The best whisky and spirit glasses?: the good, the bad and the ugly

I was on my way home from Sydney after presenting at a law conference, and I found myself at Sydney airport a few hours early. The massage chairs kept me entertained for a solid 3 minutes, and a coffee a further 15 minutes. As I twiddled my thumbs, the sight of whisky bottles caught my eye. In such a situation, there is only one thing to do. I ordered a glass of Lagavulin 16 year old, and it was presented to me in a standard tumbler. The famous peaty Lagavulin aroma escaped from the top of the open tumbler, as the the glass was not tapered to hold in and concentrate the bouquet and flavours. It smelled dead, alcoholic and vaporous. Needless to say, I did not much enjoy that whisky and I was tempted to proclaim “that’s not a Lagavulin!” (just as the actor in the below video did, but one thinks maybe he should have asked for a different glass before embarking on his journey!). It was proof that the glass in which you serve a spirit matters to the way it smells and tastes. It was also pretty clear that a post on whisky and spirit glasses was much needed, to highlight the best glasses that should be used to get the most out of your whisky and spirits. This post details some of the good, bad and ugly whisky and spirit glasses I have used to date.

The Good

The Glencairn whisky glass

glass glencairn

Material: Crystal 
Price: $6.95-$9.99 (Dan Murphy’s, Amazon) 
Aesthetics: ★★★★
Aroma: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★★
Durability: ★★★★
Value: ★★★★★

Made of crystal and available for anywhere between AUD$6.95 to AUD$9.99, it is hard  to beat the Glencairn glass. The tulip shape of this glass and narrow opening seems to help capture the aroma of a whisky or spirit, which means that the bouquet and drinking experience is likely to be enriched. In my experience the Glencairn glass never disappoints and it is my glass of choice which I use everywhere except while I am on the sofa, where I prefer a glass that can comfortably rest in the palm of my hand and sit on soft surfaces without any risk of spilling. The Glencairn, it must be said, is a sturdy glass on hard surfaces.  Recommended. 

Use the Glencairn glass with any whisky or spirit, but if your drink of choice is cask strength or overproof and adding water to it is out of the question then you may want to try the Evolve whisky glass or a brandy balloon.

Evolve whisky glass

glass evolve

Material: Glass
Price:
$5.95 (Freedom Furniture) 
Aesthetics: ★★★★
Aroma: ★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★★
Durability: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★

The Evolve tumbler first caught my eye in Fantastic Furniture while I was sitting on my dream armchair, the “Fidel”. At AUD$5.95 I had no hesitation to buy it, and I am glad I did – it holds in the aroma of a whisky and spirit, and is my favourite glass to use while I melt into my sofa because it fits comfortably in my palm and is sturdy on soft surfaces. I mean, who can be bothered sitting up to reach a coffee table?  Recommended. 

Brandy balloon 

glass brandy

Material: Glass 
Price: $3.99 (IKEA) 
Aesthetics: ★★★★★
Aroma: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★★
Durability: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★

If you enjoy brandy or overproof rum, the brandy balloon is a must have glass. The brandy balloon holds in the bouquet and flavour of a spirit because, as you’ve probably caught on by now, it has a “tulip” shape that prevents the aromas escaping from the glass. They tend to be quite large, which in my experience makes them perfect for complex aged cognacs or overproof rums because the alcohol vapours are dispersed throughout the glass and so each sniff from this glass rarely leaves me dazed and confused. I have enjoyed overproof rums of around 76% alcohol by volume in a brandy balloon, with very careful sniffing just over the opening of the glass. Recommended. 

Use a brandy balloon for aged cognacs or overproof rums, and find layer and layer of flavour. The best value brandy balloon I have found is available at IKEA, made in The Netherlands and selling for around $4!

Small brandy glass 

brandy glass

Material: Glass 
Price: $2.80 (Daiso) 
Aesthetics: ★★★★
Aroma: ★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★
Durability: ★★★★★
Value: ★★★★★

The brandy balloon may be perfect for an elegant evening with a cigar in hand, or to soften the bite of a high alcohol content spirit, but at times a smaller brandy glass may just be what is needed. The aromas seem to be more concentrated in a smaller brandy glass in my experience so if you really want to get into a whisky or spirit and you do not gel with the Glencairn glass, try a small brandy glass. At Daiso, they cost less than a take away cup of coffee. Recommended. 

