Determining the Right Glass for Serving Whiskey

There’s a dizzying array of glasses on the market available to serve your various cocktails. But which of these is the “right” glass for your drink? Even just keeping within whiskey-based cocktails, there are quite a few options… and as always the answer is “it depends.”

Drinking Neat: Glencairn Glass

Originally designed by the Glencairn Crystal company (in cooperation with various whiskey distillers) in 2001, this glass has quickly become the gold standard for sipping neat whiskey.

The large body of the glass allows for a larger surface area for the spirit, where the aromas of the whiskey are produced and then funneled into the smaller and longer neck. Here, the drinker can better get a whiff of what’s in the glass, and then the tapered side provides better control over how much of the spirit is making its way to the mouth with each sip.

There’s really nothing else you can put in the glass — its too small for ice, or even a mixed cocktail. Neat whiskey is about all you’ll get in here. But if that’s your jam, then this will make the drinking experience that much better.

Traditional Cocktail: Old Fashioned Glass

Traditional drinks should be served in traditional glasses, and the Old Fashioned glass is about as traditional as you get. Also called a “rocks glass” or “tumbler”, the simple design makes it easy to pour solid and simple cocktails.

Old Fashioned glasses are also a good call for whiskey either neat or with a bit of ice. Easier to clean than the Glencairn glass (and less prone to breaking), these glasses just feel right in the hand.

General rule of thumb: if you can imagine Don Draper drinking it, it probably belongs in an Old Fashioned glass.

Specialty Drinks

So, when it comes to whiskey you can stick with either the Glencairn glass or an old fashioned glass and you’re 99% covered. Almost everything can comfortably be served in those two options. But for those who want to be particularly particular about their cocktails, there are a couple exceptions that get their own special treatment.

Manhattan: Martini Glass

A Manhattan is pretty much a martini, only with whiskey instead of gin and a cherry instead of an olive. As such, they are often served in a martini glass. This isn’t a hard and fast rule – you can do whatever you want, but there’s something super attractive about the way the cherry works its way to the bottom of the glass and stays put.

Kentucky Mule: Copper Mug

One of my favorite cocktails, the Kentucky Mule is just the right blend of spicy, delicious bourbon and tangy ginger beer. Traditionally, mules are served in copper mugs filled with ice and continuing that tradition is encouraged.

The only thing I’ll warn about the copper mug is that its a darn good conductor of heat. So while you may start out with a cup full of ice cold Kentucky Mule, you’ll quickly have your hand frozen and see the ice rapidly disappear in the heat of the summer. So, even though it doesn’t look as great, I usually substitute this for a more practical YETI tumbler during the summer months.

Mint Julep: Silver Cup

A mint julep is always delicious, but on one specific day of the year in May, some horses run around in Kentucky and it gives us an excuse to serve this under appreciated drink in the traditional silver cups.

The silver cup dates back to the early 1800s, when Kentucky silver smiths produced the cups for use at the Kentucy Derby. The cups and the drink were introduced roughly around the same time, forever entwining the two in drinking culture.

So, Which Is Best?

Determining the best glass for your cocktail is almost entirely up to you. Choose something that’s comfortable for you and fits your mood. For me, 90% of the time that’s some variation of an old fashioned glass. There’s almost no wrong answer for which glass is the right one for your cocktail — except for a glass that’s too small or serving whiskey in the form of a lotion.

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