Friday, March 26, 2021

Yes, There Really Is A Difference in Glassware



Glassware is, believe it or not, a very polarizing subject. It ranges from people telling you it doesn't matter what glassware you use to people telling you someone with some authority says they'll only drink out of one type of glass.  In truth, just as the "best" whiskey is the one you like the most, the "best" whiskey glass is the one you enjoy using the most.


But, make no mistake about it, glassware matters.


The first time I wrote on this subject was back in 2016 for Bourbon & Banter. But I've been a proponent of using the right glassware for many years prior. I keep revisiting this subject because it is constantly changing. There have been Kickstarter campaigns to deliver "new and improved" glassware to the marketplace. And, whenever I find a new design, I am always excited to try it. You could say that I believe there is, somewhere out there, a holy grail to whiskey glassware. 


Today I'm working with nine different glass designs. This is the largest population I've ever conducted for this type of experiment. In an effort to be as fair as possible to all candidates, I used the same whiskey in each glass. I happen to love using Evan Williams Black Label when I experiment. It is available in every market and it is very affordable. I find it offers a nose of caramel, vanilla, and oak, a mouthing of caramel, fruit, and vanilla, and a palate of vanilla, caramel, toffee, corn, and oak.  A very basic, solid Bourbon, and almost perfect for experimentation.


My methodology was as fair as I could make it. There would have been no way for me to do this blind as I know their shape, feel, and weight, and handling them all was necessary. As such, I'm not going to come up with a "best" glass. 


I poured a measured half-ounce into each glass. I let each glass oxidize for the same amount of time. I set this up into four different categories:  Hand Feel, Nosing, Mouthing, and Palate. I changed the order of glasses in each category.  I also didn't want to bias my nose or palate. I reset my olfactory sense between each sample. I drank water between each sample tasted, and I spit everything (hence the affordability aspect) rather than swallow to avoid burning out my palate and not getting buzzed.


Let me get some necessary disclosure out of the way. When I compose reviews, I always use a Glencairn Whisky Glass unless I specify otherwise. I use a Glencairn for several reasons, but they're my reasons. Also, I have friends who have designed or represent different types and brands of glassware. Those friendships do not interfere with my ability to determine which glassware is best for me.


My purpose is not to prove to you why the Glencairn glass is my glassware of choice. Rather, it is to demonstrate how design affects the factors I consider to be important.  As such, let's get on with it.


Shot Glass


The first glass up is the basic shot glass. These are very affordable, only a buck or so in most cases. They are usually made of glass, but there are resin, stoneware and metal options. Its purpose is, understandably, to deliver a shot of whatever. Mine has measurement lines. While you can sip from it, many folks simply slam back a pour. 

Hand Feel:  This can be held with just two fingers without trouble. A glass version will have weight to it and can offer a satisfying thunk as you slam it back on the counter or table.

Nosing:  I can pick up alcohol fumes and a bit of oak, but even that is hidden beneath the alcohol. There was no real change trying various nosing zones.

Mouthing:  When I inhale through my mouth, I am able to pick out vanilla.

Palate:  There isn't a lot in terms of flavors. It is buried under alcohol burn. I was able to taste oak.


Rocks Glass

Next up is a standard rocks glass. These are uncomplicated and most of us have a set. They are priced from a buck to being pricey, depending on the material and thickness. It can easily accommodate rocks or a sphere. 

Hand Feel:  A rocks glass fits the hand well and a high-quality one can have some heft. 

Nosing:  It is easy to get my face up to it without a blast of alcohol fumes. I was able to pick out vanilla and oak. I did not find any variety with my various nosing zones. 

Mouthing:  Inhaling through my lips offered only oak.

Palate:  The whiskey was creamy and soft. It offered some alcohol burn but was not overwhelming. 


Glencairn Canadian Whisky Glass


The Glencairn Canadian Whisky Glass is specifically designed for Canadian Whisky. However, it is also versatile enough for other types. It has a bowl shape that tapers and then flares outward. It can accommodate rocks or smaller spheres. They run, on average, about $15.00.

Hand Feel:  These are crystal glasses but lack significant heft. I find them a bit on the large side for holding in my hand, and easier to grasp underneath in my palm.

Nosing:  I didn't experience any overwhelming fumes, the shape of the glass did assist in deflecting. I was able to pick up vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Mouthing:  Inhaling through my lips led me to heavy wood notes. There was no alcohol burn.

Palate:   I found there was an overall muting of flavors. There as no burn but I felt like aside from corn, everything else was missing. 


Norlan Whiskey Glass

The Norlan Whiskey Glass is one of those Kickstarter styles. It is a double-walled glass with fins at the bottom. The purpose of the fins is to assist in aeration, thus unlocking flavors. They're on the pricey side, usually about $24.00 (and are sold in pairs). 

Hand Feel:  The Norlan feels delicate, almost as if it would break in my hand if I held it too tight or let it hit the table too hard. In reality, it is far sturdier. It also fits my hand unnaturally, heightening my concern of breaking it.

Nosing:  The fins create an obvious difference, as everything smells sweet. I lost any semblance of oak, but vanilla and caramel aromas were heavy.  There was no alcohol burn.

Mouthing:  Caramel was thick and danced across my palate without alcohol fumes.

Palate:  The whiskey was soft and silky. It flowed easily across my tongue. I picked up caramel, vanilla, toffee, corn, and oak - everything I expect from Evan Williams. There was a hint of alcohol warmth, but not what I would describe as burn.