Industry standard whisky glass 

glass stanrd

Material: Glass 
Aesthetics: ★★★★
Aroma: ★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★
Durability: ★★★★

The industry standard whisky glass is probably the most common whisky glass around, commonly seen in specialist whisky bars and used in distilleries the world over. It is the glass of choice for most professionals, and again it works on the same basic principle as the other glasses – its “tulip” shape holds in the aroma and flavours! Recommended. 

The Bad 

Standard tumbler 

tumbler

Material: Glass 
Aesthetics: ★★★★
Aroma: 
Comfort: ★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★★
Durability: ★★★★

The standard tumbler, while comfy to sip from, does not tend to concentrate the aromas and flavours of a whisky or spirit because the glass does not taper inwards and so the aromas and flavours escape from the glass. This is the type of glass I was given at Sydney airport, and time and time again at various bars. “Why”, I hear you ask? To that question, there is no rational answer apart from the fact that they look cool and TV characters tend to use them. If you do find yourself at a bar without any proper whisky glasses, ask for your whisky or spirit in a brandy glass. Not recommended. 

Denver & Liely whisky glass

wpid-20140812_200213.jpgwpid-20140812_195706.jpg

Material: Glass
Price: $50 
Aesthetics: ★★★★
Aroma: ★★★★
Comfort: ★★
Spillage risk: ★★★★
Durability: ★★★★
Value: ★

The Denver and Liely glass concentrates the aroma in a whisky or spirit because the inward curvature of the glass keeps in the bouquet, and prevents it from escaping. This is a good idea, in theory. We found this glass to be an uncomfortable vessel from which to chug down the water of life. With each swig, I found myself looking at the ceiling because the whisky glass is so curved that to get any whisky out of it required me to tilt my head backwards so far that I looked as though I was doing neck exercises. This was uncomfortable, and really annoying after a while. That’s not all, at the staggering price of AUD$50 each this glass presents very poor value. I’d rather buy the Evolve glass, which in my opinion does the same job, and have $44 left over to buy a bottle of whisky, rum or cognac! Not recommended. 

The Ugly 

Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology (NEAT) glass

neat glass

Material: Glass
Price: $30-$45
Aesthetics: ★★
Aroma: ★★★★★
Comfort: ★★★★
Spillage risk: ★★★★
Durability: ★★★★
Value: ★★

The Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology (“NEAT”) glass is used by the prestigious San Francisco Spirits competition, and it does a very good job! The way the glass tapers inwards is said to concentrate the aroma of the whisky or spirit and then the opening of the glass, which has a flared rim, is apparently designed to dissipate the alcohol away from the nose. Whatever the science behind this glass, it does a very good job. It may look a little strange to some, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Cautiously recommended, but I would buy the Glencairn over this and get a few drams at the local bar with my change.

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Arran Port Cask

Arran-port-cask

Score: 79/100

Type: Single malt whisky

Origin: Isle of Arran, Scotland

ABV: 50%

Reaction: :(

From the only distillery located on the Isle of Arran in Scotland comes the Arran Port Cask, a malt whisky that was matured in traditional casks and then “finished” in casks that previously held that Portuguese wine we call port.  From our tasting of this malt whisky, the sweet and fruity distillery character of the Arran malt seems to be the cornerstone of this whisky. The oak and port influence is quite minimal, and despite its punch the whisky itself appears to have little going for it in terms of flavour or complexity.

Nose:

Juicy grain is entangled with flecks of mild spice and overtones of glistening sweetness – find pink grapefruit, mandarin peel and licorice amidst the acidic sting of dry red wine. The alcohols pierce through the light cloak of simple oak driven aromas, and sitting beneath it is a somber story of a whisky that seems too young – the nagging wet dog fur and cardboard smell I often associate with the tails of a distillation run ruins the bouquet, as a sharp stabbing ethanol and the aroma of a nail salon thumbs my nose.

