Whiskey Tumblers


Whiskey tumblers is a slightly odd phrase.

Although let’s face it, no one should be perplexed as to the meaning of the first of the two words.

If you are, may I suggest you take the evening off with a bottle of whiskey and then come back. It will solve more than one problem.

Simply speaking a tumbler is a drinking glass that has a flat bottom and straight sides, with no stem or handle. Whiskey tumblers are generally short and wide with a thick and heavy bottom.

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Why Are They Called Whiskey Tumblers?

Nobody knows.

Some questions are really easy to answer.

However, there are some theories.

One is that originally, tumblers had a round bottom so when placed on the table they would fall over and spill their contents. They would ‘tumble’ and the process of adding an ‘er’ to a verb and ending up with an agent noun is well known. At least now that you’ve looked it up.

Now I know that at first it seems utterly absurd to make a container for holding liquid – the thing that if you spill you can’t just pick up again – in a way which guarantees the spilling of its contents, and you wonder what was going on in the minds of our ancestors when they decided upon a design with such an obvious flaw. But if you think about it, you’ll realize its subtle genius as it forced the drinker to finish their glass before putting it down and therefore, to drink more whiskey. With today’s flat bottom tumblers, it’s easy to set your unfinished whiskey glass down for a few moments, and so run the risk of not finishing your drink for one reason or another.

It seems our ancestors were not so stupid after all.

The Rocks Glass, the Lowball and the Old Fashioned Glass

Whiskey tumblers are also known by other names. The rocks glass, the lowball and the old fashioned glass are all whiskey tumblers.

Whisky tumblers are called rocks glasses because they’re wide enough to fill with ice. They’re called lowball glasses because they’re used for simpler cocktails with a limited number of ingredients. And they’re called old fashioned after a drink that was called old fashioned. If that makes sense.

The Size of Whiskey Tumblers

Whiskey tumblers are large enough to contain 6 – 10 fl oz. By way of contrast a single shot of alcohol is generally considered to be about 1 – 1.5 fl oz and a double shot of alcohol is generally considered to be … well I’ll let you work that one out for yourself.

In the spirit of doubles, there is such a thing as a double old fashioned glass, which it will not surprise you to learn, is large enough to contain 12 – 16 fl oz.

Technically there are also triple old fashioned whiskey glasses, but they’re more commonly known by their traditional name – whiskey bottles.

Why Drink From Whiskey Tumblers?

Because it doesn’t look right to drink whiskey straight from the bottle.

The truth is that the type of whiskey glass you use profoundly effects the taste and flavor of the whiskey.

Some people want to ensure that they can smell all the aromas of the whiskey as that adds to its flavor. It is possible to drink whiskey neat from whiskey tumblers and appreciate some of its flavors because the air that gets to the whiskey allows the ethanol to evaporate and not get in the way of smelling the aromas of the whiskey, but the nosing of whiskey tumblers is somewhat compromised as their wide rim means the aromas will dissipate quickly. Tulip-shaped nosing glasses are better than whiskey tumblers for … well nosing as their narrow opening concentrates the aromas and lets them accumulate.

On the other hand, whiskey tumblers are perfect if you want to temper the intensity of the whiskey and calm the burn of the alcohol so that it becomes a bit more palatable, because there is plenty of room to add ice cubes which will do just that, by making the temperature of the whiskey drop rapidly. There is a downside though in that it inhibits the dominant flavors as the warmer a whiskey is the more you can pick up on the dominant flavors, but it also means 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.

Now, here’s where things start to get a little tricky. You want to calm the burn of the alcohol and you want to taste all the changes in your whiskey as the ice cubes melt, but you don’t want to ruin your whiskey by diluting it too much. The solution, large or even giant ice cubes. With less surface area than many smaller ice cubes put together, they will melt slower and you will be able to easily juggle reducing the heat of the whiskey, increasing its subtle flavors and ensuring it doesn’t become diluted beyond repair.

Large ice cubes mean you’ll need a large glass, hence the necessity for whiskey tumblers that not only have a large size they also have a wide opening to accommodate bigger ice cubes.

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You’ll also notice that whiskey tumblers are heavier and more robust than the more delicate nosing glasses. They may also have thicker sides and a weighted bottom. This is not only so that you can muddle the ingredients of a cocktail against the side of the glass, but a vital defence against heat from the hand holding the glass, warming your chilled whiskey and / or melting the ice cubes faster than you expect thereby possibly diluting your whiskey beyond repair.

The Venero whiskey glass has thick walls which means your drink is insulated at your chosen temperature for longer.

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This leaves us with one obvious and critically important question.

How long do you have before melting ice dilutes your whiskey?

The truth is that this depends on the size of your glass, the amount of whiskey, and the size of your ice cubes. You could spend a few minutes making all the necessary calculations for every given situation or you could work with the simpler solution and err on the side of caution. Yes, that does involve finishing your whiskey and moving on to a refill sooner rather than later, but I’m not sure I see a downside to that.

The Cool Factor

There is another factor to consider when thinking about whiskey tumblers and that is – they’re cool.

When you see a protagonist drinking whiskey in the movies, they’re invariably drinking from a whiskey tumbler. The only exception I know is from the famous hit film, All About Whiskey Glasses Especially Non-Tumbler Ones.

This sends two messages. The first is that the tumbler is the only kind of whiskey glass and the second is that whiskey tumblers are cool. Since heroes drink whiskey from whiskey tumblers and it’s cool to be a hero so whiskey tumblers are cool too.

Now heroes could easily be whiskey connoisseurs who often drink whiskey out of glasses that would more easily allow them to appreciate the aromas and flavors, and the only reason they’re drinking from whiskey tumblers right now is that you’ve caught them at a busy time, doing whatever it is that’s making them heroic, so they don’t have the time or they may simply not be in the mood for the whole swirling, sniffing and sipping palaver that goes into the full appreciation of whiskey that they may do in their downtime, but since that is all we see, the two above messages are inevitable.

One of the most famous examples of this is Rick Deckard who drinks out of a whiskey tumbler in both Blade Runner films. To be fair it’s a pretty cool, futuristic looking glass that they still make replicas of. Oh, the irony.

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Whiskey Tumblers Have More Design Flexibility

This stands to reason. Other types of whiskey glasses need to be the best shape for accumulating the aromas and making sure they don’t dissipate, so they all have a very similar design. Whiskey tumblers have no such constraints – though their opening needs to be wide enough to fit large ice cubes – and so there is greater design variation when it comes to whiskey tumblers.

That’s why some whiskey tumblers are round, while others are square, some have a twist design and others have such a unique design they’re too difficult for some lazy writers to describe.

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KANARS Twist Whiskey Glasses



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As mentioned, whiskey tumblers are wider and more robust than other types of whiskey glasses. Their sturdier nature means it’s easier to cut intricate designs into the glass.

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Are Whiskey Tumblers Better Than Nosing Glasses?

Yes.

But only if you want your whiskey with ice. If you want to get all the aromas, then no.

Either way it’s best to be prepared for both eventualities and have a selection of glasses at home.

Rocking Glasses – the Closest Thing to What Whiskey Tumblers Used to Be

Sagaform make rocking whiskey glasses. Yes, that means what you think it means. They are whiskey glasses that because of a curved bottom, rock from side to side, though unlike tumblers of yore they don’t spill their contents.

Sagaform Rocking Whiskey Glasses



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These whiskey glasses are the closest you’ll get to real tumblers. Assuming of course, that the above-mentioned hypothesis behind the name is true. I don’t know about you, but I personally find that the more whiskey I drink the more I’m inclined to believe that the hypothesis is correct.

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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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