The Glencairn Glass is in my opinion one of the best things to happen to whiskey in a long time. Its development was based on the fact that what we taste is actually driven by our nose and not our tongue. That’s right, 75% or more of what we taste is actually a translation by our brain of what we smell.
This is also why as with beer, wine, and other drinks, the shape of that glass plays an important role in the drinking experience. The same is true with whiskey.
Many have seen Master Distillers as well as whiskey aficionados using Copita Glasses (which looks like a miniature white wine glass) as opposed to your standard rocks class to nose and get tasting notes from the whiskey.
The shape and size of these tiny glasses is ideal for getting the most out of a whiskey. They have the right size bowl and then space to gather the scents of the whiskey, and then the right size opening to allow the user to direct those smells right to their nose.
This is also why these glasses are called “nosing glasses”.
Then why don’t more whiskey drinkers use them? Well, they tend to be a bit fragile. So for the average drinker, even those who want to get the most from their whiskey, they are not really an ideal option for every day use. So let me introduce (for those not familiar with them) the Glencairn Glass!
The Glencairn Crystal Company spent a great deal of time and effort to develop what has been refered to as “The Official Whiskey Glass”. It is now seen all around the world, and in the hands of everyone from distillers, bars, and the casual whiskey drinker. And for that, I say “Thank you!” to the Glencairn Crystal Company.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is no wrong way to drink whiskey. But the experience the individual has will be much different depending on the glass they choose to drink it from. From the shot glass, Glencairn, white whine glass, highball / mixed, or rocks / mixed, the experience will not be the same. And that is because of the way the “nose” differs given the shape and size of each class.
Now some may wonder why I added the white wine glass in the list of common glasses used to drink whiskey. The reason I did is that if you don’t have a Copita or Glencairn Glass, the white wine glass is the next best thing to get the most out of the nose and overall drinking experience. Its shape and size allows for a build up of vapors, collection of them, and then (for lack of a more eloquent term) a place to stick your nose and enjoy them. I will not get into the full process for nosing and tasting whiskey (as in when sipping) here (I may do a beginner’s article later on), but trust me, it matters.
The Glencairn Glass though is the perfect size and shape to swirl the golden goodness, watch it coat the glass, examine the legs forming, collect the glorious scents, present them to your nose, and then allow you to take a nice sip. Those who sip whiskey are interested in a full whiskey experience, and the Glencairn assists that wonderfully.
With that said, I have read reviews on the Glencairn Glass that have been less than favorable. And if I may, I will address the negatives I have read.
“It feels small in my hand.” Well, compared to a rocks glass, of course it feels small. It is not designed to hold ice or even a couple pours at a time. Nor is it designed for mixed drinks. If you want those things, choose the appropriate glass. This is a sipping glass, not a shot glass, a rocks glass, or a mixed drink glass.
“It is not as stable as a rocks glass, and feels delicate”. Again, this is not a rocks glass. It does not have thick walls, but ones fitting its size and shape. Its base is plenty large enough to not cause any real tipping issues though; unless you are drunk. The majority of whiskey sippers I have seen though do not set out to get drunk. Their drinking experience is about the whiskey, not about inebriation.
“The etching on the bottom is distracting.” Really? This one just makes me shake my head. The Glencairn Glass does have “The Glencairn Glass” etched lightly on the very bottom of the glass. But if you can see that when drinking, you are drinking a lot differently than I do. I will leave it at that.
“It does not hold enough whiskey”. Then by all means, grab a rocks glass and fill it up. Or if you like, a tumbler? Again, this goes to the purpose of the glass and those who choose to use it; sipping while fully exploring the nose and palate of the whiskey. And myself, as well as others, don’t normally have just one pour at a time; but instead we have two or three. We simply pour more into the glass just before it is empty. And each pour lasts half an hour to an hour depending on the whiskey as well as other factors.
“It is not large enough to hold ice well.” See a pattern here? One more time. it is not a rocks glass. If you want to drink your whiskey on the rocks, you would be better served to use a standard rocks glass. But you see people in reviews put ice in the Glencairn as part of their review? I would present that this is because it is more expedient, and saves transferring the whiskey, than getting a standard rocks glass for that part of the review. I doubt that they would choose the Glencairn Glass for standard on the rocks drinking.
Now that those issues are addressed, where can you get one of these fantastic glasses? Well, a Google search will net you more than enough choices. And you can pay under $10 a glass, on up to $15-$30 (or more) per glass. It depends on where you purchase it from, if it is etched (or even custom etched) and other factors. There are also different levels of glass used. But I have found that they ALL are great, and you would be hard pressed (if at all) to tell any discernible difference in feel and drinking from any of them.
With that said, by all means, get at least one of them. But I recommend at least three. The reason is that it allows you to share with others when you have friends over, as well as allowing you to do whiskey comparisons without the hassle of washing between pours of different whiskey. Plus, you really want to go back and forth when doing the comparison. So getting a set of 4 or more is really (in my opinion) the most cost effective way to go. But getting at least one to start you out is a good idea to prove to you the true value of these glasses if you have any doubts.
I hope this was of help to other whiskey drinkers. If you have any questions, feel more than free to contact me directly, or ask in comments below.