Glencairn Whisky Glass

The Glencairn Whiskey Glass was designed in 2001 and utilized a tulip shape. It directs the aromas to the nose and the liquid to the tip of the tongue. It is popular and used at distilleries around the world. You wouldn't want to use ice in this other than chips. Prices are all over the spectrum, but you can pick up a basic, unbranded one for under $10.00.

Hand Feel:  The Glencairn glass is weighted well. I find it very easy to pick up by its thick foot. Its shape helps me manipulate its direction while I'm nosing and has a natural feel when sipping. 

Nosing: It is easy to tilt and twist the glass to switch between each nostril. It sits properly at my chin, just below my lower lip and finally, my nose. As such, I experienced little effort in picking up caramel, vanilla, and oak. 

Mouthing:  Channeling aromas directly in my mouth is facilitated by its design. Vanilla, caramel, and fruit were obvious.

Palate:  I picked up caramel, vanilla, toffee, corn, and oak, and the narrow mouth helps aim the liquid across my palate versus everywhere in my mouth, allowing me to pick out the individual flavors.


Riedel Vinum Cognac Glass

Riedel is a well-known glassmaker, especially as it pertains to wine. It also makes a cognac glass, which performs well as a whiskey glass. It is tulip-shaped, but with a more flared mouth than the Glencairn. Retail is about $18.00. You wouldn't want to use anything more than chipped ice in it.

Hand Feel:  The stem makes it very easy to grasp, twist and manipulate. It is weighted well and while delicate looking, feels solid.

Nosing:  There is something lost in the nosing process. I can pick up oak and vanilla.  If I twist and turn the glass, I can also find the caramel. There were no unpleasant alcohol fumes.

Mouthing:  Caramel was easy to pick up, but it lacked anything else, including alcohol burn.

Palate:  The whiskey seemed creamier than it did in any other glass, and as it flowed across my palate, I had no trouble picking up vanilla, corn, and oak. However, missing was toffee and caramel.


Libbey Perfect Glass

The Libbey glass is a different take on the channeling design. Rather than a bowl of any kind, it offers hard angles at the bottom, then it starts narrowing as it goes up. These are sold in sets of four and can be had for about $9.00 each. Rocks can be used, but a sphere would not fit.

Hand Feel:  The Libbey Perfect is difficult to hold. It has some weight to it, but there is no natural place for your fingers or even the palm of your hand to grasp it. 

Nosing:  Despite a very different shape, it performed almost exactly like the Canadian Whisky glass.  I was able to pick up vanilla, caramel, and oak, and didn't find anything in terms of alcohol burn. 

Mouthing:  I found vanilla and oak, but strange as it sounds, both "tasted" stale. There was no alcohol burn to speak of.

Palate:  The flavors of corn, vanilla, and fruit were evident, however, they came across muted. There was a very small amount of alcohol burn.


NEAT Ultimate Spirits Glass

The NEAT glass has gone through a few name changes over the years. It started off as the NEAT Experience. I've also seen it called a NEAT Judging Glass and NEAT Ultimate Spirits Glass. Regardless of what it is called, NEAT is an acronym for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology. It looks like someone took a Canadian Whisky Glass and smooshed it down. The bowl is flatter, and the mouth is very flared. You can add rocks but, unlike the Canadian Whisky glass, you wouldn't get a sphere to fit. Retail is about $16.00.

Hand Feel:  The NEAT glass fits in my hand nicely, and much better than a Canadian Whisky Glass. It also feels less delicate.

Nosing:  I found the NEAT glass allowed sweeter notes to shine through, making vanilla and caramel easy to discern. Less easy was the oak, but it was there. I found no alcohol burn.

Mouthing:  I was absolutely shocked to find I pulled nothing at all while attempting to inhale through my mouth. I suspect it has to do with the very wide, flared rim.

Palate:  Drinking from the NEAT glass is challenging. You must lean your head back to get the liquid beyond the flare. However, it provided a softening of the mouthfeel. It also eliminated any alcohol fumes and burn. I was able to pick up all of the expected flavors of corn, vanilla, caramel, toffee, and oak.


Aged & Ore Duo Glass

The Aged & Ore Duo Glass is another one that started with a Kickstart campaign. Like the Norlan glass, it also features a double-walled design. This one has no fins. Instead, it has ribbed lines along the inside wall that serve both to measure and aerate. The glass is large enough to accommodate rocks or a sphere and costs about $24.00 each. 

Hand Feel:  This is very similar in feel and appearance as the Norlan glass, meaning it looks very delicate but isn't. While the lack of heft is the same, the shape is slightly different and I found it easier to hold than the Norlan.

Nosing:  There was no alcohol burn. I found aromas easy to detect and had no issues picking out the vanilla, caramel, and oak.

Mouthing: When inhaling through my mouth, all I could pick out was oak. There was also a lack of alcohol burn.

Palate:  I found the Duo Glass to be easier to sip from than the Norlan, but more difficult to identify flavors. It isn't to say I couldn't discern the vanilla, corn, and oak, but it took a good deal of effort and I missed out on the toffee and caramel. There was also a muted flash of alcohol heat.


Conclusion

My personal experience is that I get the best overall performance from a Glencairn Whisky Glass. But, it isn't the winner in each category. When comparing price, form, and function, it is simple for me to gravitate to it and I'm used to it. Keep in mind that the Norlan and NEAT glasses have huge fanbases as well.


The point of all this was to demonstrate how different glass shapes provide different results while pouring the same exact whiskey. Don't let anyone tell you the glass doesn't matter. It absolutely does.  Just find what works for you and enjoy your whiskey the way it makes you happy. Cheers! 




My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It

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