4 Types of Whiskey Glasses for the 5 Ways to Drink Whiskey


Whiskey glasses have a profound effect on the taste and flavor of the whiskey, and different types of whiskey glasses have a different – but still profound – effect. This is entirely intentional and there are four different types of whiskey glasses with five different effects on the whiskey (don’t worry it will all make sense in a minute), because … and here’s the important point … there are five different ways to drink whiskey.

Let’s start with a summary.

The four types of whiskey glasses are:

  1. The shot glass
  2. The tumbler
  3. The highball
  4. The snifter or nosing glass

The five different ways to drink whiskey are:

  1. One gulp or shot
  2. Neat
  3. With ice
  4. In a cocktail
  5. Being able to taste all the flavors

And now for the details.

Six different types of whiskey glasses

The Shot Glass

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.

A shot of whiskey is served at room temperature and straight out the bottle.

Since they’re small there’s no room for ice cubes to calm the burn of the alcohol – or to put it more accurately if you did put ice cubes in them there would be very little room for the main objective. The small size also 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 you will 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 (which is the taste plus the smell), but you will feel the burn of the alcohol.

However, this is ok because the way to drink whiskey with shot glasses is not by getting the most out of its aromas and flavors and spending time savouring and appreciating its nuances but by drinking the whiskey quickly and in one gulp or shot. This is usually done when you’re drinking cheap or low-quality whiskeys (presumably during some sort of whiskey emergency) which have far fewer flavors to savour and appreciate in the first place.

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The Tumbler

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.

These types of whiskey glasses are large enough to contain 6 – 10fl oz, and double old fashioned glasses are large enough to contain 12 – 16fl oz.

There are three ways to drink whiskey from whiskey tumblers:

  1. Neat
  2. With ice
  3. In a cocktail

(Yes, together with shot glasses that’s a total so far of two types of whiskey glasses with four ways to drink whiskey, leaving two types of whiskey glasses but only one more way to drink whiskey left, but don’t worry, everything is under control. And by that, I mean everything in this article is under control. I am in no way taking responsibility for world events.)

Let’s look at this in more detail.

The first way to drink whiskey with whiskey tumblers, is neat. Like a shot of whiskey, a neat pour is usually served at room temperature straight out the bottle. Since the amount poured (2fl oz) is this time only a small part of the glass, there’s room for air to get to the whiskey so it can breathe and let the ethanol evaporate, but since tumblers are wide-brimmed there’s still no concentration and accumulation of aromas.

While you will smell less of the ethanol fumes, most of the aromas will also dissipate but you will still get some, which is why these types of whiskey glasses are not for drinking whiskey quickly and in one gulp, as there is some flavor to appreciate and something to savour.

The second way to drink whiskey with whiskey tumblers, is with ice. Whiskey tumblers have plenty of room for adding ice cubes. Adding ice to whiskey achieves two things. Firstly, it makes the whiskey a bit more palatable by tempering the intensity of the whiskey and calming the burn of the alcohol.

While this does inhibit the dominant flavors as the warmer a whiskey is the more you can pick them up, it also means – and this is the second thing that adding ice cubes to whiskey achieves – you can taste all the changes in your whiskey as the ice cubes melt and the added water opens up new and more subtle flavors.

Adding ice cubes also opens up the whiskey to the risk of becoming too diluted and it’s therefore 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. This way you’ll easily be able to juggle reducing the heat of the whiskey, opening up the more subtle flavors and ensuring your drink doesn’t become too diluted.

These types of whiskey glasses are a must if you want to use large or giant ice cubes, as the wide opening of whiskey tumblers is big enough to accommodate them.

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

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The 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 and is too obvious to mention … tall.

The way to drink whiskey with a highball is in a cocktail that has a higher proportion of non-alcoholic mixer, such as a scotch and soda or whiskey and ginger ale. There is plenty of room for a lot of ice, a lot of mixer and ok … a lot of whiskey.

(For those who are following, or interested in, or pedantic enough to care about the mathematics of this article, since we’ve had drinking whiskey in a cocktail already the count is now at three types of whiskey glasses with four ways to drink whiskey, and we’re back on track for achieving our goal of explaining the four different types of whiskey glasses for five different ways to drink whiskey.)

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The Snifter or Nosing Glass

While these types of whiskey glasses might look like they have different shapes, they’re all, more or less, variations of the same theme, namely tall-ish, with a wider bowl and a long narrow neck. They usually also have a thin stem and broad pedestal.

Like whiskey tumblers the amount poured is only a small part of the glass which means there’s room for air to get to the whiskey so it can breathe and let the ethanol evaporate, but this time the bowl shape of the nosing glass concentrates the whiskey’s aromas towards the narrow rim and allows them to accumulate.

This allows you to nose your whiskey before drinking it, sensing aromas you would have otherwise missed, savouring and appreciating them. The aromas add to the flavor, because flavor includes both smell as well as taste and so the whiskey will … taste better. This way of drinking whiskey is especially important when the whiskey in question is of a high quality or an aged single malt.

This is why nosing glasses usually have a stem, as that keeps your hand and any accompanying smells from coming too close to your nose (without getting involved in the various routines that make up the entirety of your personal hygiene). It also allows you to cradle the glass and warm the whiskey bringing 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 five different types of nosing glasses:

The tulip-shaped glass is based on the copita glass – a glass used for drinking sherry. Without giving anything away, it’s tulip-shaped (perhaps overuse in celebration of producing a great whiskey glass then inhibited creativity when it came to choosing a name) being tall, with a narrow bowl and a long narrow neck.

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The Glencairn whisky glass has a wider bowl which means the larger surface area and any subsequent swirling that a wider area naturally lends itself to, will allow more air to reach your whiskey increasing the amount of ethanol that evaporates. 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.

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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.

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The NEAT whiskey glass (which stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) has the widest bowl, a narrow centre 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.

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The Norlan whisky glass has a double wall with the outer wall designed to be aesthetically pleasing and the inner wall shaped to focus the aromas to the nose and defuse the ethanol away from your face. There are protrusions at the bottom of the glass which create a wave shape when you swirl your whiskey for more surface to air ratio, so a higher rate of oxidization and more ethanol evaporating. This brings out the flavours and improves the taste of your whiskey.

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Four Types of Whiskey Glasses: A Lot of Effort for Our Enjoyment of Whiskey

Now this may be a lot of information to take in. Four different types of whiskey glasses, five sub types of nosing glasses, five ways to drink whiskey, along with all the effects on the whiskey due to the size and shape of the whiskey glasses and other large and small design details, but one thing is absolutely crystal clear:

Countless hours of time and the same amount of whatever measurement we use for effort, over an untold number of years by who knows how many never-to-be-identified heroes struggling to overcome numerous whiskey-related difficulties, have gone into perfecting our enjoyment of whiskey, culminating in the production of four types of whiskey glasses for the five ways to drink whiskey.

It is of the utmost importance therefore, that we do not let the efforts of such a momentous undertaking go to waste.

You know what you have to do.

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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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