When you walk into a bar and order a glass of whiskey after a long day, chances are good that you’ll get your smooth shot poured into a whiskey tumbler. Upon a few glasses, you might find yourself confessing to the bartender about the one who got away, retelling anecdotes that reveal your love history. Who can blame you? However, what you might take for granted is the long and interesting history of the whiskey glass itself. The very tool you use to mend your troubles is the one with the real story to tell.
Over 1000 years ago, whiskey was brought to Ireland and England by monks moving from mainland Europe. There were no grapes in Ireland to make wine, but there was plenty of grain and barley to ferment in the process of making alcohol. And thus, whiskey was born. The word whiskey itself is translated to mean ¨water of life, ¨ a phrase that whiskey drinkers can absolutely understand. We can gather clues from Irish folk tales as to how the Irish and Scottish took their drinks back in the old days, but nobody knows for sure. What we do know is that by the 16th century, the quaich, which comes from the Gaelic word ¨cuach¨ was the cup used for whiskey. The first whiskey glass wasn’t made of glass at all but rather a shallow wooden bowl with handles and often included intricately carved designs. These cups were used at christenings, weddings, and family ceremonies. Not all of those occasions would have included whiskey, but the main point of the quaich was that you were sharing a drink with someone. Camaraderie. Celebration. Sometimes the person across from the cup was your new bride or loving mother, but sometimes you were holding one handle and trying to discern if the man on the other side of the cup was a friend or foe.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, if you had money, you had a silver quaich, or a wooden quaich decorated with silver if you were not as wealthy. Hammersmiths and silversmiths worked hard to create original beautiful designs, and a host would proudly offer whiskey to his guest in one of these hand-crafted quaichs. After a friendly visit, the host would offer more whiskey on the way out to cement the friendship.
The quaich held court until the 18th and early 19th century, when tumblers came on the scene. The tumbler featured a rounded bottom, and legend has it this was so named because if you tried to set down your glass before it was empty, it would tumble over. This was not quite true, but the rounded end actually helped the glasses avoid breaking. As glass production increased and the price went down, glass tumblers became the go-to vessel for whiskey drinkers. Many whiskey purists still use tumblers to this day.
During the 1990s the malt whiskey business exploded, and as people become more interested in discerning the specific flavors and aromas of different whiskeys, a variety of glasses were created to meet these needs. Eventually, the experts of Riedel in Austria landed on a specialty single malt whiskey glass. It graced the scene in 1994. This glass features a longer shape with a short, and squat stem.
One major game-changer in modern times is Glencairn´s glass, a copita style glass which has a tulip bulb-shaped middle a tapered top. This is an excellent way for the imbiber to get the aroma of the whiskey because of the wide bulb. Glencairn debuted this glass at Whisky Live in 2001, and it has met with market success.
These days, whiskey is served in everything from short glasses for shotting or sipping or highball glasses for cocktails. The tumblers, of course, are still used as well. The heavy, sturdy bases are great for a night of fun with friends, and the lack of stems makes them generally less accident-prone. Although a snifter seems very classy and sophisticated for a whiskey and cigar night, the design of the glass can lead to some unpleasant ethanol vapors. NEAT glasses (Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology) are specially designed to get rid of the ethanol discharge with their special shape. First created because of a mistake in a glass-blowing shop, these tiny glasses are gaining popularity. No matter what kind of glass the bartender pours your whiskey into when you plop down on the barstool at the end of a busy day, just be sure to appreciate the taste and aroma of the water of life.