Do Whiskey Glasses Really Make a Difference to Your Drink?


You’ve probably noticed that people drink whiskey from different types of glasses. You’ve probably also noticed that when it comes to whiskey everything is done for a reason. Which leads us to ask whether whiskey glasses really make a difference to your drink?

The whiskey glass used will make a big difference to the flavor of your drink. This is because of its shape, which affects the following two things:

  1. How much ethanol will evaporate, and therefore how much the flavors will open up.
  2. Whether the whiskey aromas will be able to accumulate and therefore be detected.

There are actually four types of whiskey glasses, each affecting the taste of the whiskey in its own way. It’s important to know how and why this affect is occurring so that you can drink your whiskey in your favorite way.

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4 types of whiskey glasses

Why Whiskey Glasses Make a Difference to Your Drink

As mentioned, there are two reasons why whiskey glasses make a difference to the taste of your drink. Let’s look at them in more detail:

The first is because whiskey has a lot of alcohol. Anywhere between 40%ABV and 68%ABV, which means it’s very strong indeed. The high concentration of alcohol keeps the whiskey’s years-or-even-decades-to-acquire flavors closed, so you taste less of them.

Not only that, but the taste of the alcohol can overpower any taste of the whiskey that you could pick up by being the dominant flavor. It will also numb your nose and palate, temporarily reducing your ability to taste any other flavors. This is why many people think whiskey tastes bad. It’s because they’re actually tasting the unpleasant alcohol and not the delicious flavors of the whiskey.

The type of glass you use to drink whiskey will determine how much alcohol remains and how much the whiskey is allowed to breathe.

The second reason why whiskey glasses make a difference to the taste of your drink is because they determine how much the whiskey’s aromas will be able to accumulate in the glass and therefore be detected. Since flavor is taste plus smell, the more aromas you pick up, the better the whiskey will taste. Without smell a whiskey’s flavors will be muted.

Different types of whiskey glasses will let the above two factors play out differently as we shall see in the following sections.

The Difference Nosing Glasses Make to the Whiskey

A nosing glass is a type of whiskey glass designed to bring out all the flavors of your whiskey. Its job is to reduce the impact of the alcohol so that it burns less and lets more of the whiskey’s flavors open up, while at the same time providing a place for the whiskey aromas to concentrate and accumulate so that you can smell them.

The nosing glass achieves this because of its shape. There are a few types of nosing glasses but they’re all, more or less, variations of the same theme, namely tall-ish, with a wide bowl and a long narrow neck. They usually also have a thin stem and a broad pedestal.

Being much larger than the 2 fl oz of a single pour, there’s room in the bowl of the glass for air to get to the whiskey so it can breathe. This lets more of the ethanol evaporate so you pick less of it up when smelling and tasting your whiskey. The more the ethanol evaporates, the less dominant it will be and the less it will numb your nose and palate. Also, with less alcohol more of the whiskey’s flavors will open up.

The tapered neck of the nosing glass means the whiskey’s aromas are concentrated towards the narrow rim where they can accumulate. You will now be able to detect all the aromas of your whiskey, tasting its full flavor.

All this explains why nosing glasses usually have a stem, as that keeps your hand and any accompanying smells (even nice ones) from coming too close to your nose and interfering with the your ability to smell the whiskey. The stem also allows you to cradle the glass and warm a cold whiskey to bring out its dominant flavors.

Once you have a stem you now need a pedestal, otherwise putting these glasses down on the table would involve a minor balancing act.

There are a couple of different nosing glasses that are better or worse at all this.

The Tulip-Shaped Glass

The tulip-shaped glass is based on the copita glass – a glass used for drinking sherry. It’s tulip-shaped obviously, which amounts to being tall, with a narrow bowl, a long narrow neck and thin stem. You can buy one from Amazon here.

The Glencairn Whisky Glass

The Glencairn whisky glass has a wider bowl than the tulip-shaped glass, which means more air getting to your whiskey, increasing the amount of ethanol that evaporates. It also means more room for swirling so that even more air gets to the whiskey. The narrow neck concentrates the aromas towards the rim and allows them to accumulate.

This is an award-winning glass, namely the Queen’s Award for Innovation 2006 and one of the most popular whiskey glasses out there. Fortunately, you can find these glasses on Amazon here.

The Snifter

The snifter is similar in shape to the Glencairn whisky glass, only shorter and with an even wider bowl. This design means that when filled with the proper amount of whiskey and placed horizontally, their contents will not spill. It’s also available on Amazon.

The NEAT Whiskey Glass

The NEAT whiskey glass (which stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) has the widest bowl, a narrow center but it then widens out again at the top. This directs the lighter and harsher ethanol molecules away while leaving the heavier and desired whiskey molecules behind.

It’s the official glass of 27 spirit competitions for over eight years and the choice of professional judges, so one of the best whiskey glasses for bringing out the most in your whiskey. It’s available on Amazon here.

