Standard Glencairn vs. Canadian Glencairn
I’ve been a long time believer in the Glencairn glass. For me, there’s a distinct difference in the experience when using one versus a standard rocks glass or (God forbid) a shot glass. So I’ve been intrigued by the Canadian Glencairn glass that seems to be picking up steam in the bourbon community. When I came across one at my local liquor mega-mart, I decided to go ahead and grab one to see what all the fuss is about.
In order to really put it through its paces, and to draw a good comparison against the standard Glencairn, I pulled five bottles out of the cabinet that represent a fairly wide arc in the whisk(e)y world. The five bottles range in proof from 86 to nearly 120, in age from 3 years to 14, and in style from single barrel bourbon to peated Scotch, and a few things in between. For each whisk(e)y I poured exactly ½ oz into both glasses and immediately nosed and tasted each. I then waited 10 minutes to nose and taste them again.
Here are my tasting notes for each whisk(e)y (by glass), and my conclusion as to which glass fits that particular whiskey best. The order that each glass is listed under a particular whiskey is the order in which I tasted from.
Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year – 43% ABV
Glencairn: Mild honey, heather, grass, white grapes, white stone fruit, pineapple, sweet oak, young soft rum.
Canadian: Brown sugar, slightly more bitter, smoother (not necessarily a good thing), tastes like a cheaper scotch.
Winner: Glencairn – With the Canadian, this comes off as extremely flat and boring, even as the first pour of the day. It seems to dull everything good about this whisky, while somehow casting a blanket of bitterness over everything.
Eagle Rare – 45% ABV
Canadian: Brown sugar, caramel, vanilla beans, soft and balanced, some spice, fresh wood, green leaves.
Glencairn: More oak on the nose, more spice on the nose, burnt sugar, more assertive on the palate, more oak, drier.
Winner: Slight edge to Canadian – It seems to balance everything out here, and I think for those that find ER to be too oak forward, this will really improve the experience. I’ve never gotten much brown sugar from ER, so this is a bit of a revelation.
Talisker Dark Storm – 45.8% ABV
Glencairn: Medium peat balanced with sweet malt, sweet bread, brine, ripe red fruits, sturdy, tight and compact, great development through to the finish.
Canadian: Less peat and more bitter grains, brine fades away, more open and confused, thin even at its proof.
Winner: Glencairn – Again, the Glencairn seems to keep all the flavor notes tight, compact and coherent, while the Canadian is a bit scattered, like all the notes have been dissected. All of the things I love about Talisker, like brine and soft peat smoke, are completely dulled.
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 10 Year – 59.8% ABV
Canadian: Minimal ethanol, vanilla, less oak, brown sugar, no lemon, oak on the palate, more burn (unexpected I guess).
Glencairn: Ethanol but not bad, crystal clear oak, lemon custard, brown sugar, crème brulee, perfect balance on the palate, gorgeous.
Winner: Canadian for the nose, but Glencairn for the palate – The Canadian really opens up the nose by dissipating much of the ethanol, giving access to vanilla, brown sugar, and some oak. However, on the palate, much of what makes this one of my favorite bourbons of the year is lost in the Canadian.
Willett Rye 3 yr – 53.7% ABV
Glencairn: Stronger red fruits, more assertive, slightly less balance, more assertive nose, crystal clear rye, sharp and clean.
Canadian: Rye spice, dry wood, leather, some red fruits (cherry?) in the background, soft and balanced.
Winner: Push, different but equally enjoyable – Where the Glencairn highlights the fruit and rye spice, the Canadian balances everything out with some leather and dry wood. It would depend on which profile I’d rather enjoy, but both were nice.
In conclusion, both glasses are great, but if I was only going to own one, it would be the standard Glencairn. It’s great for practically all types of whiskey. However, since both are very affordable (less than $10 each), I see no reason not to have both and experiment with which one suits you best.
If I had to break it down by style, I would recommend the Glencairn for all Scotch, especially lower proofed non-peated Scotch. I would also recommend it for all types of American whiskey, including bourbon. I would really only recommend the Canadian Glencairn for more oak-forward and/or higher proof bourbons. But as with all things whiskey, your experience may (and almost certainly will) vary.
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