The Untold Story of Wine & Spirits Glass Evolution


Part 3 of 3 (Applying Science to Spirits Glass Design)

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAPvAAAAJDI5Y2FhY2ZiLTVkZmYtNDA2OS05NGE3LTk4NWU4YjBiNDNiZg   Recapping Parts 1 and 2, wine and spirits glassware evolved as a result of manufacturing technology (leaded crystal, duran, stem pulling techniques), adopting someone else’s design (Spanish copitas), monumental marketing efforts, (Riedel varietal marketing), or specifically to enhance intoxication (snifter). However, these approaches miss the mark simply because they are based on the previously unchallenged assumption that all glassware must be of a general shape that embodies convergent rim (rim diameter smaller than bowl diameter) to ensure that all aromas are collected in one small area under the nose. Along comes science.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAPlAAAAJGMzNGMyYWM2LWFhOTEtNDdjMi05ZjI1LTVkZDY4MGJkNzYxMA  Many spirits drinkers believe the smell of alcohol is an integral, inseparable part of the distilled spirit. When experts are asked, well in excess of 80% accept this as an unquestionable truth. Since no one ever figured out how to get rid of ethanol, and adopting convergent rim glasses perpetuated the problem, separation of an aroma has been thought of as impossible to achieve. Consequently, we have all been putting up with nose-numbing alcohol for almost two thousand years. We didn’t always drive cars, fly in airplanes, or cook in microwave ovens, and there’s no earthly reason why we have to numb our noses when drinking spirits, when we have technology to put a man on the moon.

Every spirit has characteristic aromas, even vodkas. Straight spirits may be only 40% ABV in the liquid, but the percentage of ethanol in the evaporated aroma cloud is much higher, since ethanol is one of the lightest compounds, has the highest vapor pressure and lowest boiling point, and evaporates at a much faster rate than other compounds in the spirit. Pour a shot of spirit in a rocks glass, mark the level, and leave it overnight. Notice the lack of ethanol smell and the lower liquid level the next morning to test this fact. Not much ethanol in the smell, and if you really want to taste it, not much ethanol in the taste, either. Try it with different glass shapes and come to your own conclusions.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAYLAAAAJDM0N2UzZjc1LTM3ODktNDAxNC1hY2I2LWQ1ODMyNWM5YWJmNw  What is so bad about ethanol? For starters, it fools the olfactory sensors, locking out other molecules and inhibiting detection of other aromas (see “lock and key” theory of olfactory senses). It also causes olfactory fatigue, anesthetizes olfactory sensors, pains sensitive noses, numbs and dumbs sense of smell, and causes toxic neuropathy. It is the enemy of evaluators, judges, blenders, and the average drinker, inhibiting both the enjoyment and analysis of any spirit. It is truly a wonder that anything other than ethanol is detected and recognized by untrained nosers. “I love the smell of ethanol”, said nobody, ever.

Bartenders have known this for years, and a few of the more unscrupulous discovered they can pass off “well” spirits as a favorite call brand to straight spirits drinkers by the third drink, knowing full well the vast majority of drinkers can’t smell the difference once their noses have been properly “fatigued”. This practice is even easier to get away with if the drinker adds water or ice.

As discussed in Part 2, the most common glassware, copita, chimney, and their derivatives were designed for spirits of 17-24% and are ill suited for drinking full strength, 40% ABV spirits without the addition of water. The vast majority of whisk(e)y, scotch, rum, tequila, and gin drinkers drink their spirits straight up at bottled strength, and are left without a glass specifically designed to accommodate the high percentage of alcohol.

In 2002 a misguided instruction in a glass blowing class began the search for a spirits’ glass which could overcome the faults of existing glassware, specifically for those drinkers who insist on drinking spirits at bottled strengths of 40% ABV or higher. After nine years of engineering and evaluation, over 52 different shapes later, Arsilica, Inc., a Nevada corporation released the NEAT glass in February 2012, the first ever glass design using an integrated approach to chemistry, physics, and biology to enhance drinking enjoyment. Determining the best glass design for straight, full strength spirits drinkers required a fresh approach, without consideration for previous designs, methods, and the nosing and tasting myths and methods developed using older, existing glassware.

