Lurking in the background of the spirit world’s single biggest event is a honey pot-shaped glass you can buy on Amazon for $23 (set of two).
It is the only glass used in official judging for the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, a competition whose results often determine what spirits will be hard to come by for the year to come. It’s nothing like a traditional whiskey snifter.
Called the Neat Glass, it’s a short, fat cup was designed under a singular premise: smell is everything. The Neat Glass site spells it out plainly: “Humans detect over 10,000 aromas but only five tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami). You don’t taste raspberries, you smell raspberries and taste sweet. Add mouth feel (oily, dry, temperature, texture, minty, hot) to get total flavor. Flavor = Aroma + Taste + Mouth Feel. Flavor is 90% aroma.”
The Neat Glass runs opposite the traditional Glencairn, where a narrow top opening flushes the nose of a whiskey more directly to you; the Neat Glass, on the other hand, uses an outward-flaring rim. This is to fight off ethanol, the enemy of accurate spirit analysis, which numbs the nose and shrouds aromas; it’s why blenders, distillers and spirits competition judges water their whiskey down before drinking. And it’s the reason the glass looks like a cocktail glass ran into a Belgian beer glass.
The pitch goes like this: the wide bowl allows more surface area for swirling the juice, which agitates the liquid and forces it to evaporate from the glass, and the wide rim allows for ethanol diffusion, thereby creating a clearer nose and — if you buy the aroma-over-everything premise — a clearer idea of what you’re drinking.
Is it all talk? You be the judge.