Palate:

The entry is lovely, with notes of fruit, bread and butter pudding, cinnamon and candy shop sweetness alongside the pink grapefruit from the nose. Butter menthol lozenges then emerge with hints of vanilla. Then the alcohol bites! There is something immature about this whisky, because the ethanol lurking within it snaps at the taste buds in a way that reminds me very much of new make right out of the still.   

Finish:

On the finish the flavours fade quickly, with curious notes of cherry cough syrup and medicinal notes interlaced with honey, vanilla ice cream, spice and red cotton candy. That youthful taste detected on the palate underpins the finish, and a vaporous sweet ethanol strings the tip of the tongue.

Bottom line:

Consider it, if you enjoy a raw malt with some bite and curious medicinal notes. Arran Port Cask is an interesting dram, with shades of flavour that are not commonly found in other whiskies – the pink grapefruit, vanillas and buttery medicinal notes found in this whisky are not easily found in other whiskies. That said, the whisky struck me as a dram with a few loose ends that need to be fixed by spending more time in oak. The alcohols were far too noticeable and the tails on the nose and ethanol on the palate were distracting. Some people may enjoy it, but it was not my cup of tea… I mean, whisky.  

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The Big Smoke 60% (Duncan & Taylor)

wpid-img_20150118_215912.jpg

Score: 87/100

Type: Malt blend

Origin: Islay, Scotland

ABV: 60%

Reaction: :)

As independent bottlers of Scotch whisky, Duncan & Taylor take casks of whisky from different distilleries and bottle that whisky under their own brand. Usually the distillery at which the whisky was distilled, year of distillation and age of the whisky is shared on the bottles, but not always.  Duncan & Taylor’s The Big Smoke 60% is a blended malt which is made from whiskies that have been distilled on the isle of Islay in Scotland, though all other details seem to be kept a closely guarded secret – the distilleries at which the whisky was distilled, the year they were distilled and the amount of years the whisky spent in oak is unknown or not made clear. It does however seem to be a young whisky, judging from the colour of the whisky and its flavour profile. That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially for lovers of smoky and peaty whiskies because the longer a peated whisky spends in oak barrels the more the peat tends to fade and taper away as it is overtaken by the oak influence. 

Malt Mileage has savoured dram after dram of this peaty fury. You will find detailed tasting notes, and matching recommendations below. 

Nose:

When nosed neat the alcohols sting my nostrils and entangled with the peat is varnished wood, walnut shells, chocolate, oyster shell and vanillas. The bouquet is sharp and vapourous, but a sweetness does come through all the potent aroma – and relieves the nostrils like a fresh breeze on a hot day –  with the scent of red lipstick, minties, anise and dark cocoa with fudge and oozing caramels.  It smells oily, nutty almost, reminding me of walnut oil.

Taste:

On the palate the whisky is oily and potent, brutal almost, with an explosion of peat, rock salt and moderating sweet notes of honey, caramel, nectarine, mandarin and mild undertones of vanilla as buttered herb bread lingers.  It burns into a vapour, reflecting its high alcohol content. 

Finish:

The finish is peppery and spicy with ground dried chilies and a lingering sweetness, as smoke and vapours emerge infused with burnt twigs and wood smoked flavours – think smoked Danish cheeses or smoked honey leg ham.  

Bottom line:

Consider it, if you want raw peaty Islay carnage. This is not an elegant old mature whisky, far from it. It is young, robust, potent and powerful. It whips the palate with lash after lash of peat infused sweet ethanol, and then as vapourous fumes lift off the tongue the palate burns with spice and a soothing sweetness. Sometimes I like it rough, especially a peaty malt. If you do too, well, this just might be your malt for times when you want to trade in your fluffy hand cuffs for something with a bit more … sting.    

Match with: 

The Big Smoke 60 is a big bad whisky! Try it with a medium-full cigar to appreciate the whisky, such as a La Flor Dominicana Oro, or go all out and unleash hell with fire and brimstone by pairing it with a Rocky Patel Decades. This is a serious whisky that deserves a serious cigar, for the serious aficionado who enjoys the occasional assault on the senses. 

