Skip to main content

Bourbon snifters: What they’re good for, which bourbon you should drink from them, and more

Why you should have bourbon snifters, and what to drink from them

David Jdt/Unsplash

If you’re new to bourbon, you probably pour your favorite whiskey into a rocks glass with or without ice and sip it while you binge-watch the newest show du jour on Netflix and call it good. And while that’s all well and good, as we aren’t here to tell anyone how to imbibe whiskey, you might not be enjoying it as much as you could be. That’s to say that there are whiskey glasses designed to elevate and heighten your whiskey-tasting experience.

Don’t believe us? Just take your classic rocks glass, for example. It’s fairly uniform and unexciting. It’s designed for cocktails. That’s because when you drink an Old Fashioned. Sazerac, or Whiskey Sour the experience is all about the various flavors the ingredients (when combined with whiskey) create.

Dylan de Jonge/Unsplash

Why the glass matters

But if you want to truly taste your favorite bourbon, the glass you use to do so is extremely important. To get the full whiskey-tasting experience, you’ll need a glass that allows you to enjoy the aromas and flavors. It would be best if you had a glass with a stem on the bottom to hold it so the heat of your hand doesn’t affect the aroma and flavor. You also need a glass with a wide body for swirling and a smaller opening to let the aromas really shine.

Also, while you can add a few drops of water to open the whiskey, it’s best to avoid ice unless you want to water it down too much and lose much of the nuanced flavors.

Whiskey tasting
Brock DuPont/Unsplash

The different glasses

As we mentioned before, there’s nothing wrong with sipping your go-to bourbon out of a rocks glass, a red Solo cup, or an elegant teacup. You can add crushed ice or a giant cube if you prefer. It’s all good with us. It’s just that if this is how you drink your bourbon, you’re never really going to unlock all the various, complex aromas and flavors. For this, you need the right glass. And while there are myriad glasses on the market, there are two that stand above the rest. We’re talking about the classic snifter and the popular Glencairn glass.

Each of these glasses was designed to heighten your sensory experience–the shape, the opening, and even the stem. There’s a science behind whiskey tasting, and the makers of these glasses figured it out.

Whiskey barrels
Katherine Conrad/Unsplash

 The two most important bourbon glasses

When it comes to tasting bourbon, there are two must-have glasses. The aforementioned Glencairn glass and the snifter glass. Both are (you guessed it) made of glass. Both have a similar body and are designed for the same purpose, but each has its own unique makeup.

Filip Bunkens/Unsplash


A popular glass among brandy and Cognac drinkers, the snifter comes in a variety of sizes. While you can enjoy the larger balloon size, we prefer the slim, funnel-like design for bourbon sampling. The large body is great for swirling. And while you might think that’s just for show, it helps to open up the whiskey’s body to immerse yourself in all of the various complex flavors.

The narrow opening also helps to maximize the aroma and allows you to experience every nuanced aromatic note. The small stem is designed to hold the bourbon away from the heat of your skin, thus impacting the aroma and flavor. Adding a few drops of water only adds to the scents and flavors and opens the whiskey up even more.

Andrew Seaman/Unsplash


Popular among single-malt Scotch drinkers, the Glencairn glass is also well-suited for bourbon lovers. Many whiskey drinkers believe that the Glencairn glass is the far superior vessel for nosing and tasting. It’s designed with a round tulip shape, a smaller opening for nosing, and a thick, rounded base. On top of being more rugged than the snifter, its base makes it easier to swirl and watch the whiskey’s legs as they fall down the sides of the glass.

Its bulbous bowl and small opening are crafted to swirl and maximize the aromas. Its smaller opening also removes some of the more abrasive, harsh alcohol aromas so you can truly enjoy the caramel, vanilla, dried fruits, and oak scents of the long-aged whiskey. After sipping, slowing drinking from this class heightens the experience even more. Its flared opening allows a better angle for sipping as well.

Knob Creek
Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

What bourbon should you drink?

If you want to get the most out of your bourbon-tasting experience, you’ll purchase one of the above glasses. Buy them both and compare or simply choose the one that most appeals to you. You’ll be happy you did as you enjoy your whiskey in a whole new way. You might be wondering how these different glasses handle various types of bourbon. Bottled-in-bond, small batch, wheated, it doesn’t really matter. Both of these glasses will handle all of these different types of bourbon accordingly. Both will elevate your nosing and tasting experience. It’s just that if you’re sampling a cask-strength bourbon, you’ll likely want to add a few drops of water to open it up and temper that high proof.

Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
It’s time to learn about bourbon – here’s your guide
Put down the IPA and meet the actual coolest drink in town — bourbon
Bourbon in a glass

Hello, class, and welcome to Bourbon 101. Don't worry; we're not like those other schools where you aren't allowed to drink during class. We're cool. Now, get your notebooks and a glass of whiskey ready because it's time to dive into the history of this American spirit.

It would be hard to find something more American than bourbon, except for maybe a bald eagle draped in an American flag with a baseball and an apple pie clutched in its talons. In any case, the history of bourbon follows the highs and lows of our country, as a whole, with good times, great times, and really bad times. It was built with ingenuity in a time of great hardship and flourished despite the best efforts of outside forces.
What exactly is bourbon?

Read more
10 classic summer cocktails everyone should know how to make
Enjoy your summer with these incredible, classic drinks
Gin cocktail

We are right at the cusp of summer. It's the season of backyard campfires, yard games, dangling your feet off a dock, and seemingly endless sunny days. It's a great time of year for refreshing, crisp beer. But it's also the perfect time for classic summer cocktails. Lucky for you, there are many to choose from. And while we love a rich, complex, boozy Old Fashioned or Manhattan any time of year, in the summer, we tend to opt for thirst-quenching, fresh cocktails.
Classic summer drink recipes

The best part? These iconic, refreshing summer drinks are all reasonably easy to whip up. You don't need an advanced degree in mixology and a whole cabinet of tinctures, herbs, and other ingredients to make them. Most of them are only a few ingredients and the ones with more are still fairly easy to shake up. These are the summery drinks that everyone should know how to make. Keep scrolling to see them all and learn a few new recipes to wow your friends and family this summer.

Read more
6 essential Scotch cocktails that you need to know
If Scotch is your thing, then you need to put these on your home bar list
Rusty Nail cocktail

Scotch whisky isn't called the water of life for nothing -- it's a divine spirit that works on so many levels. It brightens the days of the sad, and it calms the nerve-wracked masses. It's always there for you. You can drink it neat, on the rocks, or with a few drops of water — however you choose, it's a wonderful liquor.

We will admit that there are times when we want to enjoy Scotch whisky in a cocktail. We're not saying use that bottle of Macallan 50 Years Old to mix up a drink, but if you've got a nice mid-shelf whisky, you can occasionally step outside your comfort zone and mix up a Scotch whisky cocktail to drink any time of the day.

Read more