Which whisky glass do I recommend?

 

Slàinte Mhath

Keith Wood

 

This is a question which crops up time and again; Which is the best glass for whisky? In this feature I shall offer my own opinions which are based upon extensive testing completed during two tastings and also during some evening dramming sessions, specifically with this question in mind. But firstly, I would like to address two related points.

1. Ice in whisky; I am firmly of the belief that ice should not be put into whisky. I believe it kills, freezes or just masks the delicate flavours which one should savour and not destroy.

2. How to hold the glass; This is a more difficult question as it is really one of temperature. Whisky should be savoured at normal room temperature, which for me is around 20-23°C, so if I take a bottle from a colder place, such as a cellar which is often more like 8-12°C, then it either has to stand for quite some time to acclimatise, or it requires a little hand-warming to help it reach room temperature. If the whisky is at room temperature, then I prefer to hold the glass by the base or lower stem, keeping my hands away from the actual bowl containing the liquid.

 
 

I maintain that whisky should, or does, tantalise all the senses, from the colour of a particular expression, the mouth-feel, the unique flavours on the palate, but possibly most important of all, the aromas released when nosing the whisky. Our taste buds, the receptors in the tongue which detect tastes can identify five different sensations; sweet, sour, salt, bitter and the fifth being unami. Our noses are home to the olfactory receptors, of which we have literally hundreds, so I would argue that we are able to detect far more from these than from our palates. In this way I truly believe that the most important part of savouring any whisky is the careful nosing of it. A part which should not be rushed and which will give great awareness and pleasure when done correctly.

To this end, the glass is extremely important as each has its own unique style and helps to express the whisky in very different ways to the nose. Even the inclusion of a small lip at the top of the glass can make a distinct difference, so in this study I have taken the five most commonly-used nosing glasses, plus one other which was not originally designed for whisky and subjected them to a head to head comparison.

 
 

The contenders & the analysis

 
 

Glencairn

 

Feel: This is the smallest of the glasses but the one which possibly sits best in the hand. It is also the most sturdy as it has a solid wide base without any stem.

Light/Floral whisky: With an old 1980's bottling of Milton Duff Glenlivet which is an extremely floral whisky the Glencairn proved to be a very good glass, allowing the complex mix of aromas to gently reach the nose in a pleasant bouquet. However, this glass did take a few minutes before delivering the best results.

Heavily Sherried whisky: Once again, this glass performed well with a 'peak' of aromas after a few minutes of acclimatisation.

Peated whisky: The Glencairn performed very well with the PC7 which I used for the peat-test. It gave slightly quicker results, peaking after 3-4 minutes, but then fading away after 8-10 minutes.

 
 

Bugatti Kelch

 

Feel: This is probably the most common of the nosing glasses and is used at most whisky festivals I've attended. It is comfortable in the hand if warming is required and has a long stem allowing it to be held either by the base or the lower stem.

Light/Floral whisky: With the old 1980's bottling of Milton Duff Glenlivet this glass offered only a rather weak nose which never really matched the results of the other glasses, even after allowing 8-10 minutes of acclimatisation.

Heavily Sherried whisky: The Glenallachie sherry cask is a strong whisky with rich sherry notes which never quite reached the heights required in this glass. Once again, time didn't help.

Peated whisky: This performed better with the PC7, offering most of the peaty notes quite quickly and allowing them to stay for some length of time.

 
 

Spiegelau

 

Feel: The Spiegelau is by far the largest glass of this group and sits well in the hand allowing holding by bowl, stem or base.

Light/Floral whisky: The delicate and complex aromas are almost immediately eased to the nose in their full glory. This glass performs quicker and more intensely than any of the others. But after some minutes it does seem to fade, where others improve.

Heavily Sherried whisky: The wonders of this dram were once again immediate, but again faded slightly after some minutes.

Peated whisky: Again the full extent and complexity of aromas were immediate, but almost totally lost after 5-6 minutes.

 
 

Classic Malt

 

Feel: To many people this is the classic glass. A simple but effective shape, good in the hand and comfortable.

Light/Floral whisky: The complex aromas of the Milton Duff Glenlivet were not as immediate as the Speigelau, but they did last much longer.

Heavily Sherried whisky: The aromas with the Glenallachie were again not as immedaite, but after a few minutes they were far more concentrated and an absolute delight in this glass.

Peated whisky: Once again the PC7 was a delight in the Classic Malt glass and the peaty aromas improved with a little time, but didn't fade away.

 
 

Sherry Glass

 

Feel: Quite small, funnelled and delicate.

Light/Floral whisky: A strange sensation, the aromas are there, but seem to be concentrated, not in strength, but in the spread presented to the nose. Obviously the narrow shape of the glass creates this sensation.

Heavily Sherried whisky: Once again the aromas are mainly present, but almost funnelled directly to the nose in a concentrated burst. This does improve slightly after some minutes.

Peated whisky: Pretty much the same effect again, but once again, I do have to say that the aromas were there and not in any way hidden.

 
 

Short-stemmed

 

Feel: I don't know the official name for this glass, but it is a short-stemmed nosing glass which I have most often seen bearing the brand names of Glenmorangie or Ardbeg. In fact this is a Glenmorangie one. It seems quite stable due to the short stem, but it just doesn't sit quite right in the hand. It kind of feels slightly top-heavy.

Light/Floral whisky: A better spread of aromas than the Bugatti, but still quite weak compared to the others. The aromas fade severely over 5-8 minutes.

Heavily Sherried whisky: A much better performance with the Glenallachie as the aromas work very well in this style of glass, but they again fade after some minutes.

Peated whisky: A couple of minutes to work at best affect, then a peak for 2-3 minutes and fading thereafter.

 
 

The Result

 
 

Classic Malt

A great glass which performed extremely well overall, especially in holding the aromas for a length of time.

 
 

Glencairn

Another fantastic glass which possibly has the best 'feel' of all, with only a slightly inferior performance to the Classic.

 
 

Spiegelau

Unequalled within the first few minutes of nosing, especially on the lighter more complex whiskies, but over time the aromas do fade drastically.

 

 

 

The scoring

With 6 different glasses the scoring awarded 6 points to the best in a category, then scaled down to 1 point for the worst. There were 7 categories including Feel, Light/Floral (whisky), Heavily sherried and Peated. The other three categories were for the same three whisky types, but allowing for passing of time to see if the performance changed after some minutes. So, there were 7 categories, each awarding up to 6 points, meaning a theoretical maximum score of 42 points could be possible.

 
       

Feel

Light

Light - time

Sherried

Sherried - time

Peat

Peat - time

Total

 
      Classic Malt 5 5 5 5 6 4.5 5

35.5

 
      Glencairn 6 4 6 3 5 4.5 6

34.5

 
      Spiegelau 4 6 4 6 3 6 4

33

 
      Short-stemmed 2 3 3 4 2 2 2

18

 
      Sherry 1 2 2 2 4 3 3

17

 
      Bugatti 3 1 1 1 1 1 1

9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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