Let's Talk Glassware
Updated: Jul 12, 2018
There are a lot of options for glassware when it comes to sipping bourbon. What are those options, do they make a difference, and most importantly, do you need them all? This post will hopefully answer some of those questions.
These reviews and descriptions are all based on my personal tastes and experiences with these glasses. As with whiskey, glassware is a personal preference.
Let's start with the most basic. Everybody knows what a shot glass is, so there's no reason to go into detail. This is the least ideal way to taste any whiskey. It's tough to get all the detail of the nose using a shot glass. It works fine as a container, but it just adds nothing to the experience. Unless you're using this to measure for a cocktail, or plan on throwing back shots, I'd avoid pouring any decent whiskey into a shot glass.
These glasses are also known as Old Fashioned glasses. These are a step up from the shot glass and probably the most common whiskey glass. They won't add much to the tasting experience, but I like them better than shot glasses because the wide rim allows your nose to get in the glass a little which helps you taste additional flavors. They are really useful to have around for whiskey cocktails. The thick base and wide shape lets you mash and muddle ingredients in the bottom with ease. There's also just something classic about a rocks glass.
Now we're getting into the specialty glasses. This glass was invented and made specifically for tasting whiskey. The unique shape helps direct the alcohol vapors to the rim, which means the nose from this glass is substantially better than from a rocks or shot glass. Test them side by side and you won't even think you're smelling the same whiskey. You definitely won't miss the alcohol burn with this glass. The taste is substantially different as well. I'm not sure if it's because the smell is directed at your nose while the whiskey hits your taste buds, or if maybe the alcohol is dissipated a bit, taking away some of the initial harshness of most whiskeys. Either way, the taste is much better than from a shot or rocks glass. This is my favorite glass, and I highly recommend it for anybody with a love for whiskey. The set I have at home can be found at a great price with free shipping at the link below.
This one is a darling of Kickstarter and launched just a few years back. To me, this one is basically a hybrid of a Glencairn and a rocks glass. It tries to keep most of the form factor of a rocks glass, but with the interior shape and science of a Glencairn. It's a cool looking glass, I've got to admit. The nose from this one is similar to the nose from the Glencairn to me. I don't have a great nose, so I can't tell much of a difference between the two, but a decent amount of users prefer to the nose of the Norlan over the nose of the Glencairn. Now what about the taste? Once again, it's really similar to the Glencairn. You get a lot of the nose while tasting, so that helps elevate the flavors. The only real downside to this glass is the price. Right now, they run $48 for two. I recently got two Glencairns for $16, so the Norlans are three times that price on Amazon.
The people behind this glass say the shape was discovered due to a blowing mistake, and that led to a scientific design specifically for tasting spirits. There's a lot of additional information on how specifically to use this and some fairly detailed instructions on their site if you want to check it out. What I found in using this is that the nose is completely different than with any other glass. The alcohol vapors are really diminished if not almost eliminated, which means you can really get in there and smell the flavors of the whiskey instead of just alcohol. There's no burning your nose with this glass. Honestly, it's provides the best nose of all the glasses noted here. When I taste from this glass though, something is just lacking. For one, it's a little awkward to drink out of, but beyond that the flavors seem a little muted. I assume whatever happened to enhance the nose so well, that same process took away from what gives whiskey some of it's taste characteristics.
I'd recommend having both rocks glasses and a set of Glencairns in the cabinet. That's all you really need to experience everything whiskey has to offer. If you don't care about the price, you may swap some Norlans in for Glencairns. A shot glass isn't needed, and the NEAT glass is good for nosing but fails in other areas. The Norlan is a cool glass and one I enjoy using, but I can't say it's better than the Glencairn. I certainly can't say it's worth three times the price.