Does the style of glassware actually matter when it comes to whisky tasting? There are several glassware options for whisky drinking, some especially designed to improve your nosing and tasting experience. You can choose from tasting glasses with or without a stem, different shapes and sizes, bigger openings and heavier bases…. I decided to test five different types of glassware using only one whisky to see how the whole whisky-tasting experience changes between the glasses.
For this experiment I opted for Old Pulteney 2006 Vintage, 46% ABV, which I purchased from the airport a while back. Conveniently, it comes in a one-litre bottle. Thinking back now, I probably should have gone with something a bit more complex for this tasting as this Old Pulteney is not the most exciting release. It is tasty and easy sipping, but to really analyse the aromas and flavours, I think it could have offered a bit more.
Old Pulteney 2006 Vintage is aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, which were made from American oak and air dried to give it that extra intensity.
I chose Glencairn glass, Norlan glass, Copita, Túath and a classic tumbler for the tasting. I also sampled them over two evenings as I didn’t want to drink too much and compromise my tasting experience.
For whisky tasting tips, see my previous article How to Taste Whisky.
I started with the Glencairn as that’s the glassware I use the most for whisky tasting. I felt it was easier to compare the others to that and see how they differ.
Before the Glencairn glass, the whisky world didn’t have a glass to call its own. The glass is crystal clear to show off the colour of your whisky, and the shape of the glass is designed to enhance the overall experience from start to finish as you nose and taste your whisky.
This is also a very reasonably priced glass, around £6, although you can pay more for beautiful crystal versions which are also totally worth it.
The glass is easy to hold and it’s easy to analyse the colour and consistency of the whisky. I can see the whisky sticking nicely on the side of the glass with legs slowly running down.
Nose: Buttery caramel, ripe banana, sliced crisp green apple, sweet blood orange, vanilla wafer, feels perfumed, crème brûlée, porridge oats, Haribo eggs, bottom of a pick n’mix bag
Palate: Pretty salty, sea breeze, seaweed, sweet citrus like orange and crystallised pink grapefruit, lingering caramel sweetness
Finish: Becomes sweeter and oaky, toasted porridge oats with maple syrup, muscovado sugar
Listen to Whisky Sisters Podcast episode 46, where we experiment with The Whisky Cellar’s ‘Old Highland-style’ Blended Scotch Whisky – Brig O’Perth using three different types of glassware.
My second glass is the Norlan glass, which is a double-walled whisky glass. Developed to elevate your favourite whisky – whether Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Canadian, Japanese, you name it – the Norlan whisky glass has been designed to ‘capture whisky’s unique aromatics and flavours and to deliver them to the senses like never before’.
Designed in 2015 by co-founder Sruli Recht, the glass was further refined with the help of legendary master distiller Jim McEwan on Isle of Islay.
Norlan glasses are made from hand-blown double-walled borosilicate glass, which is the same durable material Pyrex uses to make its laboratory glassware. Borosilicate is harder than regular glass and won’t crack when boiling water is poured on it.
The outer wall encases a nosing glass, preventing your hand from warming up the spirit. The glass weighs only 125 grams. The Norlan glass is pretty pricey at £48.
Firstly, this glass is very light and I personally prefer to feel the weight of the glass in my hand. That’s why when sipping from tumblers, I only use ones with a heavy base.
I found that the outer layer blocks visibility when it comes to analysing the legs. You can see them but it’s not as clear as the light reflects from the outer layer. I’m also pretty sure the colour of the whisky looks a bit brighter.
I had many problems with this glass… The tasting experience was night and day between this and the Glencairn. You have to stick half of your face into the glass to get any aromas and it was also difficult to sip from without getting a whisky moustache. Because of the double glass, the rim is very thick, making it hard to drink from. Every time I’ve tried to use this glass, I ended up spilling whisky everywhere.
Nose: Sweet vanilla wafers, vanilla flavoured whipped cream, McDonald’s Sundae, some citrus, but overall a much sweeter nose than with the Glencairn
Palate: Spicy, black pepper, oaky, salty sea water; the whisky tasted strong and not that pleasant
Finish: The tingling spice continues, drying oak, some sweetness developing later
Next up is a kind of snifter with a rounded Copita bowl. The rounded bowl lets you swirl the contents of the glass to release hidden aromas. These aromas are then directed up the narrowing shape to your nose. The stem gives you a convenient place to hold the glass without affecting the temperature.
