Just about anyone who is a serious fan of bourbon has at one time of another used a Glencairn glass for nosing and tasting their bourbon. You probably own one or more of them, or if not, you’ve seen or used them at a high end whiskey bar. I’ve had several of these in my cabinet and used them fairly regularly for my neat samples. That was until I discovered an alternative to the Glencairn.
On a recent trip to Paducah, Kentucky, we had the pleasure of dining at The Freight House, a local farm-to-table establishment with a huge and fantastic selection of bourbons. If I remember correctly, the bourbon list was somewhere between 12 and 14 pages long. While there were several “pre-selected” flights, the restaurant also allowed you to build your own flight. I did so, putting together a flight of four different Old Forester bourbons. When they arrived, I was somewhat surprised to find that they were not served in a Glencairn glass. What’s this I thought … no Glencairn? The glasses they brought were similar in shape, although a tad bit shorter and more than a tad bit fatter.
When I returned home, I did some Googling to see if I might be able to find this glass. After a few sites and looking through pages of glassware, I finally found what I thought was it. It turned out to be a Libbey Master’s Reserve 9217 Distilled Whiskey Glass. While it had a similar shape to the Glencairn, there were several differences. The Master’s Reserve glass holds slightly more, 10.5 ounces versus the Glencairn’s six. This doesn’t make a difference at all as most pours for sampling or neat drinking will be in the 1.5 to 2 ounce range. Both glasses have heavy bases to keep them steady on the table, and offer a gripping area so your hand won’t warm the bourbon too much. I do feel like the base of the Glencairn “wins” somewhat as it has a nice taper – wider at the bottom, narrowing slightly as it rises to the bowl. This grip also allows a good grip for the thumb and forefinger. Where I feel the Master’s Reserve wins is in the diameter of the opening – it is wider – 62mm versus the Glencairn’s 45mm. And the max diameter is 70mm vs the Glencairn’s 64mm. The combination of those two dimensions gives a little more room for your nose in the glass and a little more volume for swirling your sample. Both glasses have the tulip shape that helps funnel the aromas of the whiskey to your nose, but as previously mentioned, the Libbey glass allows more room for your nose to enter the glass.
While I would suggest that both glasses are better suited for tasting neat samples, the Libbey, with its wider mouth and higher capacity, could be used for drinking on the rocks.
Another nice difference in the glasses is the price. The Master’s Reserve glasses are almost half the cost of the Glencairn. If you are starting to host your own tasting and want multiple glasses of the same type, the lower price is very welcome.