Arsilica, Inc. applied six practical principles based on science and method, which, when properly applied to glass design will maximize spirits drinking enjoyment. These are:

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAW2AAAAJDQxYzRiZDljLTQ5NzktNDU5ZS1iNDEzLWFmNzYzMTZmYWY3Zg  Principle 1: Placing the nose closer to the surface of the drink detects more aromas. Aroma molecules range from the simplest shapes and lighter weights of ethanol to the complex long chains of heavier fatty acid ethyl esters. Fewer of the long chains break through the surface tension of the liquid to be detected in an evaporative aroma sample, and even fewer make the long journey to the top of a tall glass. Use shorter glassware to place your nose where the aromas lurk, close to the surface of the liquid. Heavy to light on the diagram can also indicate simpler molecules at the top, long chains at the bottom, or highly volatile at the top, and low volatility at the bottom. In any case the nose has to be within 4.5cm to detect most of the aromas, and the closer to the surface of the liquid, the better. Short glasses are better.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUOAAAAJDY5NGZlZDNkLWVkM2YtNDM0Yy04YjllLTkxODE2YWFjODhhYg  Principle 2: Maximize evaporation area. Wider vessel bowls allow more area to evaporate, both surface area of the liquid and wetted side area when swirled. Few know that evaporation from the thin film on the vessel sides is much more rapid than from the horizontal surface of the liquid as it sits in the bowl. If the glass is as wide as the hand can comfortably hold, the evaporation area becomes sufficient and functional to accomplish the task of enhancing evaporation. The three on the left have the highest evaporative surface areas.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAW_AAAAJGQ0YmMwZTY5LTdiYWUtNDViYi1iZTFkLTQ0YWU2OWQ0ZDdiYg  Principle 3: Enhancing swirling increases aromas. Swirling breaks the surface tension and allows more aroma molecules to escape into the atmosphere. No swirl = less evaporation. Less evaporation = less aroma. Pretty simple. Wine glass designers have known this for decades as they encourage swirling prior to every sampling. Spirits drinkers are encourage not to swirl, since the overabundance of ethanol aromas increase, and small glassware concentrates ethanol right under the nose.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXpAAAAJGU4MjNiOGIyLWYzMTctNGIyMy1iZDA4LTY1OWE0Y2FiZTgzNg   Principle 4: One simple mechanical design separates the ethanol, necking down the glass. Compress and release makes the lighter molecules (ethanol) move even faster, away from the heavier molecules. The combination of a neck to compress the aromas and a wide, divergent rim to release them does the trick. Continuous evaporation pushes the aromas into the neck where they are compressed, and they dissipate when they expand above the neck. Newton’s Laws of Motion sends the lighter ethanol to the nearest exit (F = ma, thanks Newton, may the force be with you). The widely divergent rim above the neck provides the ethanol escape path.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAATCAAAAJDQwMDZhYzQ2LWQ1OTQtNDk1NS04ZWQ3LWZjYWEzYWIwMjVmMA   Principle 5: There is a correct way to use every tool. Evaluating spirits is no different. Use the correct method to make it work. Swirl, swirl, swirl, hold level, nose over the center of the rim and breath in through the nose only, with mouth closed. Totally different than the best method for drinking straight spirits from a convergent rim glass designed for 20%ABV beverages.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAZFAAAAJDFkY2VjY2QwLWM3NzctNGEwMi05MzhmLTU2NTdiZDBjZDk3Yw  Principle 6: Move your nose to where the aromas are to get the big picture. Characteristic aromas are in the center of the glass at the rim level. Placing your lips on the rim of the glass will help you locate the “sweet spot”. Move your nose toward the edge to pick up lighter aromas. Ethanol is at the edge of rim, diluted so it can’t burn your nose. Miss the old strong alcohol of the copita, chimney, or snifter? Just place your nose below the rim level into the glass neck area and you can snort all the nose numbing alcohol your olfactory can’t handle.


The end result is a short, fat, squatty looking glass with neck and a flared rim. Quite the opposite of the tall, skinny, convergent rim glasses designed for watering down spirits to 20% ABV. Is it the final answer? For the time being, it’s the best answer, and another tool for enhancing the enjoyable pastime of drinking spirits, and the beginning of a third school of nosing spirits, necked/divergent rim glassware which dissipates nose numbing alcohol (the other two are the copita style and the snifter style).

