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E-pistle 2007/030 – Whisky Glasses; a Study

E-pistle 2007/030 – Whisky Glasses; a Study

By Lawrence Graham, Canada

There are many whisky glasses on the market currently, some of which you have to buy and some of which are given as presents by distilleries or even included in the price of a bottle of single malt whisky. In some cases the glasses and quite good for nosing and in other cases, they’re just good for drinking. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but I felt an attempt should be made to identify the husks, the flour and the grits, so to speak.

This is the second examination of whisky glasses published on Malt Maniacs – the first was conducted by German ex-maniac Klaus Everding. That E-pistle can be found in the ADHD section. Just look for it in Malt Maniacs #4 (according to the ‘old calendar’).

Some glasses make claims while others arrive without fanfare or explanation. I do not have a scientific background so I did not approach this project in a scientific fashion. However, I attempted to be logical. I selected 16 commonly available glasses and divided then into four groups.

I grouped the glasses based on common characteristics; the Tulip or Thistle Group based on their general bulbous waist and narrower openings, the Copita Group based on their common heritage from Spain and the sherry industry, the ISO Nosing & Tasting Group glasses and their close cousins and finally the Miscellaneous Group , a catch all for the remaining glasses, ranging from quite common to very odd. I deliberately left out the common whisky tumblers as they are not suited from nosing and tasting whisky. But good for drinking…

My task was to nose each glass with three different types of Scottish Single Malt whisky; a sample of new make (yes, I know it’s not legally whisky), a Highland whisky matured in primarily ex-American bourbon barrels at and a phenol laden Islay bottled at 46% without the addition of color or chill filtration. I nosed all three whisky sample with and without water. When water was added I used an equal measure of water to whisky. I selected the glass with the best characteristics for nosing from each of the four groups; I performed a further evaluation of these four glasses using the above described process. I nosed each group from right to left and from right to left being careful not to over tax my senses. I also nosed and tasted 2, 3, 4, & 1 etc to ensure that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the last samples (and visa versa) were consistently being judged by a fresh nose.

The Tulip or Thistle Group

The picture shows, from left to right; 1) the “Perfect Whisky Glass”, 2) the Glencairn and 3) the Tulip or Thistle with Stem. These glasses share a common theme in that they are based on the shape of the original whisky nosing glasses; The Tulip or Thistle with stem being the nearest in design to the older style of this glass. They are commonly seen sporting Ardbeg or Glenmorangie livery which is generally made by Andrews Parke. This is an award winning glass, popular on the continent – so says Andrews Parke.

The Perfect Whisky Glass is also from Andrews Parke who supplies glassware to the industry. When compared to the Glencairn it can be best described as the ‘mini me’ of the whisky glass world. The Glencairn is the most commonly available whisky glass available today with over a million glasses in use around the world. They are renowned for their ability to handle rough use, something that many over indulging whisky enthusiasts the world over appreciate.

1. The “Perfect Whisky Glass”

Comments New Make Nosing: Good capacity to present on the nose, the essential elements of the new make come through clearly.
Possible advantage of the nose being closer to the surface of the spirit? After a few minutes the sample opened up and presented fruity sweet on the nose with little evidence of the alcohol. This glass presented 1st of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Once again this little glass proved itself.
It had the best nose of the group and thus presented 1st of the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : Once again this glass performs well and places 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 2nd behind the tulip with stem.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : With this whisky the performance of all three glasses improved and while the mini Glencairn presented well it came in 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass continues to do well but presented a close 2nd place to the Tulip with Stem.

2. The Glencairn Glass

Comments New Make Nosing: After a few minutes of nosing this sample very little was presented on the nose.
I found this to be surprising since I have a lot of experience with this model. I eventually increased the size of the sample in this glass.
This glass tied for 2nd place of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: A surprise with this glass; it had less on the nose than the Tulip with stem.
This glass presents 3rd of the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : Simply less on the nose, this glass presents last in the group (3rd).
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A distant 3rd to the other two.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Still a good nose but not as good as the other two.
Much to my surprise this glass came in 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: A good glass but it does not measure up to the other two.
Thus, it presents 3rd in the group.

3. Tulip or Thistle with Stem

This glass is often adorned with the logo of Balvenie, Glenmorangie or Ardbeg.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass presented the ‘hottest’ sample, the alcohol is more evident with the nose playing second place to the alcohol. An advantage is the stem allowing the hand to cup the bowl of the glass for hand warming of the whisky. After a few minutes this sample opened up more than the others and nosed very well. This is the identical glass to the Glenmorangie & Ardbeg glasses that come with a ‘cap’. This glass tied for 2nd place of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Surprisingly good. I will pay more attention to this glass in the future.
It presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : This glass continues to do well and presents well in 2nd place.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 1st in the group with a superior performance.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: This glass presented very well on the nose with the most vibrant sample. This glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass continues to surprise me and presents 1st of the group.

