s become the global standard in general-use glassware.
Beyond these, the story of modern-day whisky glassware can largely be read in the same light as the rise of single malt whisky. With a growing understanding amongst consumers that whisky, and single malt especially, can offer incredible sensory complexity, so too grew the number of ‘tools’ with which drinkers can help bring these complexities to life.
The collaboration between glassware manufacturers and whisky producers, connoisseurs and fanatics over the last 25 years or so has resulted in a whisky glass for every occasion, every palate and every hand, each adding their own sensory quality or aesthetic depending on need, taste or desire.
Whether at home, attending a tasting or carrying out sensory analysis on a new expression, whisky lovers should remain consciously aware of what each glass might add to the sensory journey: what the whisky falling into the bowl sounds like, whether the material and admits sufficient light to emphasise the spirit’s colour and legs, how the shape of the vessel opens and channels aromas towards the nose, and how it delivers the whisky onto the palate. Beyond that, aesthetic and ergonomic considerations will also add to the experience of using any given glass.
By bringing all this to into view, the drinker can mindfully engage in the act of whisky drinking, becoming more capable of identifying and enjoying the unique characteristics of every drop in every dram. By using a consciously designed glass, whisky lovers can pay respect to the mastery that goes into each step of producing a spirit of whisky’s incomparable complexity.
As whisky appreciation is intended to be an experience, it pays to invest in glassware that enhances enjoyment down to the last drop, at which point it is certain that all will quietly thank the glassmakers responsible for helping deliver such an agreeable interlude. The following line-up of nine glasses are worthy of any whisky lover’s cabinet. Following simple criteria, each has been consciously crafted, is readily accessible and, above all, draws attention to the sensory elements of the whisky-drinking experience.
The Glencairn Glass
The Glencairn Glass is familiar to whisky drinkers the world over. Developed as a collaboration between the family-owned business Glencairn Crystal and a selection of whisky master blenders in the early 2000s, it was the first whisky glass to be widely marketed on its potential to enhance sensory characteristics. The tulip-shaped bowl encourages aromas to open up at the base before being channelled towards the nose through a gently tapered opening. Completing The Glencairn Glass’s unmistakable aesthetic, the small but solid base helps contribute towards an all-round easy-drinking experience.
Why to buy: It has earned its reputation as the go-to whisky glass for millions and should form the basis of any collection.
Which whisky, which occasion: The perfect all-rounder for any whisky on any occasion, it’s especially suited to helping those new to whisky appreciate the full sensory journey.
Where to buy: glencairn.co.uk, £6.00.
The 1920s Professional Blender’s Whisky Glass
Developed by Speciality Drinks and whisky writer Angus MacRaild, this distinctive glass combines sensory exploration with an era of elegant drinking. A faithful replica of the 1920s whisky blender’s nosing glasses, the pronounced onion-shaped bowl maximises aromatic development of the whisky before swiftly concentrating aromas. The elongated stem promotes visual analysis as well as stylishly positioning the whisky well away from body heat and fingerprints.
Why to buy: Every element of the sensory journey benefits from its proportionally extreme design.
Which whisky, which occasion: Perfect for mindfully engaging a well-matured dram.
Where to buy: thewhiskyexchange.com, £24.95.
The Copita Nosing Glass
Colloquially named the ‘dock’ glass, the copita was used by 17th-century merchants to ‘nose’ shipments of wine and spirits before accepting them. It remains commonly used in sherry bodegas, and it is often seen in today’s whisky-blending studios. The ‘sherry’ copita’s elegant bowl and narrow opening permits highly accurate aromatic analysis, allowing professional blenders to consistently check spirit quality. The stem allows for unhindered visual analysis, as well as keeping the hand away from the bowl and opening to minimise aromatic contamination and heat transfer.
Why to buy: Ideal for sensory analysis. Also for use with a glass cap to help concentrate aromas and limit samples’ contact with air.
Which whisky, which occasion: Suited to a structured tasting of multiple samples.
Where to buy: glencairn.co.uk, £7.00.
The Riedel Vinum Single Malt Whisky Glass
A family-owned titan of the wine world for 265 years, Riedel also lays claim to its very own whisky glass. This tall, deep vessel was developed in the early 1990s in collaboration with a panel of master blenders. The handmade crystal glass has an accentuated, outwardly curved lip designed specifically to emphasise the ‘elegant creaminess and sweetness’ of single malt whisky. It not only stands out for its beauty but, through its wide opening, also permits the appreciation of aroma and flavour in one motion.
