The Difference A Glass Makes
I just returned with my family from a four-night vacation just north of the border from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where I stayed with my cousin, her husband and their two small daughters. (By the way, my daughter is only 9.5 months old, and the first 24 hours with my cousin’s family was spent wide-eyed and twitchy with my mouth agape as I watched an almost 4-year old and a 1.5-year old knock down buildings like rampaging monsters of Japanese monster movies. The sensation was akin to achieving a shaky confidence in juggling 4 balls only to add another 4 or 5 to the mix… I did get over my initial shock, but I was pretty impressed with how overwhelmed I felt watching them at first.)
I knew my cousin’s husband as someone who likes his whiskey, so I brought a bottle of Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye (VWFRR), which I had been saving for a special occasion, along for the trip. I was especially glad that I brought it for two reasons: 1) It turns out my cousin has a nostalgic soft spot for drinking Rebel Yell while in the Carolinas and 2) N. Carolina is a liquor control state. Now, unless you live in the jurisdiction of one of the 19 state-run liquor monopolies, you likely don’t know what it is. The laws vary by state, but it essentially means that the state runs a monopoly on wholesale and distribution of liquor. Effectively, only state employees get to decide what liquor is available for sale at liquor stores, which in almost all cases results in less variety and customer choice.
We polished off most of the VWFRR on my first night there. My cousin likes his whiskey over ice in a nice, heavy tumbler or old fashioned glass, while I am accustomed to drinking whiskey neat out of a glencairn. There was no shortage of glassware at our disposal, but in my experience, you’d be hard-pressed to come across a glencairn glass at the home of anyone short of a full-blooded whiskey enthusiast. I chose for my consumption a stemless wine glass, with its wide base and sides that taper in towards the lip. The shape of the glencairn is said to be designed to allow the liquor’s vapors to expand in the base and drift towards the lip in a fashion that focuses the whiskey for prime nosing.
I don’t think I ever really appreciated the impact a well-guided nose has on the overall experience of a whiskey until I found myself drinking the good stuff from a wine glass. In other words, once you go glencairn, you’ll care more than you used to be carin’. The wine glass is my go-to for whiskey in situations where I don’t have access to a glencairn, but it just doesn’t allow for the same expression in drinking. The VWFRR was still a delicious and rare treat, but I missed some subtlety drinking it from a glass that wasn’t designed specifically to focus the nose of an 80+ proof whiskey.
I will say this: budget whiskeys with a less complex, less refined taste, such as the Rebel Yell, may rather fare better from a glass that doesn’t emphasize a neglected nose. An old fashioned glass works just fine for a whiskey that is better off remaining subdued in order to mask harsher flavors left over from less careful production methods.