Extensive GCMS studies by the chemistry department at UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas) using NEAT alongside existing glass styles, verified that the combination of these scientific principles efficiently dissipates ethanol alcohol away from the nose.


Most spirits competitions in the USA use NEAT as their official tasting and judging glass, because it enables them to make accurate evaluations throughout long hours of fast-paced, multi-sample spirits judging.

Just a couple of reminders. Swirling is the engine that powers the aromas. Swirl, swirl, swirl. Breathe through the nose with mouth closed, and you will not get the nose burn common with convergent rim glasses. Do not add water.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAT8AAAAJDFiZjc1ZWFkLWM2NjUtNDBhOS1iOTBmLTFkODNiZjBlMzYyZA  The addition of water is a crutch for those who cannot pick out the aromas mixed with the strong alcohol of convergent rim glassware. Unfortunately adding water is a necessary evil for all the old tall aspect ratio glassware just to dumb down the ethanol. If you happen to add water to NEAT, a rocks glass, martini, margarita or any divergent rim glass, you smell…….nothing. Water increases the surface tension and severely reduces all evaporation. Get the right glassware designed for how you drink, and let the glassware do what it was designed to do. The next article is “Why Add Water to Whisk(e)y?”

*NEAT, the ultimate spirits glass, changing the way the world drinks, are all trademark property of Arsilica, Inc. and the NEAT glass is design patented USPTO, utility patented PRC, and utility patent pending USA, WIPO. Find out more at


Written by
George Manska

Spirits Glasses

The Untold Story of Wine and Spirits Glass Evolution (Part 2 of 3, the Spirits Glass)Part2of3


AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUgAAAAJDJhY2QxZWM2LTMzZmMtNDllYy1hNjMxLWJjYWQ1ZTgxNTFmMA   Although fermentation of beer and wine dates to China in 7000 BC, distillation was a relatively late arrival, with the first recorded distillations (disputed), by Anaxilaus of Thessaly (expelled from Rome in 28 BC for practicing the “magic” of distillation). The later arrival of distilled spirits, and a genuine, well-founded fear of quick intoxication, separates spirit glass development from that of the wine glass.

Until recently, the basic function of a spirits vessel was to conveniently transport the spirit from its storage container to the mouth. This purpose is well served by nearly any vessel, except that distilled spirits have always been more expensive to produce, and when consumed straight, at full strength, pack an additional knock-out punch bigger and quicker than beer and wine, leading to smaller glass sizes as the preference to waste.

The effect of strong alcohol on the nose was a major issue even in ancient times, evidenced by dilution of 20% ABV (yes, really) wines and distillates to 4-8% with water by the Romans. High alcohol in wine is still cause for concern today, and the strong smell of alcohol is, and has always been a major deterrent to enjoying spirits straight, particularly among ladies, who have significantly more sensitive noses than men.

Definable evolvement of spirits glasses prior to the 17th century appears random and unconnected, and many vessels have geographic origins. The examples listed below have a similar reason for their historic popularity. All are geographic region based exceptions to the convergent rim design (see part I, evolution of the wine glass), and are open mouth vessels widely used to dissipate the strong, nose-burning and numbing aroma of ethanol alcohol away from the nose. The independent origin of vessels from different regions demonstrate an unconnected worldwide aversion to high alcohol concentration right under the nose, in spite of the difficulty in handling and drinking from these types of vessels (wide open rim, divergent sides).

One of the oldest known spirits vessels is the gourd, and pre-Columbian Oaxacan mezcals were drunk from small half-gourds, and similar shaped clay jicaritas, and are still enjoyed that way today by some native Oaxacans.

