Before you even nose the liquid or take a sip, many factors come into play to influence the experience of drinking whisky: from the box, to the bottle, to the vessel you drink it from.
Back in the early days of whisky, the most common drinking vessel was a wooden quaich. The quaich (pronounced “quake”) is unique to Scotland and is a wide, shallow bowl with two flat handles. Originally made from wood, some early examples had staves and hoops, just like tiny whisky casks. Later, they were made from metals such as pewter and silver.
Meanwhile, miners everywhere from Scotland to Cornwall and even Gold Rush America needed something more durable to drink their whisky from. Rough-hewn, but easily transportable, tin cups were the vessel of choice, their resilience outweighing the ‘tinny’ flavour they imparted.
It was only in the 18th century, after the invention of lead crystal, that drinking glasses as we know them today could even be made. With further advancements in glass manufacture in the 1890s, such glasses could finally become widely available and affordable. The tumbler was born.
Tumblers are so-called because early incarnations had a curved bottom. Legend has it that this was so tavern customers couldn’t set them down and were therefore encouraged to finish their drink more quickly. Modern whisky tumblers are often flat bottomed and straight-sided, usually with a faux cut or engraved pattern. This type is sometimes known as an Old Fashioned glass.
While popular culture portrays a tumbler as the receptacle of choice for a whisky drinker, its features tell a different story. A warmed whisky releases more aromas, yet the tumbler’s thick bottom can prevent the heat from your hand reaching the liquid. Worse still, the large opening and straight sides provide nowhere for the aromas to accumulate.
When it comes to fully appreciating both the aromas and the flavours of single malts like The Glenlivet, only one shape reigns supreme – the tulip.
The gently curved tulip-shape is a modern innovation, combining a tumbler with elements of a stem glass. Stem glasses, such as snifters, have wide bottoms, narrow tops and a short stem. The shape traps the aromas at the bottom of the glass before releasing them into the small area at the top. The stable stem base allows the liquid to be swirled, further enhancing both smell and taste.
There are also several types of glass that have been exclusively developed for whiskies based on the traditional nosing copitas (the traditional Spanish drinking vessel used to sample sherry) used by distillers.
Whatever you choose to drink The Glenlivet from, some vessels are simply more aesthetically appealing. The shape, weight and texture can all add to the experience and the feelings that whisky drinking evokes. Is it all in the mind? Perhaps. Maybe there is something to be said for wood and tin after all. But we will let you be the judge of that.