The Copita Group

The picture shows, from left to right; 1) the Cobalt Blue Nosing & Blenders Glass, 2) the Dock Glass, 3) the Whisky Nosing Glass and 4) the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Glass.

These glasses are all based on the Spanish Copita which is a traditional glass for nosing & tasting sherry that originated in Jerez, Spain. Once again Andrews Parke supply most of these glasses and they simply call them “tasters”. Some “tasters” are supplied with gauge lines to provide a precise measure of water to whisky.

The Cobalt blue glass is used in blind tasting so that the person conducting the assessment cannot be biased by the color of the whisky. Some other glasses are provided with a watch cover to allow the contents to be swirled to prevent spills and to keep in the aromas.

1. The Cobalt Blue Nosing & Blenders Glass

This glass is used for blind sessions to hide the color of the whisky.
It allowed for the fruitiness of the new make to shine through on the nose.
Comments New Make Nosing : This glass consistently presented the best nose of the 4 glasses in this group – ended 1st of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : A better showing with water, more on the nose. This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: Once again this group performs in a very similar fashion.
This glass presents last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Another surprise but this glass once again had the best nose of the group.
So, this glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass was marginally behind the other two and presented 3rd place in the group.

2. The Dock Glass (with watch glass cover)

From the back of the tube: “This very particular shape of glass is used by the Distillery Manager when nosing new make spirit and by the Master Blender, when nosing the mature whiskies he will use in his blend. The bulbous bowl allows the spirit to be agitated prior to nosing and the narrow aperture helps retain the alcohol vapours. The calibrations on the side are used to measure the correct quantity of water to be added to release the bouquet. When nosing the whisky at Cask Strength, the ratio of whisky to water is 1:2 and for bottle strength whisky, 1 part water to 1 part whisky. Still water (…) must always be used. It is preferable to cover the glass with a watch glass and leave standing for 5-10 minutes before nosing. In the 17th and 18th centuries, this shape of glass was known as a “DOCK GLASS”, as it was used by wine and spirit merchants at the Docks to nose their shipments before accepting them. This glass is blown and fashioned entirely by hand in exactly the same way it would have been then.”
Comments New Make Nosing: I did not use the watch glass for consistency.
It has a much larger mouth that the other glasses in this group. This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Some capacity to present was lost with the addition of water.
This glass presents last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass performs just slightly better than the others and presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : Simply not as much on the nose, this glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: Still very good but not as much on the nose as the others.
This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: This glass was just noticeably less capable than the other three.
hence, it presents last in the group.

3. The Whisky Nosing Glass (with watch glass cover)

From the back of the box “This very particular shape of 17th century glass is used by the Distillery Manager and the Master Blender when nosing new and mature whiskies. Before nosing, still water (at room temperature) should be added to a ratio of 1:1 for cask strength. The spirit is then agitated, covered with the watch glass and left for 5-10 minutes. This glass has a much narrower mouth when compared to the dock glass.”
Comments New Make Nosing : I did not follow this advice nor did I use the watch glass for consistency. This glass presented 2nd.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : This glass did quite well with the addition of water. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: A good effort here and it presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A good performance with good delivery of aromas; this glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Just edged out the Dock Glass, possibly due to the narrower opening.
This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass did well and was only just nosed into presenting 2nd place by the SMWS glass.

4. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Tasting Glass

Comments New Make Nosing: This glass consistently presented the least amount on the nose from this group.
In comparison to the Cobalt Nosing & Tasting Glass this glass, to my surprise, appeared to have a dramatically reduced nose presentation. This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : An upset! This glass presented the best on the nose with the addition of water.
This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : A bit of a surprise here with a good nose, this glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A good performance here that offered up great aromas; this glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: A good clean delivery of the characteristics of the whisky. This glass presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This little glass did very well bringing out slightly more aromas than the others.
This glass presented 1st in the group.

The ISO Nosing & Tasting Group

The picture shows, from left to right; 1) the Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass, 2) the ISO Nosing & Tasting 7.5 Ounce Glass, 3) the Laphroaig “Bowl Sided’ Glass, 4) the Macallan “straight Sided’ Glass.

These glasses are more modern design but still has some heritage in based in the Copita Group and this can be readily seen when the two sets are compared. The true ISO glass is slightly smaller than the larger glass in the group which is currently available from Glenfarclas.

A very similar and ever so slightly smaller glass is currently available for sale ebay from a German seller; these glasses are sporting the livery of both Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The Laphroaig and Macallan glasses are less common than the other two in this group but can still be found in similar styles in the market place.