The French tastevin evolved from the Roman cupel. Created for evaluating wine in the AAEAAQAAAAAAAAXXAAAAJGNhZWJhMWYxLWY1ZmQtNGE4My1iNjc2LTQ4MDQxNzZlYzE4NA-1  16th century, its frequently polished inside bowl permits detection of color and contamination in dimly lit cellars and distilleries. The open mouth, however, dissipated some wine aromas too quickly, making it even more ideal for use in the spirits distillery to avoid olfactory fatigue from stronger ethanol.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAa8AAAAJDkxNjJiZjVjLTYwOGYtNGIyYy1hYjRjLTk4MjA2NWIyYWJjNA  The Scottish Quaich (pronounced “quake”, first written reference 1673), was the traditional social cup of the Highland clans, wide and shallow, for evaluating malted barley spirits, with double handles, perfect for passing in social ritual without the strong, numbing smell of ethanol. Some were made with glass bottoms so one could drink and still keep an eye on the untrustworthy.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAVfAAAAJGI3N2ZhOTU4LTQzZTQtNDNhOS04YWI0LWQzMTc4M2YxYWI4OA  Most drinking and mixing (dilution with water) vessels from the Etruscan, Greek and Roman early civilizations were wide mouthed to let the alcohol off, improving olfactory enjoyment of the wine, and were adopted early on for distilled spirits which were commonly diluted with water.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAWDAAAAJGUwNzU1YTBkLTliNjQtNDA3NS1hOTMyLWM4N2NkNzJhZTE2Mw  Distilled spirits have long been mixed as cocktails to reduce the strong, offensive odor and taste of ethanol alcohol as well as to slow intoxicating effects. Mixing with juices is an ancient pre-Roman practice, and signifies the early recognition that man is acutely aware of the difficult-to-handle side effects of drinking straight spirits, from stinging nose burn, to numbing and rapid intoxication.

Europeans have imbibed straight spirits for centuries, and for generations have been quite tolerant of the effect of alcohol on the nose, which set the drinking of spirits more into a men’s club setting, excluding the more sensitive noses of the ladies. During US prohibition, mixing spirits with fruit juices, honey, milk, ginger, and adding ice, hid the poor quality of distilled spirits made by those who were out for a quick, illegal buck. Cocktails became the standard way to enjoy spirits in the US, and were greatly romanticized in post prohibition marketing, making the US the cocktail capital of the world, probably more the result of poorly made spirits than anything else.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQYAAAAJGJlN2M4YWMyLWI3MTktNGJhOS05ZTcxLWIyOTAzYTJiZWViNQ  With two exceptions, “cocktail” glassware is dismissed from discussion as the result of artistic whim or public fad ranging from the margarita glass to the tall slender hurricane. The exceptions are the martini and coupe (borrowed from champagne), which provide the same distinct advantage of dissipating alcohol aromas away from the nose with low sides and wide liquid surface evaporation areas. They are frequently used for both pure spirits combinations and cocktails, such as the martini, cosmopolitan, and many others (more in the footnotes at the end of the article).

The temperature for drinking straight spirits is crucial. Anything less than room temperature provides an overabundance of ethanol because there is simply not enough thermal energy to increase molecular movement to the point where evaporation of other, more complex molecules can occur in sufficient quantities for reliable detection.

With ice added, fuggedaboudit. Ice dumbs down everything, including all the character aromas of long complex molecular chains. This occurs for two reasons, (1) lower temperature = lower evaporation, and (2) ice dilutes as it melts, raising surface tension, more water = lower evaporation. Ice and fruit juice are the mixologists best friends for pleasing their client, because the mix hides less-than-excellent booze, keeping profit margins up and costs down. Glass shape matters not for most cocktails, and creative and artistic presentation becomes everything.

Spirits glassware exists in its present state-of-the-art for three primary reasons.

First: “If it’s true for wine it’s probably true for spirits.” Although no one has specifically given credence to this axiom until just now, the inference has always been there. The closest relative to the spirits industry is a more mature wine industry, and in the absence of knowledge to the contrary, discoveries and educational advances in the wine industry are usually tested quickly in the spirits industry. After all, both are alcoholic beverages. Most readers can see from part 1 of this article that convergent rim glassware was adopted from the wine industry.

This close correlation is further validated by recent emphasis (since the ‘60s) on appearance, color, nose, aroma, “finish”, and mouth feel, and again by adoption of the 100 point rating system, comparative public tastings, pairing dinners, media television programs and spirits oriented publications, with spirits always following close on the heels and in the footsteps of the wine industry.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQJAAAAJGIyZGNiOGFlLWYzYjYtNDYwZC04MmFkLTQzMzcwYmI2YzUyMw  Spirits’ characteristics and production methods were never discussed in-depth with the consumer until the wine industry crossed the line and made it “ok” to turn production information, previously held as “trade secrets”, or “internal information”, into marketing to build loyal customers by providing them with an education. Now, every spirit producer is eager to tell you the barrel type, time in oak, mash bill, nosing notes, taste and finish notes, still type and material, and much more, in order to endear themselves with attention to detail and product differentiation.

