Whisky Glasses

Whisky glasses are collector’s items, but they're also chosen by connoisseurs for special occasions.

This article deals with glasses that are exclusively made for tasting single malt whisky and high-quality bourbon.

There are two basic glass shapes:

The tumbler with its cylindrical shape and a thick bottom and the stem glass with its tapering tulip shape.

1. Tumbler

Many people regard the tumbler as especially appropriate for whisky, because the movies popularised it as 'the' whisky glass. In each bar you'll usually get your scotch in this glass, and only very good bartenders ask before they put ice cubes inside.

Round heavy glasses with 'Blantons' written on it
Whiskey tumbler

However, the tumbler has some special properties that render it inappropriate for tasting.

The thick bottom of the tumbler prevents the whisky from being warmed by the hand. The intention is to keep the whisky cold for as long as possible. Glass is a bad heat conductor, and the ice in the tumbler melts slowly. However, connoisseurs want no ice in their whisky. Quite the opposite. They want to warm the whisky in the hands so the aromas are released better by evaporation.

The opening of the tumbler is large, so the ice cubes can be filled in more easily. Unfortunately, in the large opening the aromas can't accumulate and they dissipate quickly.

The glasses are often cut decoratively, and some tumblers have a surface structure. Both properties aren't very popular among connoisseurs because they make watching the whisky in the glass more difficult. How does it flow down the wall? How viscous is it? Judging the colour is also hindered by reflections of the cut.

2. Stem Glass

The stem glass, on the other hand, has been optimised with regard to the following criteria:

  • Colour
  • Body
  • Smell
  • Taste

Accordingly, stem glasses exhibit properties that enhance one or the other aspect:

A tall glass with stem and a small lid with a glass bubble on top for a handle
Whisky stem glass with lid
A tall glass that becomes narrower to the top
Whisky stem glass

The glasses are usually made of clear, uncoloured glass. That way the colour of the whisky can be judged best. Crystal glass reflects a smaller percentage of light so the colour appears more vibrant.

Stem glasses are not cut. That way the church-window-like 'legs' at the glass wall can be watched best. When you swirl the whisky in the glass, single droplets of whisky drip off the glass wall, which allows you to judge the viscosity.

The glasses are tapering, i.e. through the small opening at the edge you smell the concentrated whisky aroma that has accumulated in the body of the glass. Experts discuss the glass volume, since it contributes significantly to the unfolding of the smell. As a rule of thumb, take large volume glasses for strong whiskies (Islay, islands), and small volume glasses for lighter whiskies (Lowlands, smooth Highlands).

The rim of the glass is important, since it affects how the liquid pours out onto your tongue. A glass that widens again towards the outside lets the whisky flow onto the tongue much broader. You can simply taste more. You are less likely to get the whisky too far into the throat at the first sip. However, if the glass widens again, the aroma of the whisky also dissipates more easily.

A tulip shaped glass at opens up a bit at the top
Whisky stem glass that widens at the top

As you can see, you have to make compromises when choosing glasses.