Copita glasses are more commonly used in the Spanish sherry industry (thus the name copita, which is a Spanish word for glass), but then the glass was repurposed for other drinks from wine to spirits. Known as the Dock Glass in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was a glass for nosing wine and spirits from barrels that arrived at a dock to determine whether to accept or reject a particular barrel.
The main thing with Copita is the nose. The small opening (smaller than in the Glencairn) is supposed to concentrate the smells, which will also enhance the taste, for better or for worse. Price wise, similar to Glencairn, depending where you get yours from.
The stem is very handy when analysing the whisky. It makes it easy to hold the glass, keeping your fingers away from the bowl. The opening is very small but at least you don’t have to stick your whole face in the glass to find aromas. When sipping you need to tilt your head back a bit more due to the small opening.
Nose: Fresh apple, overall freshness rather than caramel-like sweetness, McDonald’s toffee sauce with fries; it does get sweeter with air but nowhere near as sweet as with the Norlan glass
Palate: Clearly salty, sea breeze, salty liquorice, some pepper, plenty of citrus; orange, pink grapefruit, sweet lemon. Similar notes to Glencairn
Finish: drying mouthfeel, some caramel
Túath (tu-ah) glass is designed with Irish whiskey in mind. It is much larger than the Glencairn or other whisky-tasting glasses I’ve seen.
The shape is not as rounded as the Glencairn or Copita but it does narrow up the way. The opening is still bigger than in the Glencairn and the rim flares. It is said that the conical shape of the Túath concentrates the vapours while its slightly wider opening and flared top let more of the alcohol vapours flow out, so that you can nose the centre of the glass without alcohol burn, and allowing the whiskey to express its hidden aromas and flavours.
Set of two Túath glasses usually cost around £43.
I found it a bit chunky in hand as the stem is thick and short, so it wasn’t that easy to hold, especially if trying to swirl the whisky in the glass. The side of the stem is flat so you can lay the glass on its side.
The flared rim rests against your lip when you sip, which felt odd at first as I’m not used to this type of glass. Sipping was pretty easy, though, and there wasn’t any spillage like with the Norlan glass.
Nose: Fragrant nose of apples, apple blossom and honeysuckle, caramel apples, toffee-coated digestive biscuits, salted caramel sauce
Palate: Warming feel to it, cinnamon, cloves, citrus, less salty, bit more caramel with air, also becomes saltier but much less salty/spicy than Norlan or the classic tumbler
Finish: Citrusy, sweetness on the top of the mouth, drying
Small classic tumbler
Some evenings when I just want to sit back and relax, I like to use a small heavy-based tumbler for whisky sipping. That’s when I’m not trying to analyse the whisky – maybe I’m sipping something familiar and it’s more about the relaxation than nosing or trying to discover tasting notes.
Obviously, the opening in a tumbler is big so the aroma will evaporate out of the glass more quickly.
Nose: As expected, much harder to detect aromas than any of the above, burns your nostrils a bit as you have to stick your nose in the glass. Eventually I got faint sweetness, burnt orange, a bit more caramel with air, but not as strong as with glasses with a smaller opening; I feel like I’m getting the smell of the glass more than the whisky, if that makes sense
Palate: Oaky, sea salt, seaweed, sweetness which dries out, Werther’s Original hard candy, spicier, but possibly the strong salty flavour profile does it as the spices aren’t that similar to Norlan or Túath
Finish: Drying yet some caramel sweetness coming through
Shop my favourite tumbler.
It is interesting to discover how much the size of the opening matters when nosing whisky. There are clear differences between glass types, and I was taken by surprise how much the shape of the glass also impacts the actual flavours of the whisky. So perhaps, if you aren’t too keen on a certain whisky, give it another try using a different glass.
Some people really enjoy the Norlan glass, but for me it is my least favourite, although it made the aromas of the whisky feel much sweeter and delicious; but the palate was the worst of all and the drinking experience the least pleasant. My brother-in-law gifted me the glass because he really enjoys drinking from it. He is into heavily peated stuff so I will make sure to give it one more chance; maybe it will somehow compliment the peatier whiskies.
The copita glass offered much more variety on the aromas, which is obviously not that surprising as that’s the main purpose of the glass. I also like the stem. I may use it more often when sampling new whiskies to really discover a wide range of notes. But my favourite remains the Glencairn glass.
Do you have a favourite whisky glass? Do you use different types of glassware when leisurely sipping whisky at home?
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