Second: Old habits become traditions and are hard to break. The most popular spirits glass design has been in use for well over 200 years. European competition for trade beginning in the 17th century, led the Dutch and English to dominate the international alcohol beverage industry as they discovered sherry, ports, rum, cognac, liqueurs, and the wines of Bordeaux. Spirits and wines were readily available in outlying countries, and prevented freight dead-heading, or empty ships returning to their ports of origin.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAASOAAAAJGVkYTdkNDNlLTNkZGEtNDU5OC1hNDMwLWFiMDg2Mjc1MTZjYw  By the 1800s, learning from Oporto, the Spanish Jerezanos were adding brandy to satisfy the worldwide demand for sweet, high alcohol wines, and the copita (little cup) became their standard glass. Its size adequately handles 17-24% ABV of fortified wines in an amount suitable for a dessert wine. The English market and taste for sherry is legendary, and the English love drinking from the traditional copita, adopting it as their own, and helping to spread its use around the world.

As Scotch whisky distillers began the intense search for aging barrels, they discovered the treasure trove of used sherry barrels from English import houses who rebottled. Sherry barrels can impart very desirable, characteristics to whisky. Along with sherry barrels, the copita was quickly adopted as the standard tasting and blending glass for the Scotch whisky blenders.

The 1977 ISO standard wine glass is nearly an exact iteration of the earlier introduced copita, only slightly larger, and for all practical purposes the blenders and distillers, perhaps unknowingly, have adopted the ISO wine glass as their own, even though it is a century older than the standard itself. The ISO glass and ISO 3591:1977 standard have absolutely nothing to do with spirits. Ever.

Third: Renewed interest in improving the spirits drinking experience. In the last 50 years or so, perhaps beginning with the serious marketing of Scotch in the United States in the ‘60s, and perhaps spurred on by the revolution in wine tasting, distillers, brand ambassadors, and spirits educators have sought to improve the drinking experience by addressing uncomfortable alcohol on the nose when drinking from the standard copita style glass.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAQyAAAAJDljMzMzMDk4LTIyNWQtNDkyMy04YjdmLTNmYWQ3OTM2Y2QyNA  A few of these methods are (1) open mouth while inhaling to lessen nose burn, (2) add water to shut down evaporation of alcohol, often misunderstood as “opening up”, (3) waft aromas toward the nose before sampling for acclimation, (4) gradually approach the spirit as it is moved closer and closer to the nose for acclimation to high alcohol (5) the C-stem method of Adam Carmer, educator at UNLV.

These devices are all attempts to improve the experience with the “tried and true” copita, chimney, or Glencairn style glasses, all characterized by high aspect ratio (height to bowl diameter), with a tall, convergent rim, and small liquid surface area. These glasses and their derivatives have been used for centuries to enjoy 17-24% ABV fortified wines.

The average spirits aficionado is either unaware, or ignores the fact that most of the large, established alcohol distillers and blenders have long known the effects of high alcohol, and most blend their spirits water-diluted to as low as 20% ABV (most craft distillers have not yet adopted this nose-saving blending method).

Although most spirits are bottled for consumption at 40% ABV or higher cask strength, the conscientious blender cannot possibly last half an hour without severe olfactory fatigue, defeating his purpose and cutting his work day short. Diluting with water raises the surface tension of the liquid, shutting down the immense evaporation of aromas, stopping the “flood” of nose-burning, numbing ethanol molecules and delaying olfactory fatigue.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAPAAAAAJDYzOTRiNGY4LTdlMGUtNGM2Mi1hNWVmLWQ3YTc1NGE3ZDYzNA  Along comes the noted Glencairn glass, brainchild of Raymond Davidson, first produced in 2001, and derived from traditional nosing copitas used in the whisky blending rooms around Scotland. The result of a collaboration of several Scotch master blenders, it is adapted to blenders’ needs at their preferred, diluted strengths.

This glass has quickly become a standard for drinking straight scotch and other whiskey. The vast majority of spirits drinkers believe that straight spirits should be consumed from the bottle at 40% or higher ABV. However, when drinking undiluted spirits from this style of glassware, it is extremely difficult to detect and discern characteristic aromas through the over-abundance of nose-numbing alcohol without years of trained nosing practice and systematic dilution with water, as in its ancestor the copita.

