Oct 28, 2020

Why I'm Quitting the Glencairn Glass

It comes as no surprise that spirits and beverage industry has identified the ideal glass for tasting whatever product they're trying to sell. There are separate wine glasses for enjoying your pinots noir and pinots gris, a wide variety of glasses to complement a certain style of ale or lager, and specific glasses for "fully experiencing" tequilas, gins, and brandies.

Mostly, this is insider stuff, employed at competitions, industry events, and certain high-end bars and restaurants with expansive "programs." But there is one specialty glass that has made its way into the homes of consumers and fans since it came into production in 2001: the Glencairn whisky glass.    

This is a tulip shaped glass made by the Glencairn Crystal company as the vessel par excellence for sipping Scotch whisky. It's endorsed by the Scotch Whisky Association, and it is used by every major whisk(e)y company in Scotland and Ireland. These days, you'll find them everywhere, from tasting rooms all over Kentucky Bourbon country to chain stores such as Crate and Barrel and even Target. They're not expensive, and seem to be an easy add-to-your-collection item for whiskey and bourbon enthusiasts.  

The idea is this: the glass is around 175ml (6 oz.) and is designed to hold 50 ml of spirit (1.75oz), the identified ideal ratio of liquid to air. The glass is made for "nosing," wherein the aromatic molecules coming off the liquid are funneled into a tighter bouquet at the top, allowing the sipper to maximize the nose and further enhance the experience. 

I have owned two of these for nearly ten years now, employing them whenever I have a bottle that cost more than $30 and want to get the most of my investment. And, admittedly, they do make great props for photoshoots. 


I don't like them, and I think I'm done.

Why? Because I don't simply don't enjoy out of them as much as a standard rocks glass or tumbler. After many evenings trying to enjoy something complicated and well-aged, I've decided these do not enhance my experience at all. In fact, for me, they end up detracting from the enjoyment of something special on which I've spent my hard-earned money. Here's my argument:

Objection #1: They're too small. The fluted cylinder shape designed to concentrate the aroma certainly makes it better for nosing. But it makes it worse for sipping. I do not have an abnormally large nose nor face, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fit both my nostrils and enough of my mouth in the glass to get the liquid to my palette. This requires me to smell and taste the spirit separately, and while that might work for identifying its characteristics, it does not make it more fun to drink. 

Objection #2: They're too dainty. Whiskey need not be big and brutal. Some of my favorite drams are light, complex, and sophisticated. But whiskey is still whiskey, and whether it has some high-proof heat or is delicate spice and floral notes, sipping a neat pour is not the same as enjoying something like champagne. It's a warming, intense experience, and the fact that its a-little-tough-to-swallow is all part of the fun. Pouring a 16-year-old Islay into this light little glass held with two fingers feels like smoking a brisket for twelve hours, then taking it to a tea party to be sliced paper thin and served on finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off. With my hands, the shape and scale of the thing literally makes me stick my pinky in the air, because there's not enough room for it on the glass. Fine for tea. Not for single malt. 

Objection #3: Enjoying whiskey at home is not the same as assessing it in tasting context. I do not think the whisk(e)y industry is wrong. I have full confidence that the people who taste some of the most complex and exquisite spirits in the world know how to best experience and assess them. And the next time I do a distillery tour in Kentucky, I fully expect the tastings of different mashbills, small batch, single barrels, and the like to come in the Glencairn glasses with the brand name etched on the outside. And I'll love it.

But, once you have a bottle at home, you're not there to distinguish among several styles and varieties. You're there to unwind, enjoy a glass or two, and marvel at the craft of the people who made this for you, with wonder at how ingredients as simple as grain, water, and charred oak could taste this good. 

At home, the Glencairn glass is fussy, and, at least for me, unnecessary. Don't set the table Thanksgiving-style for a cheeseburger. Even if it's an $18 one.


Now that's a whiskey glass. 

From now on, I'll follow my intuition, and enjoy my whiskey in rocks glass. It will be heavy on the bottom, with a nice, wide diameter so I can wrap my whole hand around it. A proper sip of whiskey is a full-bodied experience, and so I will use more of my body to enjoy it. It will feel weighty in my hand, because whiskey itself is a weighty experience. 