1. The Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass

This glass is crested with “The Grand Order of Glenfarclas Whisky”.
It is slightly taller than the ISO Nosing & Tasting Glass and is also .5 of a centimeter taller.
Comments New Make Nosing : Despite having a nearly identical shape to the ISO glass there was a clear difference.
The Glenfarclas glass was much more pronounced on the nose. This glass presented 2nd of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: This glass continues to present well with improvement with the addition of water.
This glass presents in 1st place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : This glass did well with good delivery or aromas and presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass showed a slight change and presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: Once again this glass did well (1st in the group) with a very good nose presentation.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass presented just slightly better than the ISO glass and presented 1st in the group.

2. The ISO Nosing & Tasting 7.5 Ounce Glass

This is almost an identical glass to the Glenfarclas glass.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass presented well on the nose but something was slightly lacking.
This glass presented 3rd of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: An improvement over the showing without water. This glass presents 2nd place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : reduced delivery of aromas; this glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 4th in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : This glass presented the sweetness of this whisky well. It presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: Just slightly behind the Laphroaig glass; the ISO glass presented 3rd in the group.

3. The Laphroaig ‘Bowl Sided’ Glass

This glass has quite a long stem with a very unusual round bowl and narrow mouth, the narrowest mouth of the group.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass presented the ‘hottest’ nose & sharpest nose of the group.
More alcohol came through and less of the characteristics for the new make. This glass presented last of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : Again this glass improved with the addition of water, more aromas are evident. This glass presents in 4th place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: Some initial good pints from this glass. This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: This glass performed well and presented 2nd in the group just behind the Glenfarclas glass.

4. The Macallan ‘Straight Sided’ Glass

This glass can also be found crested with Glengoyne, Highland Park and Bunnahabhain from the time when these distilleries were all owned by the same company.
Comments New Make Nosing : The best nose of the group by far, a surprise with this glass. I had simply bought the set of 4 for decoration. This glass presented 1st of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : A good nose with the addition of water but some slippage. This glass presents in 3rd place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A better than average delivery of aromas; this glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : This glass lost some of its ability to deliver the flavours to the nose.
This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass seemed to be at a disadvantage with the flatter sides and lack of bowl. It presented last in the group.

The Miscellaneous Group

The picture shows, from left to right; 1) Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler, 2) the Glenmorangie “thistle” Glass, (without stem) 3) the Riedel Single Malt Glass, 4) the Concentrator, 5) the Small Brandy Snifter.

This group represents the odds and sods of the whisky glass world and is not based on a common shape. They have generally, at one time or another, been made available for free from the distillers with the exception of the Concentrator; I have seen all the others sporting distillery livery. The Bruichladdich glass was recently made available with a bottle of their single malt inside the Bruichladdich tins and at first I thought that its design was based solely on its ability to fit inside the tin. True or not it actually worked quite well.

The Glenmorangie “thistle ‘ glass (without stem) was also a glass that came free from the distillery but is not as common it’s taller cousin the Thistle with stem as discussed in the first group.

The Riedel glass is known to many malt enthusiasts and many swear by it; I simply swear at it. The Concentrator reminds me of the copper jacket lining of a hollow point .45 ACP bullet (without the lead core) which is equally unsuitable for nosing single malt whisky. To be fair this is a glass from the world of wine and perhaps it is better suited to an environment with lower ABV such as wine. But I doubt it. The Small Brandy Snifter is a common sight in many bars around the world and can be pressed into service when you are offered you aged dram in a cut glass tumbler. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society uses this style of glass at the Vaults and Queen Street in Edinburgh.

1. The Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler

This glass was included in tins of Bruichladdich Single Malt in several markets.
It is the biggest glass of the entire study with a huge mouth atop a large bowl and narrowing waist.
Comments New Make Nosing :  Actually it’s not bad, I thought it would be hopeless. To be fair I have to presume that it was designed for drinking but it does present well on the nose. Beats the pants off the Riedel and Concentrator. This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : This glass continues to shine. I think an advantage is that since the mouth is so wide you have the ability to put your nose deep into the glass. This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: The Highland malt is does not come through with enough force and this glass presents 2nd in the group simply because the Concentrator offers too much alcohol.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 2nd in the group with some minor loss of aromas.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : It does well, surprise, surprise. This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: Once again this glass presented much better than the others in the group and presented 1st.

2. The Glenmorangie ‘Thistle’ Glass

This little glass actually has some good characteristics and presented reasonably well on the nose.
The new make fruitiness & malt came through and the alcohol did not run amok.
Comments New Make Nosing : This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Very little on the nose even with the addition of the Riedel sample (it wasn’t using it, trust me). This glass presents 4th in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass simply does not present enough aromas and presents 4th in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 4th in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: An almost tie with the small brandy snifter. This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : Less on the nose this round, this glass presents 4th in the group.

