Whiskey Tasting – Quick Thought #4 “Its only a glass!”

 

My wife  thinks I’m a little odd and my glasses obsession constantly amuses her. The reason is,  that I’m fascinated with glasses and the house is stuffed full of them. Every time we are in curiosity shops I’m examining all sorts of receptacles wondering if they would work as interesting whiskey glasses. My regular distillery trips and tasting events means I’m going to be arriving home with more!

So .. why do whiskey glasses interest me and really, does what glass you use to sip whiskey matter? For drinking whiskey the type of glass is reasonably important but for focused nosing and whiskey tasting I believe it is very important.

Take two glasses, one being a large cut crystal heavy tumbler and the other being a thin walled, light, teardrop shaped glass. Pour a measure of the same whiskey into both glasses and it quickly becomes evident that the latter is far easier to work with when assessing the whiskey.

If anyone reading this is in a hurry then here are the 10 key criteria for me when judging a tasting glass. I will expand on some of these points in this and future Quick Thoughts posts.

  1. The thinner the glass material the better, the better the ‘feel’ for the whiskey
  2. The distance from the lip to the whiskey is important. The distance from the level of the measure and the lip should not, I believe be greater than 6.5 to 7 cms. It can be less if you are experienced in working through alcohol vapors
  3. The aperture should be narrow and the lip of the glass should be thin and not tapered towards your mouth.
  4. The aperture size and lip angle should easily allow you to take tiny sips with ability to take in air through open mouth at the same time as sipping
  5. The glass should give you the opportunity to examine the whiskey from all angles. There should be no glass feature, angle change in the glass or glass distortion to get in the way of viewing the whiskey.
  6. The glass should not take over from the whiskey by being too stylized or too heavy.
  7. You should be able to cup the glass easily to warm the glass, with a bulbous, rounded shape that can sit in your hand and you can hold without the base getting in the way or feeling awkward. Those with longer stems makes it easier. The  longer stem also presents the whiskey better, with a gap between your hand and the bowl of the glass so that you can better view the whiskey to the light at eye level
  8. The glass bowl part needs to be not too large or tall (lip to whiskey level). It should be well proportioned, balanced and feel comfortable in your hand.
  9. A tasting glass should naturally work really well with a small measure and when pouring from bottle without using a measure it should be natural to pour a little rather than a large amount.
  10. A circular bowl base with a tapered bowl shaped bottom works best but the bowl should flare out quickly so that the whiskey viewed in the glass would form a wide U or V.

And here is my favorite tasting glass for the above reasons:-

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So to expand on a few of the above 10 criteria

Social Tilt – Many tasting glasses are antisocial as you have to tilt your head back with your eyes looking up and this  forces you to lose eye contact with whoever you are talking to at the social occasion. However for tasting whiskey the aperture and lip design is crucial. I actually close my eyes when nosing and sipping to focus as much as possible on the experience so I am really antisocial!

I remember being in a famous whiskey house where the owner was sharing a drop on his favorite 1984 Black Bowmore and he poured us a very small measure each. The glass he was using was tulip shaped but the lip flared out so that when you tried to control the flow of the precious drop it was difficult

Controlling the flow, no slosh!

A glass should work when tasting so that the angle of tilt encourages three things, tiny sips, controlled flow without using your lips and taking in loads of air. A glass like the blenders glass does exactly that.  On the other hand, if you have an ordinary whiskey tumbler the nature of  flow of the whiskey towards your mouth as you tilt it means you cannot open your mouth wide to take air in as you have to control the flow of liquid into your mouth with lips closed lightly over the glass.

This is the main reason that this following glass does not work and I cannot use it. It also does not seem to cocoon the whiskey in the glass as the more non flared apertures do.

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The glass should not take center stage it should play a supporting role.

A glass should not be the most important feature that you notice. It should work perfectly without you noticing. It should play a supporting role only. Its design should be all about presenting the whiskey not about glass itself.

That’s why heavy crystal glasses don’t work for me as tasting glasses. They take from the whiskey for me. The weight of the glass should not outweigh the whiskey.

looking at the criteria I use to judge tasting glasses one can easily see that these cut crystal, straight up, wide based vessels dont work for me as subtle tasting glasses.

For a Sunday afternoon convivial occasion when you are sitting back in your russet coloured  buttoned, leather library high-back in front of a great gothic sized walk in roaring fire with wind and rain pounding the 10 foot high windows outside, a Waterford glass crystal heavy tumbler with a very generous warming whiskey feels great and is perfect!

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And this is the point, a glass is designed to serve a purpose or suit an occasion or mood. While some designers put form before function, some glasses serve a specific function very well.

Then there are some that are both drinking glasses and large tasting glasses and this is where there are some great choices with many distilleries and other suppliers producing some larger more bulbous offerings.  They still need to have a wider belly than mouth but the proportions are less important.

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Do some multi purpose glasses suit a novice better?

Yes definitely.. for example the Tuath glass is designed to be a drinking and tasting glass that I think works well for the less experienced. The shape has apparently been designed to dissipate the alcohol fumes quickly to allow the user to nose the whiskey without the danger of alcohol burn. I note the size of the aperture /angle of lip and the bigger distance between the lip and the whiskey surface (8 cm). This probably helps as well.

The glass was designed with a tilt that is not antisocial and you can maintain eye contact whilst talking and drinking.

I personally believe that the process of appreciating the measure through the sensory development of the whiskey as the alcohol dissipates is part of the actual sensing process. Also the whiskey tasting process should allow the whiskey to sit in the glass for period of time to develop and the whiskey should be gently swirled to add air to the whiskey.

However for novices it may be easier to let the glass do the work for you. Also, in a group tasting session one may be working more quickly through the selection.  Therefore letting each whiskey sit for at least 15 minutes in the Glencairn style glass, nosing its changes, may not be practical.  

I salute Tuath for providing the market with an Irish option and for designing a unique feature with the glass base styled on the Irish landmark Skellig Michael. It works for many as a large drinking glass/ tasting glass but I personally prefer other glasses for tasting for all the reasons listed at the start. 

I also prefer others glasses as well for larger measure tasting/drinking. I think my big hands are too awkward for its stylised base!

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Finally to list my favorite tasting glasses and they are the ones I reach for most often…

The tulip style copita (Taller Scotch Malt Whisky glass for example), the standard copita, the standard sized plain Glencairn and my number 1, the Glencairn designed TWE 1920 Blender’s glass.

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So… hopefully my Quick Thoughts on my glass fetish has been interesting for some and I would love to hear back on your thoughts. Please dont hesitate to comment. I will be touching on some of these points in future Whiskey Tasting – Quick Thoughts as well.. talk then!

Slainte

Ivor

 

 

 

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