Monday, December 12, 2011

Whiskey: In a different Glass.

As an additional supplemental review to buying Whiskey for Christmas I think it is also worth paying attention to glassware. Why spend hard earned cash on an expensive whiskey and drink it out of an old boot. If your afraid to buy your loved one whiskey you may consider buying some glasses.

Whiskey, like wine, comes in many different guises and has a debt of character all of it's own seldom seen in other spirits. It could even be argued that due to the myriad of whiskey out there that it is in fact the most diverse of all spirits. From colour to aroma to taste there is a never ending array of combinations out there in the world of whiskey (flavour spectrum here). So if you want to get the most from your whiskey you should also pay a small bit of attention to the glass you drink it from. Choosing the right glass for the right occasion can be half the battle. However like your whiskey a glass can just as easily be a very personal choice. So it could well be a matter of trial and error and you may find that one glass will heighten and intensify your experience greatly over another.  However there are a few basic rules that should be regarded before you choose.

As I have already said a glass can be a very personal choice and we all have very different likes and dislikes. So there will be people who like a certain size, shape and weight in their glass. However getting the aroma is one of the biggest pleasures of a top quality whiskey and if you can properly engage with the aroma it will enhance the the taste immeasurably.

What many may not know is that there is a basic industry standard for nosing whiskey. Left is a style of glass that you will find in the sample rooms of the majority of Distillery's. This is where the magic happens and master blenders use their finely honed noses to select the best whiskeys for the job at hand. Their weapon of choice is the blenders nosing glass.

About the size of a stemmed sherry glass these miniature sized wine glasses with their tulip shape are perfect to allow the aromas to collect in the empty space while the sides contain much of the aromas for your nasal pleasure. And why a stem? Well it is the perfect extension to swirl, agitate and release even more aromas. You can also cup the glass in your palm with stem through your fingers to gently warm the whiskey to release even more aroma profiles. Clear and un-embellished these are perfect for a clear view of the contents as a whiskey can be anything from a pale yellow straw to a deep mahogany colour.

These glasses may not evoke the stereotypical vision of a whiskey glass and possibly not one you would use to have a relaxing whiskey by the fire but if your looking to dissect a whiskey you can't do much better. However as a gifting option maybe not an easy sell but this is basically to explain the importance of shape.

With this in mind there are 2 glasses that possibly get the most attention in this regard. Both manufacturers have spent an amazing amount of R&D on developing their creations and both claim that theirs is the ultimate whiskey nosing glass. One from Scottish crystal company called Glencairn and another from Austrian premium glass maker Riedel. Rieldel, the epitome of glass perfection, create wonderful creations of an amazingly delicate nature and did similar for their whiskey glass. They both have made nosing glasses that tick many of the boxes. Specifically shaped for nosing and can be cupped in a hand to gently warm the whiskey. Just like Cognac/Brandy it is no harm to ward you whiskey gently as in doing so can release more of those wonderful aromas. The Reidel actually lips out but according to Reidel this and it's Petit size do the job perfectly. Also a desired fill level like that illustrated is another requirement as leaving enough space for the whiskey to "aromatise" the empty space is key.

The Riedel unfortunately comes at a cost, circa €40-50 a pair, but many swear by them. Glencairn on the other hand decided to develop a glass that was an excellent nosing glass, cheap (ish) and durable. So at circa €5-8 a glass is a much cheaper alternative and for me a better shape and significantly more robust. Even though both should be hand washed the Glencairn can easily withstand dish-washing but not the Riedel and unfortunately towel drying a Rielel can result in a costly disaster just as equally as they are quite delicate. On the other hand the Glencairn will withstand daily usage therefore for me the call is an easy one.

However many people do like a good lump of crystal in their hand. There is still the perception that a whiskey should be drunk from a heavy bottomed tumbler. In a way it is a comforting pleasure to be drinking your expensive whiskey out of an expensive piece of crystal. However some of these tumblers are like wide open buckets that let the aroma of a whiskey just fade off into the ether.

Whether right or wrong the tumbler is still is a very popular choice. So if your intent to sticking with a tumbler maybe it can still be achieved all the while retaining the principle of the nosing glass. The above are a selection of traditional glasses, with a Waterford Crystal at either end. However the issue with these is that they don't do much to maximize the aroma of a whiskey. Even a slight lip will help which the Waterford on the far right nearly achieves but not quite. So possibly a compromise would be something like below.

So again we have a Waterford at either end (John Rocca left and Lismore Right) then a Peugeot in the center with 2 stemless style glasses either side but both specifically listed as whiskey tumblers. These all have a lip with the Peugeot with the most pronounced lip.

So a purchase of a nice pair of glasses and possibly a small water jug may also be worth bearing in mind.

Riedel & Glencairn are available at The Celtic Whiskey shop but don't appear to be on line so please contact them for availability. Also Amazon would be another source for some of the more uncommon makes like Peugeot. Enjoy the full experience.

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