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Glengoyne 12 year old

Glengoyne 12 yo

Score: 91/100
Type: Single malt
Origin: Highlands, Scotland
Reaction: :)

Glengoyne is a Scottish whisky distillery located in the southern Highlands of Scotland, about half an hour drive north of Glasgow. It adopts a practice of air drying barley, rather than using peat, which tends to result in a clean fruity flavour profile. The Glengoyne 12 year old is comprised of whiskies that have matured in sherry casks.

Nose: 

Oranges, tea cake, Earl Grey tea and mild hints of licorice are all buoyed by chocolate, dried dates, lychee skins, nuts, cinnamon and citrus oils.

Palate:

On the entry the whisky is balanced, with flavours of vanilla, red toffee apple, spice (especially cinnamon), orange cake and a gradually intensifying Italian hot chocolate. The flavour profile then morphs into gooey caramel and melting orange and Champagne truffles. Despite these sweet sounding descriptors, the whisky is not what I would describe as sweet and it is nicely balanced.

Finish:

The finish is mildly warming, with the lingering taste of a wedge of lemon doused in lager (think Corona and a lemon wedge), cinnamon spice, caramels, honey, coffee lollies and chocolate.

Bottom line: 

Buy it, if you want an easy drinking but complex Highland single malt with a very fair price tag. I have tasted Glengoyne 12 year old a few times in bars and at Whisky Live, but its intricate flavours did not leap out as they do when I taste it at home. This is a dram that can be easily under-appreciated, and while it is not very challenging, it is a supremely drinkable whisky.  It is a fruity whisky with a toffee apple/citrus theme and soft hues of vanilla, spice and chocolate from the oak – delicious, if you are in the mood for something elegant and poised

Match with: 

Pair this whisky with a mild-medium cigar with zesty undertones, such as a Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne cigar or a Romeo y Julieta Habana Reserve, the latter of which set my palate abuzz with spice when puffed alongside Glengoyne 12 year old – find a curious chilli flake burn and cinnamon spiced chocolate entanged in the tobacco smoke, smoothed by the vanilla and toffee in the whisky.

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Nub 464 Cameroon Torpedo Cigar (Nicaragua)

 Nub

Name: Nub 464 Cameroon Torpedo Cigar
Score:  92/100
Origin: Nicaragua  
Cigar info: The Nub 464 Cameroon Torpedo Cigar is handmade using a Nicaraguan binder and filler, and, a wrapper from Cameroon.  The tobacco that is grown in Cameroon, and subsequently used as cigar wrappers, is the Sumatran black tobacco plant which was introduced into the African nation after World War II.

The idea behind the Nub cigar, and the reason it is so short at 4 inches, is because it is designed to give a smoker the “sweet spot” taste of a cigar from the first puff, a point which typically occurs an inch of so into a full sized cigar. With its fairly wide ring gauge the cigar delivers a cool smoke with lots of complex flavour, rather than the hot draw that is commonly experienced as some cigars near their end. Be sure to cut this cigar conservatively and not shave too much off at first, and adjust as needed. It smokes just as long as most regular sized cigars, despite its size.       

Draw: Excellent
Burn: Excellent
Construction: Excellent
Strength: Medium
Flavours: After experiencing 42°C heat in Melbourne, the city went cold – people had exchanged their shorts and thongs (what we call flip flops, sorry to erase any erotic images from any American minds) for jackets and jeans. With my belly full of ribs from TGI Friday’s and the weather being suitably cold for a warming cigar, I had an urge to toast a cigar. I plucked a Nub cigar from my humidor, got the dog on a lead, and off I went to enjoy a beautiful Melbourne night. So there I was walking along Melbourne’s SouthBank puffing away my Nub cigar, walking a tiny Chihuahua and taking meticulous tasting notes on my smart phone. 

