You bet your glass?

After generally scoffing at the notion of “varietally correct stemware” for most of my drinking life, I had the opportunity to try a Riedel wine tasting last year that absolutely stunned me. Wines both white and red that tasted, you know, fine in the so-called “joker glasses” revealed entire new layers of complexity and interest when sipped from the proper Riedel stemware. I was a convert.

But would the same hold true for bourbon? Would a Riedel “bourbon glass” enhance the flavor of bourbon in a way that a regular rocks glass doesn’t?

The short answer: Yes – although the difference was not as marked with bourbon as it was with wine.

In a highly unofficial taste test this week, I sampled Four Roses Single Barrel and Maker’s Mark from a typical rocks glass and from a Riedel Bar bourbon glass.

The bourbons tasted good in both glasses. Unlike my experience with wines – reds in particular – I didn’t notice a tremendous “blooming” on my palate when I sipped bourbon from the Riedel. The most notable difference was the amount of fire from the alcohol – much less from the Riedel glass. This did allow me to taste more of the bourbons’ flavor profiles.

The Riedel glass is made of lead crystal, but I think what makes the difference in the tasting is its shape: curved and narrower at the top, much like a white wine glass. When you drink from a rocks glass, you can toss the bourbon back; all of the flavor notes (and the alcohol) are concentrated at the back of your throat. This effect is exaggerated even more when you drink a shot.

The Riedel glass forces you to slow down – to sip and to savor. The bourbon has a chance to cover more of the tongue, so you appreciate more of its complexity.

Bottom line: The Riedel glasses are nice, and sort of impressive, but I wouldn’t rush out to buy some for bourbon.

(And yes, the shot glass in the photo does say “Bourbon Babe.” It’s an Evan Williams glass from the Heaven Hill Distilleries’ Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, Ky.)

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The Bourbon Babe