When it comes to how to drink whisky, there’s plenty to weigh in on. There’s the discussion of whether you should serve whisky on ice, the conundrum of which is the best glass to serve whisky in, and the neat or mixer debate.
There’s also the question of why use a decanter for whisky. There are multiple reasons why they are so popular. It’s why they feature in memorable scenes from blockbuster movies and binge-able TV shows. Think of the bath scene in Scarface or Don Draper in his office in Mad Men. At their core, whisky decanters are functional items, but they also add a touch of class and sophistication to any setting or occasion. They say ‘classy’ without even trying.
Here we look at why using a decanter for whisky can elevate the drinking experience and how it’s about more than just how they look.
What is a whisky decanter?
A whisky decanter is a vessel designed for the storage and serving of whisky. It typically has an airtight stopper or lid to preserve the quality of the whisky and prevent evaporation. Decanters are often made of glass or crystal and come in various shapes and designs, adding visual allure to the presentation of the whisky.
Why should you use a whisky decanter?
While some people use decanters for everyday whisky storage and consumption, they are also popular as decorative items or gifts, especially in the context of fine whiskies or special occasions.
If you’re wondering whether you should purchase a whisky decanter for yourself, or if one would make a great present for someone you know who loves crafting whisky cocktails, these reasons for using a whisky decanter might help you make your decision:
Whisky decanters are often designed with elegance and craftsmanship, making them visually appealing. They can add a touch of sophistication to a home bar or dining setting and can level up an at-home whisky tasting.
Decanting whisky can be a part of the presentation and ritual of serving fine spirits. It can elevate the overall experience of enjoying whisky, especially when entertaining guests or on special occasions.
Imagine starting a whisky club and displaying various types of whisky in stunning patterned crystal whisky decanters with matching rocks glasses ready for everyone’s first pour. That’s guaranteed to kick things off in a really smooth style.
Over time, whisky may develop sediment or particles in the bottle. Transferring the amber nectar to a decanter allows you to leave any sediment behind, providing a clearer and visually pleasing drink.
Some whisky enthusiasts believe that exposing the whisky to air through decanting can enhance its flavours and aromas. This process, known as aeration, allows the whisky to ‘breathe’ and potentially evolve in taste.
Knowing how to store whisky is important. Whisky can be stored in its original bottle, and certainly should be if you’re focused on investing in whisky as a tangible asset. However, if you’re a whisky enthusiast whose focus is on enjoying a dram, it’s worth noting that some people prefer to transfer it to a decanter for more convenient access. Decanters often have a larger opening, making it easier to pour and share the whisky. Sounds ideal for a whisky-pairing dinner if you ask us.
A well-sealed decanter can help preserve the quality of the whisky by reducing its exposure to air. This is particularly relevant if the original bottle has been opened for an extended period.
Not everyone agrees on the benefits of decanting, and some argue that the potential advantages, such as aeration, may be minimal or subjective. Ultimately, whether to use a whisky decanter comes down to personal preference and the specific goals and preferences of each whisky drinker.
How long can whisky stay in a decanter?
The length of time whisky can stay in a decanter depends on various factors, so there’s no one correct answer to this question. Whisky can remain in a decanter for a few years, although it is recommended that you consume your whisky sooner than this. Prolonged storage of more than two years can result in discolouration of the whisky and its flavour becoming less intense. Keep in mind the following when deciding on how long to keep whisky decanted:
Airtight sealing is crucial to preserving the quality of the whisky. If the decanter has a tight-fitting stopper or lid that effectively prevents air from entering, the whisky can last longer. High-quality crystal or glass decanters with well-designed stoppers are better at maintaining a seal.
Types of whisky
Different types of whisky age and evolve at different rates once exposed to air. Some whiskies may benefit from aeration, while others can be more sensitive to it. Experimentation and personal preference play a role in determining how long a specific whisky should be stored in a decanter.
Light, heat, and temperature fluctuations can impact the whisky’s quality over time. It’s advisable to store the decanter in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight.
Size of the decanter
Smaller amounts of whisky in a larger decanter may oxidise more quickly than in a smaller decanter that is nearly full. This is because a larger volume of air in the decanter can interact with the whisky.
How to choose a decanter for whisky
Choosing the right whisky decanter isn’t dissimilar to seeking out the perfect bottle of scotch; it’s got to match your preferences and style. Whisky decanters might fundamentally all do the same thing, but they can definitely give off different vibes and suit different décor and events. When choosing a decanter for whisky, aspects to consider include:
Glass and crystal decanters are popular choices for whisky. If you choose crystal and especially vintage crystal, make sure it is lead-free, as lead can leach into the whisky over time, posing health risks.
Decanters come in so many styles from classic square shapes and globed vessels to intricately bevelled and minimalist designs. Keep in mind though that the shape of the decanter can impact the aeration of the whisky. Some designs allow for more surface area, enhancing the interaction with air, while others may be more decorative and less functional.
Consider the amount of whisky you plan to store in the decanter. Choose a size that accommodates your needs and remember that a fuller decanter will reduce the amount of air inside, potentially slowing down the oxidation process.
A decanter with a narrow neck can make pouring easier and more controlled. This is especially important if you’re pouring whisky into glasses with narrow openings. However, the smaller the neck, the more difficult it will be to clean. Think about how much you’ll be using the decanter and make sure it is going to function how you want it to.
Consider whether you want a decanter for everyday use, special occasions, or to display as a predominantly decorative item. Some decanters may be more suitable for display purposes, while others are designed for practical use.
So, are whisky decanters worth it?
Ultimately, the query of why to use a decanter for whisky boils down to personal preference. Without a doubt, they add an elegant touch to drinking whisky and certainly make a visual statement. They are also worth considering if you want to make a display of your whisky collection or have your favourite expression close to hand.
Some suggest that decanting whisky helps to aerate the spirit, improving its flavour and aroma, however, others believe that decanters promote oxidation which dampens the whisky’s character.
If you think that a whisky decanter will elevate your experience of drinking whisky, then go for it! But, if you enjoy your whisky poured straight from its bottle, then it’s totally fine to stick with what you love.
For more whisky knowledge, check out our guide to Scottish whisky and our article on how to drink scotch for beginners. If you’ve now got a whisky decanter sitting ready and waiting for use, then take inspiration for serving with our cocktail presentation ideas and dinner party cocktail recipes.