The Seven Best Whiskey Glasses explained

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Have you ever noticed the way how whiskey drinkers can be a bit snobbish about their glasses? Here at Neat & Shaken we’ve noticed there are two schools of thought when it comes to whiskey. First, there are the purists, who believe that single malt should only be drunk in a snifter glass and it should be a solid crystal rocks glass for everything else. And then, there are those who think that anything above a jam jar is fine. 

We stand equidistant between the two. Of course, we love all pomp and ceremony that goes with having the right glass. Surely we are not alone in enjoying the experience of a perfectly designed glass with our two fingers of 16 year old single malt, roaring fire in the grate, sleeping dog at our feet. On the other … well, surely a glass is just a glass? As long as it looks cool, the liquid inside will taste better, right? 

Even if you’re only ever going to drink your whiskey from a shot glass, whatever you pick for your poison can change your whole drinking experience. Some glasses are designed to highlight the spirit, while others are wide enough for muddling, versatile enough for cocktails, or compact enough for neat pours. Even if the only thing you want from your glass is to look good on your drinks trolley, we think everything looks just a little bit better when you have a bit of context. 

Which is what this post is about. Why there are different whiskey glasses and which one is which. 

There are seven different types of glasses. So if you don’t know snifter from your old-fashioned, or your highball from your tulip read on. So that next time you raise a glass, you know what you’re raising. Cheers!

The Tulip Glass

Sometimes called the Copa glass, this is one of the favourites among serious whiskey drinkers. Based on the copita - the Spanish sherry sampling glass, the tulip glass is named for its tulip-like shape (long, thin stem, round bowl, thin rim). The beauty of the tulip glass is that it can be easily held in your hand, which will warm up the whiskey if that’s what you like. To appreciate the tulip glass’ full potential, we recommend adding a splash of water to your drink, you’ll soon see how the tulip glass’ shape really opens the whiskey up to full spectrum of flavour.

Glencairn Glass

Glencairn glasses are an evergreen choice. This round bowled glass, similar to the tulip glass, allows you fully appreciate the notes you get on the nose and the complex layering of the whiskey flavour, meaning you, the drinker, can concentrate on the taste. The short, stocky little glass differs from the tulip glass however in that it doesn’t have a long stem (Glencairns either have a flat bottom or a very short stem). This is a perfect swirling glass too - as with the tulip, the narrow rim traps the aroma. The Glencairn is a true connoisseur’s glass, and an excellent choice, even if we do say so ourselves. 

The Whiskey Tumbler 

Also known as the rocks glass, the old fashioned glass or the lowball glass, the whiskey tumbler is the vanilla ice cream of whiskey glasses. Absolutely lovely, you can get some very fine examples, completely timeless and everyone likes it. This is a great glass for drinking, but not so much if you are serious about your whiskey. The wide rim does not trap the aromas in the same way a tulip or a Glencairn glass does, thus this is not a good glass for nosing. Moreover, this is a glass for on the rocks  and whiskey cocktail drinkers alike; the heavy base is great for ‘muddling’ ingredients while the plain design is perfect for your home bar. Get it double-walled for best results: the extra layer of insulation keeps hand heat away from liquid. A must for all whiskey fans. 

The highball

The highball is the tumbler’s big brother. This one is good for long drinks, the most famous of which is of course the simple but delicious whiskey soda. The shape of the glass means that you can fit a good few ice cubes in there, plus spirit and mixer, so your drink is kept cold as long as you want it. Drinks are built directly in the glass (as opposed to in a shaker like for gin cocktails) and are poured over ice and stirred into the mix. 

The snifter (aka the balloon, the brandy bowl, the cognac glass)

If you fancy a snifter, you better know what you're talking about. This is a glass that oozes style. A snifter glass instantly conjures up images of gentlemen’s clubs, monocled uncles, shooting parties in Scotland and cigars after dinner. And why shouldn't it? After all, it is the racehorse of whiskey glasses. It’s tremendously elegant and has a nice, round bowl for letting the spirit inside breathe. It has the same tulip shape and short stem that the Glencairn has, except the bottom goes from wide to thin without curving in. Today the snifter is more commonly used for brandy (hence the expression) but is also perfect for pouring (and drinking) Irish whiskeys. 