With the first few puffs, very little harshness was noticeable. It was almost as though I was smoking a block of 99% Lindt dark chocolate – cocoa, buttery cereal notes and the darkest espresso coffee hit my palate. Each draw produced a faint flicker of bonfire, which quickly faded into that 99% cocoa dark chocolate flavour profile which lingered on the palate for a few minutes. The cocoa was entangled with buttered burnt toast, and with each draw the cigar’s flavour profile became more and more interesting with an increasingly grassy and earthy theme. The taste of fresh coriander stalks bundled with bunched parley and mild spice soon became interlaced with the cocoa, then came poppy seeds in bursts together with alfalfa, snow pea sprouts and seeds, and, the distant taste of bitter orange with dried citrus peel. The finish also became more complex, and together with the cocoa were notes of twig, mild campfire and the curious aftertaste of a whipped cream éclair with the flavour but not sweetness of a banana lolly/candy. Gin came to mind as I reached the end of the cigar, with its botanicals.

The Nub was a very enjoyable cigar with prominent notes of cocoa, coffee, wood, mild earthy herbs, spice and a soft creaminess. Delicious.    

Having my second Nub cigar, the flavours were very consistent as the first though I could detect more fennel at first, then earthy espresso, bark, nutmeg and bay-leaf, rosemary, charcoal, sweet paprika, white ash, pencil shavings and sooty overtones. Overall it was enjoyable, elegant and very complex. The bite of rocket leaf and a somewhat meaty/ savoury flavour also became more noticeable. This is a seriously complex cigar.

Format: Torpedo
Match with: The Nub would pair nicely with a variety of spirits, whether peated whisky or gin. It seems like a versatile cigar with a flavour profile that would accentuate a number of drinks, including a coffee with a nip of cream liqueur, a Navy style rum rich in coffee and brown sugar notes, any number of peated whiskies that do not have overbearing maritime notes or a good quality sipping gin, whether William McHenry & Sons London Dry Gin, Bulldog Gin, Hendrick’s or if you’re game, a gin martini with an olive or lime twist. My pick of the lot for this cigar would be to pair it with a gin martini, or a peated malt. 
Bottom line:

Buy it, if you want to try the delights of a Cameroon wrapper and you enjoy a cigar that offers big chocolate and coffee notes with undertones of wood and a complex tapestry of earthiness. It is a cigar rich in flavour, but easy to smoke. 

*Thank you to cigarscity.com for the stick! 

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The Life of Malt Whisky, Part 1 – The Birth | Malt Mileage Whisky & Spirit Reviews

Are you interested in learning how malt whisky is made? You can read about its “birth”, and tasting notes of new make from Glengoyne, Glenrothes and Lark, here: http://maltmileage.com/2014/09/28/the-life-of-malt-whisky-part-1-the-birth/

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Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne (Nicaragua)

reserve champagne epicure

Name: Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne
Score:  91/100
Origin: Nicaragua  
Cigar details: The Perdomo 10th Anniversary Champagne is handmade using a Nicaraguan binder and filler, and, a Connecticut natural shade wrapper.  Being grown in the shade, the tobacco wrapper is intended to have few veins and an even surface for a delicate and smooth smoking experience.
Draw: Excellent
Burn: Excellent, even if uneven at certain points
Construction: Excellent
Strength: Milder side of medium
Flavours: From the first puff the taste of creamy vanilla is prominent, entangled with pistachio, almond, burnt toast, cocoa, coffee and a soft bonfire burns at back palate with hints of cedar on the finish. An inch into the cigar, and the bonfire taste on the finish begins to fade. Tropical fruit starts to emerge, mostly lychee and fresh fleshy coconut, and a mild spiciness prickles the palate – hints of pepper and red chili especially. That bonfire taste on the finish, while fading, slowly morphs into bitter dark chocolate and roasted coffee.  Zesty undertones form beneath the complex layers of flavour mid-way through, in particular lemon and soft citrus. The flavours remain consistent, and the cigar is very puff-able. 
Format: Epicure (Toro)
Match with: This cigar paired nicely with Bushmills 16 year old Irish whiskey, lychee beer and a number of rums, including Appleton Estate 21 year old, Havana Club Seleccion de Meastros and Pusser’s Blue Label.   
Bottom line:

Buy it, if you want a smooth and easy smoking cigar with layers of complex flavours packed within a big, bold yet silken tobacco smoke.

*Thank you to cigarscity.com for the stick! 

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