Why to buy: If imbibing whisky gracefully is a priority, the aesthetic and motion from hand to nose and mouth is second to none.
Which whisky, which occasion: Suited to drams with a sweet, creamy or fruity profile. Perfect for a pre- or post-dinner dram.
Where to buy: riedel.com, £49.00 for two.
The Túath Glass
he Túath Glass take its name from the
Old Irish word for ‘people’ or ‘tribe’ and has been specially crafted to ‘unify Irish whiskey drinkers’ by combining the
sensory and the social. It offers a wide opening, to avoid over concentration of alcohol vapours irritating the nose, and a unique, thumb-friendly base shaped like the Irish landmark Skellig Michael island. The unusual base allows the user to hold the glass firmly and the fine lip of the glass delivers the whiskey to the front and centre of the tongue while ensuring the drinker isn’t forced to break eye-contact with companions during a toast.
Why to buy: This glass merges style and substance to encourage aroma, flavour and famous Irish conviviality.
Which whisky, which occasion: Use this to explore the growing range of Irish whiskeys and their wonderful sensory offerings.
Where to buy: Visit tuathglass.ie for list of retailers, RRP €9.95.
The Norlan Glass
Evoking tactile intrigue more often associated with iPhone unboxing, the Norlan Glass rises from a velvet-like container devoid of light to show off its mouth-blown, double-walled construction, which was designed in conjunction with master distiller Jim McEwan. Angular to the touch and incredibly light in the hand, what light the Norlan lacks inside the box it makes up for when containing whisky, with the two-layered construction intended to help emphasise ‘intensity of colour’ alongside a contemporary aesthetic appeal.
Why to buy: The sensory experience begins the moment your glassware arrives, and the luxury packaging makes this an indulgent gift.
Which whisky, which occasion: With visual exploration at the forefront of the experience, a deeply coloured sherry cask–matured whisky may be the one to go for.
Where to buy: uk.norlanglass.com, £48.00 for two.
Johnnie Walker Princes Street Highball Glass
As the whisky highball returns to prominence in homes and bars, it makes sense to include a glass designed specifically for this refreshing occasion. One of the most sense-evoking examples available, Johnnie Walker’s new highball glass celebrates the brand’s monumental investment in whisky at its new spiritual home on Edinburgh’s Princes Street. Slim, with ribbed walls and a heavy glass base, it invites just the right proportions of whisky, soda and ice up to the top while offering all the style and substance of its namesake tourism destination.
Why to buy: It brings a heightened sense of occasion to the highball experience.
Which whisky, which occasion: For enjoying a highball at home or in the stunning 1820 Rooftop Bar at Johnnie Walker Princes Street.
Where to buy: Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Edinburgh, £8.00.
SAVU Whisky Glass
Perhaps the most uniquely styled item on the list is the SAVU whisky glass. Promising ‘more scent, taste and enjoyment’, the SAVU was developed by a Finnish scientist in collaboration with a glassware designer on a mission to deliver an ‘optimal aromatic experience’. Shaped like an hourglass, the wide, flat base rises inwards to create a tapered neck at the mid-point that limits the rise of alcohol vapour. Completing the scientific design, ledges on the upper walls catch drops of whisky, which then begin to evaporate, intensifying aromas and helping to further eliminate excess alcohol influence for optimal scent perception. A special ice mould can also create cubes which fit into the narrow waist, creating a ‘lock’ on the bottom chamber that concentrates aroma in that space. Waiting for the ice to melt and drop is said to add to the experience of using the glass.
Why to buy: Merges science, style, theatre and substance. A real conversation starter.
Which whisky, which occasion: High-strength spirits will put the design credentials to the test.
Where to buy: savuglass.com, £59.00.
Thistle Old Fashioned Glass
Whisky cocktails are enjoying a surge in popularity and demand. The Thistle Old Fashioned, so named for its curvaceous, thistle-like shape, combines a bulbous lower half with a ‘fluted’ upper, perfect for slowly enjoying an Old Fashioned cocktail. The Thistle has ample space for ice to sit in the base of the glass while restraining it at the same time, allowing the liquid and aromas to fall outwardly over its waistline without an icy hit on the upper lip.
Why to buy: A stylish twist on the classic Old Fashioned tumbler.
Which whisky, which occasion: Suited to cocktails served on the rocks.
Where to buy: urbanbar.com, £5.00.