The NEAT whiskey glass

NEAT in name and in purpose. The NEAT glass - an acronym that stands for Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology - came about after a fortuitous mistake in the glassmaking factory. This style of glass is well suited for both connoisseurs and newbie whiskey drinkers alike. The unusual shape, once you have got used to it, cancels out any strong aromas (and concentrates the wonderful whiskey smell that makes this drink so very, very good). It’s not for nothing that the NEAT glass is used by judges in international whiskey competitions.

The shot glass

Even if we’re all about appreciating our spirit, there will inevitably come a time when you’ll down a shot or two. So, if you are going to ask for a whiskey chaser at the bar, you should know what kind of glass to get the best from your bourbon. Look for slightly bigger ones so the spirit doesn't spill out (we’re not talking jagerbombs here), and we will always prefer a solid crystal glass that fans out slightly rather than one that goes straight up and down. If we are going to be slamming drinks down on the bar, at least we want to look the part. 

What to look for in Whiskey Glasses? 

So, you’ve got the tasting glass and you’ve got the single malt, Now that you know which glass goes where the next question is naturally is glass or crystal better?

General Tips When Choosing Whiskey Glasses

Crystal vs. Glass Wine Glasses

First of all, you need to decide if you want to buy crystal or glass glasses. All crystal is glass, but not all glass is crystal. There are pros and cons to both.

Crystal whiskey glasses are the musical glasses that sing when you rub a finger around their rim. Their weight and prestige mean they are far more expensive than glass glasses but do they actually make the liquid taste better?

Well… kind of. One of the joys of crystal is that it can be spun very thinly and can therefore be manipulated to make a very thin rim, almost eliminating the transition between glass and mouth. Crystal also gives for a smoother finish - meaning that the drink flow is easier. 

However, crystal is notoriously fragile. What’s more, it’s porous, so can’t be put in the dishwasher. So if you have excitable pets, clumsy guests or young children, then we say better stick to glass. 

The pros of glass are as follows:

Glass whiskey glasses are far more durable, less expensive and won’t be harmed if you put them in the dishwasher. 

There is also far more choice in both shape and budget as glass is really the material that most people choose for their whiskey glasses. 

However, every pro of cristal glasses is a con with glass glasses: 

There is far less prestige in a glass glass. 

Glass glasses are not usually designed to enhance the whiskey flavours in the way crystal glasses are. 

Here at Neat and Shaken, we are a sucker for a hand-blown crystal glass. Yes, ok, ok, we know that glass is the most standard option, but whatever made you think we were standard? We just like crystal just because a) we feel posh and b) crystal doesn’t impart any other flavours in the spirit. We have seen vessels (don’t think we can call them glasses here) made from metal, plastic and even wood. However, what with some people’s butterfingers (ahem, naming no names here), perhaps so something that doesn’t break would be a good idea? 

How much do whiskey glasses cost?

Well, how long is a piece of string? Depending on the type of glass you want you’ll need to know that prices can range widely. We recommend you think of your purpose prior to determining your price. So before you splash the cash have a think about a few questions. For example: How often are you going to be using these beauties?  If it’s just once in a blue moon then you don’t need to get a snifter with a sky-high price tag. However, if you’re a serious whiskey lover, or you’re getting these as a present then you might want to consider something a little sexier. Do you want a snifter that will let you smell and taste the whiskey’s delicate nuances? Do you like a cocktail as much as a wee dram? Then maybe an Old Fashioned glass would work best, as it’s as versatile as pretty. And if you really can’t be trusted around pretty things? Then opt for something that is fairly hardy and won’t cost the earth to replace.