In essence, consumers themselves have sabotaged their own quest for maximum enjoyment as they adopt the glass simply to use what the professionals use, without regard as to its true utility as a blenders’ tool at diluted strengths. Consumers will not likely change their preferences for full strength spirits to drinking 20% ABV spirits any time soon.

Derivation of another key glass popular with spirits drinkers, the snifter, is said to have evolved from the goblet, which evolved from the early Greek krater, and which appears first in the writings of Pliny the Elder, Roman statesman in 50 AD. The snifter is said to be represented in Da Vinci’s Last Supper, although doubts persist. The name snifter comes from Middle English: snyfter, originating around 1850.

Significantly, the development of the large bowl volume brandy snifter is the only design in spirits glassware which can be attributed to the purpose of capturing ethanol to promote intoxication, further enhanced by heating the vessel prior to drinking. Although the volume of air over the liquid surface is huge when compared to a copita, evaporation is encouraged, and the narrow rim opening collects all aromas including an abundance of alcohol right at the nose.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAVDAAAAJGYxZmM5YWM0LTMxMDMtNDY2Ny1hNzI1LWZiM2I5OTQ4ZGE4Ng  Among the cognac and brandy drinkers, there are a few “huffers” who practice heating the spirit in the snifter as a rapid way to intoxication. Heating rapidly promotes evaporation, driving off the alcohol, for quick assimilation into the blood stream through the lungs, rather than having to wait for the digestive tract to get it into the bloodstream (20% of alcohol is absorbed in the stomach, the remaining in the small intestine, where small blood vessels carry it into the bloodstream). Heating brandy destroys its balance, drives many unpleasant aromas to the nose, and offers the opportunity to fry one’s lip to the glass rim if overdone. Simply not a sound practice.

Until recently there have been two schools of spirits glassware, the snifter school and the copita school. Each have their avid proponents, and they also have one thing in common. Both present high concentrations of alcohol right at the nose, requiring extreme care in nosing to avoid numbing, nose-burn, and olfactory fatigue, which ultimately work against that elusive enjoyment factor for which we continually search. The differences between the two, is that the alcohol of the snifter is inseparably mixed with the aromas, and the alcohol of the copita can be reduced with adding water and training in the methods previously described (inhaling with mouth open, wafting, C-stem, etc).

As a result, it takes a trained expert, who has learned how to detect and separate aromas from the smell of nose-numbing ethanol. Time to take back the power with glassware designed to accommodate the way the consumer prefers to drink, straight up, no ice, no water, no mixer. In part 3, Applying Science to Spirits Glass Design, we will discuss the future of a spirits glass specifically designed for those who love their spirits straight.

Footnotes on “neglected” cocktail glassware:

Martini glass: A previous, smaller version with similar, straight-but-highly-angled sides was known early on as the cocktail glass. In the early 1900s it was raised higher on the stem for handling the frosty cold glass bowl, precluding hand warming; and the rim was widened to spread the botanical aromas of the gin (martini prime ingredient, not vodka). Forget the myth that it had a wide mouth to aid in spilling when the Feds hit the door during prohibition. Fully recognized as a Martini in its own glass by 1922, the ingredients were gin and, most commonly, Martini vermouth.

Coupe glass: Sorry to burst bubbles (pun intended), but the coupe was NOT designed in the shape of the breasts of any of the following women; Marie Antoinette, Madame du Pompadour, Madame du Barry, Empress Josephine, Diane de Poitier, nor Helen of Troy, or any other name which may come to mind as a figure of loveliness. With all due respect to the Francophiles, the coupe was invented in England in 1663, specifically for champagne. To burst another bubble, the first recorded sparkling wine from champagne was Blanquet de Limoux, invented by the Benedictine Monks of Saint-Hilaire in 1531. English scientist Christopher Merret described the methode de champenoise in 1662 to the Royal Society, six years prior to Dom Perignon’s arrival at Abbey of Hautvillers. Facts trump myth any day.


Written by
George Manska

The Untold story

The Untold Story of Wine and Spirits Glass Evolution (Part 1 of 3, the Wine Glass)AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUMAAAAJDQxZDYwNDI1LTZkNjEtNGM0ZS04Nzk4LTA1MmRmYzVlMThlMQWell over 95% of all wine glasses in use today are large bowl, stemmed, convergent rim (rim diameter smaller than the bowl). How did this particular shape evolve? Not for any reasons you might have suspected.

