British author Robert Black is credited for saying “It is true that whisky improves with age. The older I get, the more I like it.” But what if whisky could also be improved by simply using the “right” type of glass?
Before I even started drinking, I had already heard – through experiences such as fine dining in California, and from the movies – that there is a proper wine glass shape per type of wine. I’m just generalizing here. But it’s usually said that red wine should be drunk from wine glasses with wider mouths. Drinking white wine from wine glasses with more narrow mouths is ideal. Flute glasses are only for Champagne. However, growing up amongst adults whose idea of enjoying alcohol meant drinking copious amounts of liquid from prestigious brands and waking up with a hangover made me think the proper shape of a glass was hogwash.
It wasn’t until 2012 or 2013 that I became aware and started using Glencairns. This was due to me seeing more Scotch and Bourbon posts on Facebook and Reddit with Glencairns being used. Thankfully, more local drinkers caught on when our first Whisky Live Manila (2016) only used Glencairns. It’s thanks to this and brand tastings that more locals started caring about the type of glass they used.
The chug culture slowly started to go away and was replaced by drinkers taking their time nosing and taking small sips. Before that, the standard whisky glass would be Old Fashioned a.k.a. rocks glasses. There’s still a larger portion of the population who use rock glasses; but these tend to be the type of drinkers who just want to get wasted and/or want to have a more casual session with whoever they’re with.
Despite the rise in popularity of spirits, I find it odd that there’s still a lack of discussion regarding which type of spirit goes with a certain type of glass. Stigmas such as whisky in rock glasses, brandy in copitas, and agave spirits in shot glasses are still strong. The use of specific glassware still mostly belongs to wine.
Articles such as this one from Country Living mention that the bowl of the wine glass has an impact on the sensation the wine drinker gets. A wider bowl means more oxygen can reach the wine. This results in the wine being able to breathe more. The amount of space from our nose to the alcohol matters.
There are other articles such as this one from Scientific American, and Reidel. It’s discussed that different glass shapes and temperatures can bring out completely different bouquets and finishes from the same wine. So Mitsubayashi’s team analysed different wines, in different glasses at different temperatures.
Their study showed that at a lower temperature, the alcohol concentration in the center of the glass was lower than the rim. Wine served at a higher temperature or poured in Martini or straight glasses did not exhibit a ring-shaped vapour pattern. “This ring phenomenon allows us to enjoy the wine aroma without interference of gaseous ethanol. Accordingly, wine glass shape has a very sophisticated functional design for tasting and enjoying wine,” explains Mitsubayashi. The Reidel article shows us a chart indicating which wine goes at what type of glass and what temperature they’re best drunk.
If you’re wondering what temperature has to do with enjoying spirits: temperature generally affects how intense our senses pick up the spirit’s characteristics. At times, some very accessible brands recommend keeping a bottle in the fridge or freezer for easy drinking. The cold mutes the spirits characteristic making it a “smoother” drink. This is the same logic of adding ice and/or keeping a glass in the fridge or freezer. A hotter drink makes ethanol more noticeable. The ethanol can get in the way of enjoying a spirit’s nuances.
Holding a glass improperly can also transfer our body heat to the glasses’ contents. This is why it’s recommended that wine glass be held at the stem or base. It’s for this same reason that I’m also not a fan of the regular Glencairn’s lack of a stem (there is a Glencairn copita). For me, the lack of a stem makes it awkward to hold. Not wanting to break glasses at social events, I tend to keep a firmer grip on the Glencairn. This means more of my hand touching more of the glass. I think this makes the spirit in the glass hotter via body heat transfer.
This is why I’ve been trying other types of glasses. I’ve been using the Professional Blender’s glass the most lately. In fact, I’ve done all of my Malt reviews with this glass. The unique onion shape of the glass makes it stand out and is said to concentrate the aromas and flavors better. More geeks have been preferring this glass over the Glencairn for the same reasons I have.
Another glass I like to use is this Luigi Bormioli Vinoteque snifter. This glass was introduced to me by the wonderful folks at Swan Song, Singapore. (I briefly talked about them in this review.) If this glass design is good enough for them, then it’s surely a good glass.
For this article, I’ll be reviewing the Glenfiddich 12 in four different glasses. I chose the Fiddich 12 because it’s something I’m sure everyone has access to and will be most likely familiar with. This will make the review more relatable to everyone and can be replicated by almost anyone. The different glasses I’ll be using are a rocks glass, Glencairn, Professional Blender’s Glass and Luigi Bormioli Vinoteque.
Parameters are 45ml of Fiddich 12 in each of the glass at room temperature (with the A/C on). But they’ll be poured in the glasses one at a time. This way, the difference in the amount of time the whisky spends breathing in the glass will be minimized. Doing this comparison in one sitting also reduces the chances and effects of the oxidization in the bottle and how diet affects our senses.
Glenfiddich 12 in Rocks Glass – Review
On the nose: No ethanol. I get light, spread out and front heavy aromas of green apples, honey, roasted buckwheat, roasted chestnut, toffee and pears. At the end are lighter and brief notes of cloves, starfruit, more honey and vanilla caramel. The aromas are thicker at the beginning. But they’re lasting. They slowly and consistently thin down the longer I slowly breathe in the aromas.
In the mouth: There’s a slight tingle of ethanol heat. I initially get light tastes of peppers, green apples, roasted buckwheat, honey, pears, toffee, vanilla caramel and cinnamon. Like on the nose, the lighter and brief notes of cloves appear at the end with Graham Crackers. The crackers give way to more subtle sherry notes like raisins, milk chocolate and dates. But these are all flat and mixed up.
The ex-bourbon cask flavors are more dominant than the ex-sherry cask. The flavors are surprisingly complex but lack depth.
