hen someone first visits your distillery, the brand image they develop that day will drive their opinion of your spirits in the future. A lot goes into that experience, and while the glassware you are serving samples in may seem like a small detail, it is actually one of your best opportunities to make your spirits shine. But where do you start? Glass options seem endless, but you can quickly narrow your choices if you keep two characteristics in mind: material (plastic, glass, crystal) and shape.
PLASTIC SHOT GLASSES
Nothing says top shelf like plastic shot glasses, but, understandably, they are the status quo. They are cheap and easy and most customers expect them, unlike wine tastings where they may expect more than a plastic cup. Paying employees to hand-wash tasting glasses or giving up the cash and space for an industrial dishwasher is typically an unnecessary luxury for a startup distiller, and it isn’t bad to be frugal in an industry where expenses multiply faster than yeast. For tasting events outside the distillery where portion control is essential, glass breakage is likely and no dishwasher hook-ups are provided (the cheapskates!), plastic cups are just about the only viable option. And, if you distill in a state with restrictive sample laws, like Watershed Distillery in Columbus, Ohio, using glass just doesn’t make sense. Watershed makes five different spirits but can only serve four quarter-ounce samples per person. Allison Bowers says there isn’t much use in washing glasses when the tiny sample would just get lost inside. “We can’t put an ice cube in our spirits, we can’t serve a cocktail, we can’t give you a straight pour of bourbon, we can only give you a quarter-ounce sample,” tells Bowers. “It’s such a small amount and we can’t add anything to it so there’s no point in having glassware.” Bowers says that the plastic cups are also beneficial for portion control. Each one of their employees conducts tours of the distillery, and at the end of the tour they pour the four samples. Bowers can trust that they won’t be cited for over-serving because it’s easy to measure a quarter-ounce in those cups. “If you have a larger glass you are prone to pour a little bit more,” she says, “so it also helps to protect us.” WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
Distiller and spirits consultant Hubert Germain-Robin’s brandies have received worldwide acclaim, and he was one of the first on the scene of the current distilling movement, opening his California distillery in 1983. A respected judge and spirits expert, he has used a lot of different glassware, and he says plastic should be a last resort. “Honestly, plastic is not fair to the quality you are serving,” tells Germain-Robin. “I would prefer a wine glass and pour very little inside over using a plastic one.” Germain-Robin uses three primary glasses at his distillery: an open tulip glass, a closed tulip glass and a cellar master glass. Each has a different purpose, and each one shows different characteristics in the spirit. “If you pour the same amount of liquid in all of those different glasses,” he explains, “you are not tasting the same spirit, in fact.” For his personal evaluation and blending he uses the cellar master glass or the open tulip. The cellar master has straight sides that allow the aroma to waft directly into the nose, revealing the finesse of the spirit. The open tulip glass has a wide bowl and converging neck like the closed tulip, except the open tulip curves outward at the rim. “That’s a very good glass for tasting and it’s better for the finished product,” he tells. “It was designed by Hennessey and it’s very appropriate for the type of cognac. It’s very gentle because of the lip— the aroma comes very softly in your nose.” The drawback to open tulip glasses is their fragility. Germain-Robin says using them in the tasting room is an expensive proposition due to breakage, so instead he uses closed tulip glasses because they are more durable yet very versatile. He also emphasized the importance of using the same glass style for similar products, because if you use different styles it will be difficult to judge the spirits side-by-side and appreciate their differences.