The Norlan Whisky Glass

The Norlan whisky glass has a double wall with the outer wall designed to be more aesthetically pleasing than the regular nosing glass shape and the inner wall designed to have that less aesthetically pleasing nosing glass shape so that the ethanol will be diffused, and the whiskey aromas will be concentrated at the rim.

Also, there are protrusions at the bottom of the glass which create a wave shape when you swirl your whiskey so that even more air can get to it and even more ethanol can evaporate.

You can read my in-depth review of the Norlan Whisky glass here.

The Difference Tumblers Make to the Whiskey

Also known as rocks glasses because they’re wide enough to fill with ice, the lowball because they’re used for simpler cocktails with a limited number of ingredients and the old fashioned after a drink that was called … old fashioned, whiskey tumblers are short and wide with straight sides, a thick or heavy flat bottom and no stem or handle.

Once again, tumblers are much larger than the 2 fl oz poured and there’s room for air to get to the whiskey so it can breathe and let the ethanol evaporate, but since tumblers are wide and not narrow there’s nowhere for the whiskey aromas to accumulate and they will dissipate.

So you’ll smell less of the ethanol fumes, but you’ll also smell less of the whiskey. The loss of aroma won’t completely kill the flavor, but you won’t be getting the most out of your whiskey as you would if you were using a nosing glass.

So why would you use a tumbler? There are three reasons:

1. So That You Can Add Ice

Adding ice to whiskey reduces its burn further (above what’s already achieved because of air getting to it), by lowering its temperature. Additionally, it’s a way of adding water to whiskey at the same time, because ice melts and the added water also opens up a whiskey’s flavor.

To ensure that the melting ice doesn’t dilute your whiskey too much it’s best to use large or even giant ice cubes because with less surface area than many smaller ice cubes put together, they’ll melt slower. It’s very difficult to fit large or giant ice cubes into the narrow opening of a nosing glass but very easy to fit them into the wide opening of tumblers.

2. If You’re Drinking a Whiskey Cocktail

A whiskey tumbler is large enough for simpler whiskey cocktails with a limited number of ingredients and being heavy and robust with thicker sides and a weighted bottom, you can muddle the ingredients of a cocktail against the side of the glass.

3. You Like the Feel of the Heavier Glass

Some people prefer the feel of the wider, weightier tumbler, finding nosing glasses daintier and getting the feeling they’re about to break. And let’s face facts: Whiskey tumblers are far cooler than nosing glasses.

As for not being able to taste all the flavors, well that can be okay. Sometimes you just don’t want to be swirling, smelling, rolling the whiskey around your mouth, spending time trying to detect all the aromas and writing them in your notebook for comparing later, preferring to leave all that for a more focused tasting session and not for times when you’re trying to relax.

Here’s one of my favorite whiskey tumblers that you can buy on Amazon here.

The Difference Highballs Make to the Whiskey

The highball is the taller brother of the tumbler. While both are wide with straight sides, a thick or heavy flat bottom and no stem or handle, the tumbler is short while the highball is, as its name suggests and is too obvious to mention … tall.

These glasses are used for cocktails that have a higher proportion of non-alcoholic mixer, such as a scotch and soda or whiskey and ginger ale. The difference these glasses make to the whiskey is that they allow other ingredients in, reducing the influence of the whiskey. This is perfect for when you’re in the mood for drinking this type of whiskey cocktail or if you don’t like whiskey neat.

You can find highballs on Amazon here.

The Difference Shot Glasses Make to the Whiskey

While shot glasses may vary in shape, they’re generally similar in size and are small glasses that contain a maximum of 1 – 2fl oz of whiskey.

Their small size means that they’re filled to the brim – anything less would frankly make the whole procedure a waste of time. Therefore, there’s no room for air to get to the whiskey so it can breathe and let the ethanol evaporate and there’s nowhere for the whiskey’s aromas to accumulate.

This means that when you drink from a shot glass, you’ll smell the fumes of the alcohol which won’t have evaporated, but not the aromas of the whiskey which will have dissipated. You won’t taste the flavors of the whiskey, but you will feel the burn of the alcohol.

But this is ok as shot glasses are used when you want to drink your whiskey quickly and in one gulp or shot. This is usually done when you’re drinking low-quality whiskeys (presumably during some sort of whiskey emergency) which have far fewer flavors anyway.

It’s a way of getting alcohol into your body quickly if you want to feel relaxed and warm inside as soon as possible. Perhaps you’ve just seen someone you’d like to talk to enter the room and for some reason want to feel a bit more confident.

Disclaimer: I’m not a dating expert and make no guarantees about the final result.

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Josh Mitchell

I'm Josh Mitchell. I love whiskey and am working on increasing my whiskey tasting abilities and my collection.

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