I will not be getting rid of my Glencairn whisky glasses. They will stay on the shelf next to my martini coupes, and on occasion, I will probably pull them out. They will likely still show up in ManMade photos, if only for variety and help with visual storytelling. But, on any given Saturday night as I savor my investment bottles, I'll be enjoying my Scotch, bourbon, or Irish pot still from a solid 10-12 oz tumbler. Perhaps my aroma molecules will dissipate faster due to the wider surface area and more exposure to air. That's okay. I'll feel more connected to the thing I paid for. Because that's what I love about whiskey.

And our differences are what makes the world go round. 


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Mr Expert on Nov 18, 2020:

try this glass...tested to be the best glass för all liquids!
Mr Expert

bubam on Nov 13, 2020:

Like whiskey, the only thing that matters about the glass is that you enjoy it. That's the beauty of whiskey - you enjoy what you enjoy!
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Carly on Oct 29, 2020:

I only use my Glencairns for trying a new-to-me whisky. (I get my little notebook out and scratch my little notes...) But for enjoying, it’s the rocks glass every time.

They do say there are no rules...

Phil on Sep 13, 2020:

Just read this a couple years out from it being first published and I understand the position, but I still like the Glencairn a lot. But when drinking Bourbon I have found that the "New", "Official" Bourbon glass is an interesting compromise to try. It is not a fancy crystal which bothers me, but its features somewhat combine features from both the Glencairn and Rocks glasses.

Denver on Aug 26, 2020:

We thought the same. Seems to be a muddled nose and a derivative of wine glass thinking. Glass and material design thinking has moved on greatly since and there are objectively better option granted more expensive but bring far better value to your barley / corn based whiskies. Check denverandliely.com and feel free to send me an email if you want to get much more technical. Both us founders have engineering and design backgrounds.

Scottie on May 29, 2020:

The problem that you're having with the Glencairn is that a glass isn't a glass. A glass, like any other tool, is designed for a specific purpose. I saw someone in the comments talking about how it doesn't hold ice. Well, it's not meant to. It's meant to be used to nose out the specific qualities of a whiskey drunk neat at room temperature. Attempting to use it for other purposes is like using a sledghammer as a prybar. You can do a lot of damage, but you aren't going to do what you want.

Kendo on May 20, 2020:

Like whiskey, the only thing that matters about the glass is that you enjoy it. That's the beauty of whiskey - you enjoy what you enjoy!

That said, I think you're incorrect about the "daintiness" and it not contributing to a full sensation. If anything, rocks glasses are bland and contribute nothing new. Glencairns are actually quite durable (two of my guests dropped them from the coffee table and they survived!) - weight =/= strength. Basically all you said was that you like weight so you can feel it in your hands more as you bring it up to drink. Fine if that's what you like, but don't go so far with your analogies then to ridicule the glencairn.

Sorry to hear you have trouble grasping it, but I engage even more with my whiskey because the glencairn. That was overall a poorly thought out argument where your point does not match your logic. Just say it's discomfort in use detracts from your experience, don't say the glencairn suffers from construction issues.

Sting on Sep 09, 2019:

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are some whiskies that make you want to indulge in the olfactory experience, while others don't. I always aim to start a new whisky in the Glencairn (or similar tulip shaped glass) to get a complete experience and then decide whether I want to use the Glencairn for that whisky in the future. I use them about 20% of the time resorting to 3.25" dia. old fashioned crystal for the other 80%.

John Ineen on Aug 19, 2019:

100% agree with you. I have been out with clients ordering a bourbon and the waiter always attempts to correct me when I request my drink neat and in a low rock glass. I have tried those glasses and really hated how small it feels as I’m taking a sip. It’s definitely personal preference but I applaud you for taking a stand on how ridiculous people can be influenced by marketing! I stick with the original way our forefathers drank whiskey!