Early drinking vessels include banana leaves, bamboo sections, scallop shells, animal horns, coconut shells, gourds, animal (and human) skulls, goat skins, leather flagons, and even cupped hands. The fun didn’t really begin until the discovery that glass could be manipulated into functional shapes.

Persians were blowing glass by 2000 BCE, and Romans began making glassware around 400 BCE and mold-blowing around 50 AD. By 1400, cristallo glass, produced on the island of Murano in Venice, was turning the heads of the royal courts of Europe.

Cristallo is a particularly hard material, made from crushed quartz pebbles of the Ticino and Adige rivers flowing from the Swiss Alps into northern Italy. Difficult to work, it was nearly as prized as diamonds for its superb optical qualities, rarity, and superb craftsmanship. High refractive index (light bending qualities) creates vibrant rainbows and turns drinking vessels into dazzling jewels, not to mention the prismatic pendants of spectacular chandeliers and candelabras that graced the tables and halls of the ruling aristocracies.

Few could afford to own a single Murano quartz glass, much less the place settings of 50 or more common among the ruling families of Europe and Russia, and its popularity was restricted to those who knew and could afford it.


In 1647, George Ravenscroft, searching for a way to recreate Venetian cristallo, began to use flint as the source of silica, and added lead oxide (PbO, 10-30%) to soften the glass and keep it from crizzling (thousands of tiny surface cracks). Since lead oxide also increases the refractive index, it creates the prismatic appearance and brilliance of quartz at a fraction of the cost, and adds more weight to the glass, giving it a richer, heavier, more substantial feel.

Patenting his formula in 1673, Ravenscroft produced beautiful glassware with two side benefits: (1) sea coal, cheaper and readily available in England, could be used to melt the softer glass, and (2) lower working temperatures extended working time for more intricate shapes and decoration.

The patent expired in 1681, and within 15 years, over 30% of the factories in England were making leaded crystal. By 1800 the courts of Europe were using lead crystal manufactured in France (Baccarat), Russia (Gus), and Ireland (Waterford), and the upper class, rich, and famous were purchasing the same glassware used by the dynasties that controlled Europe and Russia. Leaded crystal was coveted by all. Ravencroft’s discovery paved the way for the evolution of the stem and large bowl wineglass we use today.

Until the early 1900s candlelight was the primary source of dining room lighting, and the visual experience of leaded crystal on the table held much more importance than today, with hundreds of tiny rainbows, prismatic flashes, and flickering flames. In addition, much silver (and gold), in the form of serving dishes, carafes and utensils added to the sparkling dinner table display.

As lead crystal became more popular in candlelight, so did the stem. Raising the glass bowl even higher catches much more light, heightening the visual experience. Not only did stems become a common appearance, they grew from about one-half inch to 3-5 inches or higher, raising glasses to a catastrophic height. With the passing of plates, flipping of napkins, difficulty in handling and drinking, and wine-inspired, hand-animated conversation, the tipping of tall glasses of permanent staining red wine onto cherished heirloom linen table coverings became an all-to-frequent occurrence.


Prior to the 1900s most glassware designs were vertical or divergent rim (lip expanding outward as a martini glass), and the convergent rim (rim smaller than maximum bowl diameter) commonly used today was widely criticized because it required tilting the head much further back to get the last drop. As the glass stems grew, designers realized that curving the rim inward had three distinct advantages; (1) reducing accidental spills with a smaller bowl “target”, (2) catching even more light from above at the rim as it curves inward, and (3) collecting all wine aromas into a central location for sampling, so none escape the nose. As a result, stemmed, convergent rim wine glasses became the accepted, unchallengeable norm as the common wine glass we use today.

Many countries have now banned importation of lead crystal glassware. Aside from air quality and pollution issues imposing new manufacturing regulations, there has been much negative, but not necessarily factual, publicity on the risks of gout, miscarriages, and lead poisoning from lead crystal wine glasses and decanters. These issues significantly reduced worldwide demand for leaded crystal. Sadly, the art and intricate decoration of leaded crystal glassware is fading to its single last permanent place in the museums of the world as miniature monuments to the highly skilled glass artisans of yesterday.