Glenfiddich 12 in Glencairn Glass – Review
Set of 4 glasses for $27.95 on Amazon.
On the nose: A hint of ethanol heat. It’s followed by more of the ex-sherry cask notes. I get light and mellow aromas of milk chocolate, toffee, honey, raisins and dates. Behind it are the more subtle aromas of green apples, basil, mint, figs and coconut sugar syrup.
In the mouth: Also a slight tingle of ethanol. After it are slightly more full yet mellow tastes of ex-sherry cask notes like milk chocolate, dates, raisins, vanilla caramel, toffee, honey and roasted buckwheat. I get an assortment of subtle green notes like mint, coriander and basil tastes in between these. Chocolate mint sometimes comes to mind.
The ex-sherry cask flavors are more dominant than the ex-bourbon flavors. Due to the narrower mouth of the glass, the ethanol sensation is surprisingly stronger. But it’s not much compared to the rocks glass. The delivery of the flavors in the mouth is different as the whisky tasted less complex but the flavors had more depth.
Glenfiddich 12 in Professional Blenders Glass (PBG) – Review
If you’re looking for a default set of tasting notes, consider this the one, since all the Malt reviews I’ve done so far have been with this glass. Glass sold for $16.86 on Amazon.
On the nose: The heat is a bit more intense than nosing with the Glencairn. But it immediately subsides. I immediately get light aromas of green apples with a bit of a Febreeze. After these are just as light but mellow aromas of whip cream with cherries, dates, vanilla caramel and raisins. Things suddenly get a bit brighter with hints of dried apricots, orange jam and banana-flavored candy.
In the mouth: I get a more prickly ethanol sensation here than the Glencairn. There are brighter and fruitier notes upfront. Light candied orange peels, dried apricots and blended green apples are what I get. Ex-European sherry cask notes take over. Mellow tastes of dates, digestive biscuits, orange peel oils, toffee, milk chocolate, cloves and anise come out. At the end are more green apple and peppery notes.
This has presented the most complex notes so far. The order of flavors I get in the nose are reversed in the mouth. More layers.
Glenfiddich 12 in Luigi Bormioli Vinoteque (LBV) – Review
Set of 6 glasses for $49.99 on Amazon.
On the nose: Despite having a similarly-sized mouth diameter to the Glencairn and PBG, the alcohol burn on this is almost zero. I get light aromas of Febreeze, dates, honey, digestive biscuits, Fuji apples, toffee and vanilla caramel. There are flashes of subtle oranges there too.
In the mouth: The ethanol bite is just as prickly as on the PBG. Upfront are light and peppery tastes of mint, milk chocolate, cloves, anise, dates, honey and digestive biscuits. I get a tinge of sulfur there. The Febreeze taste has moved on here with flashes of more intense dried apricots, orange jam and vanilla caramel.
persistent ethanol bite. Due to palate fatigue? The most different tasting notes of all.
Before I conclude this, let me say that this review is by no means a perfect experiment. The largest factor I can think of that makes this inconsistent is palate fatigue. I should also note that I spat the whisky so as to not get intoxicated. Also, the differences in what I smell and taste per glass could be due to my senses getting more used to the different aspects of the whisky. It’s not like I can keep on making myself forget what I experience per glass. Then instantly remember everything to do the comparison.
There’s also the factor of me unconsciously telling myself that I shouldn’t be smelling and tasting the same notes and not in the same order when using different glasses. If there’s a way to test different glasses blind, I’d like to know.
As you’ve read, each glass does present the whiskey differently. It’s a good sign that, despite the different glass designs, I still got a lot of flavors which were common in all four drams. But, what might cause a fuss is that none of these common flavors came in the same order and intensity. And that there are flavors I picked up in certain glasses which I didn’t get in other glasses.
I don’t know the exact science of why these are so. Maybe there really is no Febreeze aroma in the Fiddich 12. But what if the shape of the glass made the different aromas mix, and that’s what I associated with that mix? It really is hard to say as each whisky is unique. Different distilleries have their own unique distillery DNA. Mix that uniqueness with how each barrel is unique plus the different recipes for blending whisky.
Rating the different glasses, I enjoyed using the Glencarin the least. It got the lowest score while the rest all got 5s. The lack of a stem just throws me off. A lot of online sentiments seem to indicate that this is the “favorite” whisky glass. But I think it’s just recommended the most due to how much more of it we see online as well as its being more available. The best upside for the Glencairn is how compact it is; being compact makes it easier to bring around and more durable too. I’ve dropped a few when in my early days of using them. They didn’t break. It’s safe to say that if you’re traveling, this is the best to bring.
The rocks glass is just the most relaxing glass to use. I think the preconceptions around it immediately put me in a relaxed mood. Among the four, this is the glass you want the least if you want to properly assess the aromas of a spirit. Hopefully my lackluster nosing notes on the Fiddich 12 in this glass is enough to show that.
My favorites among the four are the LBV and PBG. I get the most complex flavors from these two. I currently like the PBG better. But it’s only due to me using it for much longer than the LBV. At the moment, the only knock I can think of for these two is how much taller they are compared to the Glencairn and rock glass. This makes them a taller “target,” thus making them highly more likely to get knocked over should you get a bit too intoxicated. I imagine any stemmed glasses are most likely to break if they drop from a table to the floor.
A part of me thinks some of these glasses may do better depending on the spirit or the style. What if Bourbon, which are primarily column-distilled, does the best in the Glencairn? What if Mezcal, which is a fiery spirit, does the best in wider mouthed glasses like a rocks glass? What if the LBV, which is Italian made, will make brandy better? I’ll have to try this experiment on another kind of spirit later on.
Lead image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange. Other images author’s own.