The Shape A Whiskey Glass Should Be & Why It’s Important

Whiskey glasses come in many different shapes. That’s not because the shape of a whiskey glass is not important, on the contrary it is, it’s because the right shaped glass changes depending on how you’re drinking your whiskey. Here’s the shape your whiskey glass should be for each way of drinking whiskey.

Use a tulip shaped glass for drinking whiskey neat, and the cylinder-shaped tumbler for drinking whiskey with ice. Use the taller, cylinder-shaped highball for drinking whiskey cocktails, and the shorter and thinner, cylinder-shaped shot glass for drinking whiskey shots.

The following table shows the shape your whiskey glass should be for each way of drinking whiskey, in a nutshell:

Way of DrinkingShape of Glass
NeatTulip shaped
With iceCylinder-shaped
In a cocktailTaller cylinder-shaped
ShotsShort and thin cylinder-shaped

It’s important to use the right shaped whiskey glass for each way of drinking whiskey because it will improve your drink immensely. In the rest of this article, I’ll explain exactly how and why the shape of each whiskey glass does that.

(As a side note, I wrote an article that explains the different types of whiskey glasses in more detail, which you can find here.)

Use A Tulip Shaped Glass for Drinking Whiskey Neat

Tulip shaped whiskey glass

When drinking whiskey neat you need to use a tulip shaped whiskey glass. That means the whiskey glasses with a wide bowl, long narrow neck, thin stem and broad pedestal. The reason for this is because the whole point of drinking whiskey neat is to taste all its flavors, and without a glass this shape you can’t do that.

You see when it comes to drinking whiskey neat there are two problems:

  • The alcohol content of whiskey
  • The aromas of the whiskey dissipating

The high alcohol content of whiskey (anywhere between 40% – 68%ABV) keeps many of its flavors closed up so you have no chance of tasting them. It also ensures that the unpleasant tasting alcohol will be the dominant smell and taste of your whiskey – until it numbs your nose and palate, temporarily reducing your ability to smell or taste anything at all.

The aromas of a whiskey start dissipating as soon as the whiskey is poured into a glass. And since flavor is smell as well as taste, their loss will mean your whiskey’s flavors will be muted.

The wide bowl and long narrow neck of the tulip shaped whiskey glass is designed to solve these two problems.

Its wide bowl helps reduce the impact of the alcohol by providing more room for air to get to the whiskey so it can breathe. This allows some of the alcohol to evaporate and your whiskey’s flavors to open up. It also gives the whiskey more room to be swirled so that more air can get to more of the whiskey and more quickly, allowing even more alcohol to evaporate.

Its long narrow neck 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 and therefore, taste all its flavors.

Popular Tulip Shaped Glasses

While all tulip shaped glasses have the same basic shape, there can be variations, sometimes small but other times big. This is clearer when you consider the four most popular tulip shaped glasses:

  • The Glencairn Copita
  • The Glencairn Whisky Glass
  • The NEAT Whiskey Glass
  • The Norlan Whisky Glass

The first three glasses are examples of small variations on the basic tulip shape. The bowl of the Glencairn Copita is not as wide as that of the Glencairn Whisky Glass, while the NEAT Whiskey Glass has an even wider bowl to let even more air get to the whiskey. All three have long narrow necks, but only the NEAT Whisky Glass widens out again at the top to direct the alcohol away from your face.

The Norlan Whisky Glass on the other hand is an example of a bigger variation because it doesn’t look like it has a tulip shape at all – although it does. That’s because it’s really a tulip shaped glass inside a cylindrical shaped glass, so it has two independent walls. That way it has the function of a tulip shaped glass but the more preferred design of a cylinder-shaped glass.

I have written a more detailed article about some of the best whiskey glasses for improving your drink, which you can find here.

Use A Cylinder-Shaped Tumbler for Whiskey with Ice

Cylinder-shaped whiskey tumbler

When drinking whiskey with ice you need to use a cylinder-shaped whiskey tumbler. Tumblers are short and wide, with straight sides, a thick or heavy flat bottom and no stem or handle. The reason for this is because the shape of the glass allows you to use the type of ice cubes that won’t melt quickly and dilute your whiskey.

And the type of ice cubes that won’t melt quickly and dilute your whiskey are large or even giant ones. That’s because with less surface area than many smaller ice cubes with the same volume, they’ll melt slower. However, large or giant ice cubes will only fit through the wider openings of cylinder-shaped tumblers and not the narrower openings of tulip shaped glasses.

Popular Cylinder-Shaped Tumblers

Since the cylinder-shape is simpler than the tulip-shape, there’s more room for design variation when it comes to tumblers. That’s why you’ll find that despite having the same basic shape, there are many different types of whiskey tumblers.

There are plain whiskey tumblers and whiskey tumblers with the classic diamond and wedge cut. There are round whiskey tumblers, square whiskey tumblers, oval whiskey tumblers and even twisted whiskey tumblers.

Tumblers can be some of the most unique whiskey glasses out there, and I wrote an article with 15 of my favorite ones which you can find here.

Use A Tall Cylinder-Shaped Highball for Cocktails

Cylinder-shaped whiskey highball and shot glass

When drinking whiskey cocktails you need to use the taller cylinder-shaped highball. 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 … tall.

There are two reasons why you need to use the taller cylinder-shaped highball when drinking whiskey cocktails. The first is because it’s the tallest of all the whiskey glasses, which means it can hold more ingredients. So even though whiskey tumblers are used to drink smaller whiskey cocktails, the taller highball is used for larger ones.

The second reason to use a highball is because although its opening is wider than that of the tulip shaped glass, it’s still narrow enough that it causes any bubbles in the cocktail to concentrate, which makes the drink hold its carbonation for longer. This is useful because many whiskey cocktails are carbonated, for example scotch and soda, and whiskey and ginger ale.

The narrowness of the cylinder-shaped highball also brings the aromas and flavors of your drink to the top of the glass.

Use A Short, Thin, Cylinder-Shaped Glass for Shots

When drinking shots of whiskey, you should use the shorter and thinner cylinder-shaped shot glass. Shot glasses have the same basic shape as tumblers and highballs but are much, much smaller.

The reason for this is because the point of drinking shots of whiskey is not to smell and taste all its aromas and flavors, but to get alcohol into your body as fast as possible.

That’s why shots are drunk quickly and in one gulp – which is much easier to do from a small, thin cylinder-shaped shot glass where the whiskey can easily slide out, than a tulip shaped glass where the flow of whiskey is slowed as it moves from the wider bowl to the narrower neck, or a wider tumbler where you’re forced to drink slower or risk some of your drink missing its target.

Josh Mitchell

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

Related Posts