David on Aug 09, 2019:

You would love the new "Norlan whisky glass" and yes they do spell whisky without the e that just came out they Are amazing .. solves all the problems you just stated you can fit your nose and mouth at the same time they are Bigger glasses but it is a glass integrated into a glass bigger than the Glencairn same concept for nosing but i have found Superior and has a few knobs on the bottom for aerating the whiskey so you will get all the same great experience able to fit nose and mouth at the same time and no more pinky in the air..Cheers

David on Aug 09, 2019:

You would love the new "Norlan whisky glass" and yes they do spell whisky without the e that just came out they Are amazing .. solves all the problems you just stated you can fit your nose and mouth at the same time they are busy or glasses but it is a glass integrated into a glass bigger than the Glencairn that same concept and has a few knobs on the bottom for aerating the whiskey

AE on Aug 03, 2019:

Try using them for cask strength. Amazing....

Joel on Jun 13, 2019:

I have an array of whisky glasses. Maybe I'm a bit of a glassware nerd. I enjoy the different experience from Glencairns, Canadian Glencairns, Copitas, Highland Whisky Glasses, and plain ol' tumblers. The Glencairn or Copita is usually for when I do a "focused" tasting for my whisky blog. When I'm having drinks with friends, it's usually the tumbler or Canadian glencairn. I don't like ice in my whisky, so that's a non-issue for me where the Glencairn is concerned.

Darryl Roberts on May 27, 2019:

I am sitting here drinking a glass of Laphroaig 10 and wondering why the Glencairn glasses so special. I was given one as part of a Christmas gift of Woodford Reserve. The Woodford is a piece of history now, having been turned into so many Manhattans. I never tried the glass before, so I thought I would enjoy the scotch whiskey through it. Like you, I just don’t understand it. For one, I like to put a whiskey ball into my Scotch and it won’t fit through the little skinny top. Instead, I have to use a plain old ice cube. Not that there’s any difference in the effect, still... i’ll keep it around to impress my snooty friends, but for the most part I’ll be using a lowball glass and a whiskey ball. Thanks.

Laurence on Apr 10, 2019:

While I agree that the original Glencairn is much too fussy and dainty for actual drinking at home, there are many other alternatives that suit the task these days. Rather than using a plain old rocks glass which does nothing to enhance the whisky, why not try any of the myriad other glasses that might fit both bills? There are ones from Norlan, Riedel, Libbey, Brumate and more that solve both problems. And as others have mentioned, Glencairn's own Canadian glass seems like a great compromise and solution.

Rhane on Apr 10, 2019:

Well written and I can see your point. It was a pleasure to read your post and I appreciate how you are sharing this point of view with the rest of the world. I don't agree but then that is just like asking someone about their favorite whisky...everyone has a favorite and glad they are not all the same. Cheers!

Richard Burn on Mar 27, 2019:

I whole heartedly agree with you. Good for those shop and distillery tastings but as you alluded too it's like drinking from a glass thimble. I was gifted some stem-less red wine glasses of which are now my whisky tumblers. The don't have a traditional large heavy base however they are a "large" tulip shape that you can get your lips and nose into. Ardbeg distillery have the same shape in their gift boxes, only in green. That's my go too glass that the rest to be jealous about.

Greg on Mar 27, 2019:

I really appreciate your article about this concern.
At home I am using the simple Duralex Prime glasses for whisky (and pretty much everything) and I am happy with it.
Like you said at home I have a whisky to drink it not to noose or do complex tasting, plus a large noose is not the best friend of small glasses.
I don't mind the copita or glencairn for tasting even if I am always afraid of breaking the glass but at home I like the sensation of the large glass in my hand.

Geno on Mar 24, 2019:

Try the Stolzle Crystal 6.5 Ounce Whisky Nosing Glass. Its significantly larger and much easier to hold as it has a short stem. I really like mine but also am experimenting with different glassware. I do like a thin crystal glass though. For me it enhances the juice!...........Sla'inte!

Trem on Feb 17, 2019:

I have 8 of them and i am starting to dislike them as well. Maybe it's because I don't nose, I Sip and drink, but the wide mouth bourbon glasses that I just bought make my Irish whiskey taste better. And that's what I care about. Sometimes when I drink out of a Glencairn glass all I taste is burning alcohol