To get the best out of any spirit it is good to know which glassware to serve it in. There are different glasses for neat drinks as well as gin and tonics. I’ve always been a big fan of different types of glassware, perhaps because in Finland we make them so well, but as a general guideline, I would recommend keeping your basic drinking glasses separate from the fancier ones. For example, it is not often that we drink brandy, therefore to make the drinking experience better why not serve it in a lovely vintage or crystal glass? Below you can find some basic guidelines for serving anything from gin to whisky to absinthe, but first, why don’t we see if you know which glass to use for each spirit?
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1 Brandy should always be served in a brandy snifter (also known as a cognac glass or balloon glass). The large surface area of the glass helps evaporate the liquid, the narrow top traps the aroma inside the glass, while the rounded bottom allows it to be cupped in the hand to warm the liquor. Traditionally the glass should be filled to such a level that if laid on its side the brandy would not spill.
2 This tulip-shaped glass is best for whisky as it helps to release the flavours and aroma. Whisky is best served neat, sometimes with a drop of water. I always say never to add ice to your whisky as this not only changes the temperature of the drink (whisky should be drunk at room temperature) but it will also change the consistency as the ice dissolves, adding more and more water. The drink will be completely different at the end and the temperature change can make it taste flat.
3 Vodka is mainly served in shot glasses. However, I would use bigger ones than the basic UK measure of 25ml as it is not necessary to fill it all the way to the top. The glass can be chilled in the freezer beforehand. Vodka is best served ice-cold between courses or at the end of the meal.
4 If you don’t want to slam Tequila as a shot there’s actually an official Tequila glass which is perfect for sipping and enjoying the flavours of the spirit. Tequila shouldn’t really be drunk with lime and salt but is best served neat. Think of it as a brandy or grappa. A good one to try is Herencia de Plata, but, as a general rule, make sure you serve 100% pure agave to guarantee the taste!
5 Rum is served in a slightly tulip-shaped glass, similar to whisky. If you are doing a rum tasting or prefer your rum neat then try a brandy snifter for better aroma. Rum can work very well with several mixers, in which case it’s better to use the highball.
6 This is a rocks glass, also known as an old-fashioned or tumbler, and is most common glass for neat drinks such as whisky or rum. It can also be used for drinks served on the rocks or straight up (the drink is chilled by stirring with ice then strained into the rocks glass).
7 Sherry should be served in small amounts, therefore a sherry glass (also known as Catavinos gass) tends to have a smaller volume than a standard wine glass. There are several options to choose from and, due to the small size of the glass, it can also be used for serving an aperitif or liqueur. Only fill one third of the glass.
8 The Highball, also known as a Collins glass, is most commonly used for mixed drinks or cocktails. Gin is also served in Collins glasses especially in the UK.
9 The large balloon-shaped cabernet glass is a popular choice for gin, especially in the southern parts of Europe. It allows room to swirl the drink to enhance the botanicals. The cabernet glass, however, needs a double shot and more tonic as it can be as big as a pint glass, so try not to fill it all the way to the top!
10 Grappa is best served neat although there are more cocktail and drink recipes being made as we speak (check out some in the recipes section). A tasting glass always works better than a normal wine glass, but if one is not available I would use a sherry glass. The glass should not be filled more than one-quarter full. Wait for few minutes then inhale the aroma briefly before drinking.
11-13 Last, but definitely not least, is absinthe. I absolutely love the old-style equipment and glassware it takes to drink absinthe properly! In an ideal situation, you’d want to have an absinthe glass, slotted spoon and the fountain; however, the fountain is not mandatory, just a fancy thing to have. The spoon is used to add sweetness by dissolving a sugar cube into the glass of absinthe. The absinthe glass is also known as a reservoir glass, which covers several styles of glassware with a small bulge at the bottom to indicate the correct portion to pour. Place the spoon with a sugar cube over a glass of absinthe, then place the glass under the fountain and slowly let the water drip over the sugar until it has dissolved. The guideline is to have four to six parts water per one part of absinthe. You can use a jug or carafe of water instead of the fountain, just make sure you take your time pouring it.
A few things to remember:
- Old-fashioned and rocks glasses are the same – you can use them for drinks served on the rocks, neat or straight up.
- A tumbler is basically any flat-bottomed glass, most often considered as the rocks glass.
- Highball and Collins glasses are similar, though the Collins glass is often skinnier.
- Collins and old-fashioned both got their names from cocktails.
- Most spirits are served in a highball glass when served with a mixer.
- When tasting spirits, don’t keep your nose over the glass for too long as the alcohol vapours exhaust your sense of smell. It is better to breathe in the aroma briefly and often. Take a sip, wash it around the mouth and swallow.
The bottom line
Glassware matters when drinking neat spirits as it gives you a better tasting experience. Not everyone loves glassware as much as I do, but you can get by with having the basic rocks glass, Collins glass and a small wine glass or at least a glass with a stem. Make sure you use plenty of ice when ice is needed and stick to the basic guidelines when tasting a spirit neat. Let the spirit breathe and drink it at room temperature (vodka is an exception) before adding a drop of water if you prefer. Now go and buy some decent glasses over the holidays!