3. The Riedel Single Malt Glass

Famed for being very expensive and ‘fancy’.
Comments New Make Nosing: Not a single hint of what was in the glass. It might as well have been water.
Only after forcing my nose deep into the glass did I manage to find the smallest hint of spirit. Hopeless. A waste of money.
This glass richly deserves last place in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : Nothing. This glass presents in last place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: Finally, a wee hint of aromas; this glass presents last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : Hopeless, presented last.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: How the hell this design made it out of the factory is beyond me. This glass (soon to be rubbish) presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: I have come to the conclusion that this is not actually a glass but merely a vessel for the display of flowers. It has held firmly and passionately to last place in the group.

4. The Concentrator

This glass has two dimples, one for the thumb and one for the fore or pointing finger.
The idea is to place a digit in each dimple and then nose and taste your whisky leave the other fingers to lie by idle.
Comments New Make Nosing: Concentrator is right, it’s like breathing in living flame as it strips the tissue from my nasal cavity. All alcohol, where the hell is the new make? This glass richly deserves last place, Wait, already taken? We have a tie for last place. They can both have 5th place since they are clearly not good enough for 4th….
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Lots of aromas but none that can be identified in any other sample.
Very odd. This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : Simply too much alcohol and does not release the aromas of the malt; this glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : Still too much alcohol and not enough aroma; this glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: It has the advantage over the Riedel in that you can actually nose some aromas but just the wrong ones. This glass presents 4th in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: Oddly enough a slight improvement but inexplicably this glass delivered the smell of peanut butter. This glass presented 3rd in the group.

5. The Small Brandy Snifter

This glass is quite common in many bars and restaurants and makes a suitable alternative to a large tumbler.
This is the glass the SMWS uses at both the Vaults and Queen Street venues.
Comments New Make Nosing : A slight tendency to let the alcohol over power the new make but still lots of the fruitiness comes through, the malt is lost in action however. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : A good presentation on the nose. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass does well and presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : This glass once again did well and presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: This little glass actually does quite well; the aromas came through fairly well. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: A good performance with this glass, it presented 2nd in the group.

Conclusions

The picture shows, from left to right;

1) the Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass,
2) the “Perfect Whisky Glass”,
3) the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Glass (The Winner!),
4) the Balvenie “thistle” Glass with stem,
5) the Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler.

1st Round

With each set of glasses included a favorite of my own.
Also in each set there were surprises; not once did my favourite glass come in first place. In both the Copita and the ISO Group the difference between the glasses of each group became negligible with the addition of water with both the Highland and Islay malts. The differences were very difficult to notice and all glasses presented in a similar fashion. There were noticeable differences with the new make. I also suspect but did not examine that some glasses, like the “Perfect Whisky Glass”, may have benefited from the “glass size to whisky ratio”. There was simply more whisky in the glass as compared to others.

The five winners from the first round were: the ‘Perfect Whisky Glass” and Tulip or Thistle with stem (both tied for 1st place in group); The SMWS glass; the Glenfarclas ISO Nosing glass and the Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler.

2nd Round (The Finals)

The clear winner of the first nosing of the second flight of the new make, undiluted was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) glass from the Copita Group. It beat out the other four glasses, there were simply more aromas to be nosed. In the second round of nosing with the new make, diluted, all glasses improved with greater delivery of aromas. Please see my upcoming E-psitle of the benefits of adding water to your dram, “To Add Water or Not”, in MM#104 for more details on that aspect.

The winner of the second round of nosing of the new make, diluted was once again the SMWS glass were superior delivery of aromas.
The winner of the second round of nosing the Highland Malt, undiluted was the SMWS glass.
The winner of the second round of nosing the Highland Malt, diluted was the Glenfarclas ISO Glass. (SMWS glass was a very close second.)
The winner of the second round of nosing the Islay Malt, undiluted was the Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass.
The winner of the second round of nosing the Islay Malt, diluted was the SMWS glass and with four 1st places this glass presents 1st of the 16 glasses studied; the Glenfarclas ISO style glasses presented in 2nd place.

Care of your Glasses

It is imperative that you take proper care of your glassware to avoid contamination; this can occur during storage, while cleaning or just prior to use. During storage glasses can take on the odour of the cabinet they are stored in (particularly older wooden cabinets) and are also subject to contamination from dust. Prior to use examine your glasses visually and with your nose; check for dust and any odors that should not be present.  Recently just prior to a tasting I nosed a glass and immediately a sour off note which was subsequently traced to a drying towel that was badly in need of a wash. At another tasting a fellow participant handed me her glass to offer some point on the nose which I had not detected in my sample. I was repelled by a strong odor of hand cream all around the rim of the glass.

I always hand wash my glasses using a low residual soap that does not contain perfume or coloring agents.
Do you want your glasses smelling of green apples? Also always avoid towels that have been dried with a fabric softener.
Rinse the well with water and avoid dish washers as they can leave soap reside, if you can let your glasses air dry or use paper towel.