Understanding the History of Whiskey Drinking Glasses

Discover the Long History of the Whiskey Glass

For as long as whiskey has existed, distillers have been using different woods and casks to create unique flavors and profiles. In order for people to truly enjoy these whiskeys and their unique profiles, glassblowers have been creating different styles of drinking glasses designed to help people experience the flavors. The Glencairn glass is of course the most famous whiskey drinking cup, but there have been many varieties developed over the years, and there is an extensive history behind the glasses we use to this day. 

A 16th Century Story

The story of whiskey drinking vessels starts in the 16th Century, with a wooden cup. These small wooden cups were used to drink Scotch whiskey, and they slowly began to change. During the 1500s, the only cup used to drink whiskey was known as a quiach, which was derived from ‘cuach’ – a Gaelic word that simply meant ‘cup’. The design looked a lot like a shallow bowl, and it was constructed from wooden staves and had small handles on both sides. 

At this point, different craftsmen started to create different styles of quiach, slowly changing the style of the handles and, over time, changing the form of the glass entirely. Eventually, craftsmen would use lighter and darker woods, which created patterns on the cups, and eventually, they began embellishing the cups with silver. Every craftsmen would create something totally unique, in an attempt to capture the imagination of those who bought and used the quiaches.

The silver quiaches were eventually engraved with patterns, and in some instances even designed to replicate the appearance of wood. The bowls became statement pieces, and played an important role in the social gatherings that usually accompanied whiskey drinking. During the 17th Century, a “quiachfull” of whiskey –enough for one gulp ­– was served once at the beginning of a social event, and once at the end. 

A 19th Century Replacement

It was in the 19th Century that the tradition of using a wide and flat quiach to drink whiskey changed. During this century, a new drinking vessel appeared that challenged the traditional drinking cup – the tumbler. Made out of glass, this drinking vessel was able to be mass produced and sold to a wider market. The cost of a drinking glass was cut significantly, and more people began using them and, of course, serving whiskey in them. 

After the tumbler revolution of the 19th Century, even more kinds of glasses began to be made. Over a quarter of a century, a wide range of glassware was developed, and it was joined by an increase in whiskey-drinking as a whole. In the next century, and by the 1990s, interest in malt whiskey had improved, and the focus was placed on glasses that enhanced the flavor of the whiskey. 

A Recent Boom in Whiskey Glass Variety

As more people became interested in single malt whiskey, different kinds of glasses were designed and to enhance the drinker’s experience. Enjoying the flavor was suddenly more important than ever, and so that meant experiencing, noting, and deconstructing flavor profiles into constituent parts. Just a matter of decades ago, the Reidel single malt whiskey glass made its debut. It was in 1992 that a panel of whiskey experts came together at the Riedel headquarters in Austria to test a variety of new glasses. 

A selection of 18 different glasses, each with a unique shape, was presented to the experts. After the panel provided their feedback, Georg Riedel researched the importance of the shape of whiskey glasses, meeting with master distillers throughout Scotland. What resulted was a glass that was based on a truncated stem, with an elongated, thistle-shaped body. The glass, known as the vinum, has since become a popular whiskey drinking vessel. 

The Glencairn glass, which is not only the most famous whiskey drinking glass but also a popular groomsmen gift, has a similarly recent history. First entering production in 2001, the glass was developed by the Glencairn Crystal company, designed by Raymond Davidson, the director of the firm. The shape was inspired by traditional nosing copitas, which have long been used in whiskey labs throughout Scotland. The shape of the glass allows the user to experience the full flavor profile by letting only the harsh alcoholic vapors escape. 

The glass was quickly picked up by whiskey experts from all over Scotland, and master blenders from five of the biggest whiskey firms in the country confirmed their love of the new drinking vessel. It was at the very start of the 21st Century that the whiskey glass changed the whiskey industry. 

Modern Design for a Classic Spirit

Today, you can pick up your very own Glencairn glass from SipDark. It’s ideal for the modern whiskey lover, or even as a girlfriend or boyfriend’s birthday gift. As well as a pair of classic Glencairn glasses, you can also pick up the Glencairn Flight Set. This set of three Glencairn glasses come with a luxury lacquered wood plate with felt place holders, allowing you to easily transport multiple glasses at the same time. To top it off, you can even add custom image and text engraving. 

Raymond Davidson, founder of Glencairn, recalled the launch of his whiskey glass with whiskey enthusiasts and writer, Ian Wisniewski: 

“We initially launched the Glencairn glass at Whisky Live in 2001, with 1,500 hand-made glasses. It was really well received, and we decided to go into full-scale production. That was a big commitment for a small company. Designing and producing the glass, using our in-house design department, was expensive, but the biggest investment is the marketing to promote it.”

Since the launch, the Glencairn glass has become a must-have piece for any whiskey lover. Those who truly love whiskey will appreciate the perfect weight in the hand, the comfortable curves, and the shape which makes nosing and flavor profiling a breeze.

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