Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Valentine Gift for the Spirit Lover

For the longest time, the Glencairn glass was the gold standard for tasting spirit. Comfortable in the hand, its small pedestal gave way to a voluptuous tulip shape that concentrated the aroma of (originally) whisky. This aromatic prelude seduced the nose and eyes, preparing the palate for its own experience. The Glencairn company owns the intellectual property rights to the shape of the glass and for many years, that was the end of the story. Their company's name is laser-etched onto the bottom of the glass and in before your eyes as you drain the last drop onto your waiting tongue..

Arsilica, Inc.'s design claims to improve on this time-honoroed design, basing its glass on the science of nosing. Nosing Science has to do with the specific weight of different molecules, which is certainly salient to our work because it is the magic behind distillation. There is a long explanation here, but the short version goes something like this: ethanol is lighter than many molecules and so is first to go up the chimney of the Glencairn glass. This concentration of ethanol produces a burning sensation in the sinuses, making it difficult for the body to process the heavier molecules as they lift off the surface of the liquid in the glass.

The flavors you're really trying to nose, the smoke and grass, lavender and honey, leather and grain -- these go largely unappreciated. There are a few low-tech ways to game this problem. One is to cover the glass for a few minutes and wait for something called evaporation equilibrium, where as many molecules evaporate as re-enter the liquid. This will help you smell everything in the glass.  Alternatively, you can add a dash of water to increase the overall surface tension of the liquid, decreasing the percentage of ethanol that gets into your face as you nose the liquid.

But if you want to bypass the ethanol, and you want a glass to do the work, you need a short vessel with a wide mouth that will let the alcohol lift off quickly.  Then you can better detect the subtle aromas that everybody is talking about, and move yourself along the path to your own enjoyment.

On a slightly-unrelated note, the jury has returned on the question of the advisability of Whiskey Stones. (You know, those stone cubes you keep in the freezer until you put them in the glass?) I have long been suspicious of them for fear of damaging the teeth, but as it turns out, they have other flaws that relegate them to the realm of novelty, and far from being a necessity.

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