Does Glassware Make a Difference…? (Yes!)
I will admit, when the Portland Women Who Whiskey Chapter President suggested that we do a whiskey tasting comparing glassware for the blog, I was skeptical. I had always chosen my whiskey sipping vessels purely on aesthetics (or honestly, sometimes whatever I grabbed first out of the cupboard).
I also didn’t trust my palate or nose to be attuned enough to notice any differences. Thankfully, I was completely wrong, and this little experiment was really interesting and eye opening.
We tested five different glassware designs and used Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye at 90.4 proof. We also recruited some gentleman to taste with us in order to have a more varied experimental test group. We did a couple of rounds, both on an empty stomach and after eating a bunch of pizza to make sure nothing significantly changed our opinions (pro-tip, taste first then gorge on pizza if you want to experience the most nuance).
First, we used a plain old rocks glass. The kind you get handed at most bars. Unfortunately, most bars are doing it wrong. This was everyone’s least favorite. We couldn’t sense much of an aroma from the whiskey at all, just the alcohol. It also provided the most tasteless sips. We also used a higher end rocks glass, a Schott Zwiesel Pure Double Old Fashioned Rocks Glass, which diffused the aroma a bit more, but ultimately also fell flat.
Next, we tried the Norlan Whisky Glass. We had high expectations for this one since it claims to be scientifically designed to enhance the whisky experience. It’s basically a super lightweight rocks glass with a tulip shape inside the thin double glass walls. Unfortunately, no one enjoyed using these glasses or noticed any particular difference in the aroma or flavor of the rye. They are super lightweight, and it feels like you are going to crush them. Also, the awkward shape makes them unpleasant to hold in your hand. No one in the group recommended this glass.
On to the Glencairn! These short stemmed tulip shaped glasses, made from Glencairn crystal, are what you will most commonly find at high end distilleries for tasting. And with good reason! We all noticed a significant difference in the aromas in the rye using this glass. It smelled much mellower, and the alcohol smell had faded away significantly. Not surprisingly, it also tasted better. We could pick up a lot more of the flavor notes like tobacco and a sweeter fruity flavor. This glass we decided provided the best flavor experience, even though it wasn’t our number one winner. The thing we didn’t like was how far back you had to tip your head to drink. You had to lose eye contact and nearly strain your neck. It’s a great glass for purely tasting, but not so much for social sipping.
Onward to the Cut Crystal Snifter! This was our winner! We love the hand feel and heft of the cut crystal. The rye tasted very smooth and sweet, and the aroma remained as complex as it did in the Glencairn. It almost seemed like the scent and flavor blended more seamlessly with this glass. We could pick up the honey and almond notes in the rye, as well as the zip of pepper on the back. This is the glass I want to sip my whiskey with all the time.
Our last glass was an Arome tasting glass . This glass was our second favorite. It mimicked the great dispersal of the rye’s aroma and flavor complexity that we found with the cut crystal snifter, however the hand feel just wasn’t as pleasant. It’s a bit of a strange shape to hold in your hand, and much more lightweight. We could all sense the way the shape of the glass holds the aroma and sort of flows it over your nose as the whiskey hits your tongue. This shape for tasting blows the “scientific” Norlan out of the water.
We were definitely focusing on what we’d like to have in our hand in a casual whiskey sipping setting and concentrated on all the elements of the experience, not just the actual flavors and aromas of the whiskey. So take all of this with a grain of salt (or a slice of pizza!). Ultimately, I would recommend doing your own glassware comparison and finding out what your favorite is.