Shape was again influenced by the development of borosilicate glass (originally called Duran) by Otto Schott in 1893, introduced by Corning Glass Works in 1915 (under the trade name PYREX), resulted in much stronger glass due to the addition of boron to reduce the thermal expansion coefficient, resulting in less breakage due to sudden changes in temperature caused by hot washing water (later, superheated dishwasher water) or the addition of cold mixers or ice. More durable glass resulted in thinner wall thickness, thinner (and longer) stems, and a larger foot (allowing even longer stems and wider bowls to take advantage of the greater support).


The stemmed, large bowl, convergent rim wine glass gained wider acceptance in the USA shortly after 1976, when wine awareness was enhanced by a single blind tasting event pitting old world wines vs new. The Judgment of Paris, organized by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, proved America was capable of producing wines every bit as good as centuries old European vintners. How could this event possibly affect the shape of the wine glass?

The new worldliness of American wines sparked a grass roots quest for better understanding of wine in the US, including the best ways to serve and enjoy wine of all types, and oenophiles searched for glassware size and shapes that could deliver a more appealing drinking experience. The standard glass available in even the best restaurants of the US were those dinky little mass produced, 6 oz glasses about 6 inches tall, which prevent nosing. America was seeking change and found it back in Europe at the large centuries old glassware manufacturers.

Stemware became cheaper, stronger, and easier to produce in 1956 as Rona (Slovakia), Europe’s premier glass decorator, became the first glass factory to use pulled-stem technology for hand-made glassware, and in 2001 became the first glassworks to manufacture high volume machine-made, double-blown, pulled-stem glassware.

Wine glass bowls got larger, as Riedel (Austria), produced the first varietal-specific wine glass for the pinot noir grape in 1958. The Burgundy Grand Cru holds 37 ounces (stated glassware capacities measure volume to the rim, not to the preferred pour height which occurs at max bowl diameter). In 1973, Riedel established the Glass Workshop, and began the revolution in varietal specific glassware, and extensive collaboration with wine sommelier organizations.

Along with the new interest in wine, the International Standards Organization’s ISO 3591:1977, was published in an effort to standardize wine evaluation procedures and glassware size. The ISO glass is of stemmed and convergent rim design, with a max capacity of only 7.27 oz., is the only such standard for beverage glassware. Largely ignored today by critics, it is not widely used, and is generally considered to be woefully inadequate for definitive tasting and evaluation and became a classic example of too little too late.

As a side note, although the ISO glass was designed for wine, the well-known spirits copita (sherry glass) closely resembles the shape and size proposed by the ISO, and for all practical purposes, blenders and distillers have actually, perhaps unknowingly, adopted the ISO wine glass as their own, even though it is a century older than the standard itself.

The work of Riedel, Spiegelau, Schott-Zwiesel, Rona, and Stolzle in Europe pioneered the larger bowl sizes, and longer stems of wine glasses commonly used today. Most popular red wine glasses have max capacities of about 22 oz, and accommodate a best fill level of around 5-6 oz.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAWxAAAAJGU3MDI2MjIyLTg5ZjQtNGNmZS1hOTY2LTFhMDU5YzdhZDU4NgAs early as 1974, Virginia Collings, a researcher at University of Pittsburgh, refuted D.P. Hanig’s tongue map, the standard explanation for taste in nearly every biology text for decades. This finding was again reinforced in 2004, when Gourmet magazine quoted findings by researcher Linda Bartoshuk (University of Florida) exposing Riedel’s dependence on the “tongue map” as invalid and unscientific.

Riedel had managed to move the industry to a varietal-specific concept with somewhere between 50 and 60 different glass shapes, and remains in control of the concept despite the tongue map issue. Riedel’s major contributions to olfactory awareness and larger wine glasses has been instrumental in glassware development, furthering the rapid growth of the wine knowledge and the industry. Due to the strength of Riedel’s marketing and acceptance of their quality glassware, many people still erroneously believe the tongue map must have some validity.

Enter the critic. The golden age of critics began in 1978 with the publication of The Wine Advocate, by lawyer-turned-oenophile Robert M. Parker, and many other critics also came to the forefront, all quickly adopting European wine glasses much larger than the puny glass defined by the ISO standard. Photographs, books, news articles, personal appearances, public tasting events, and social media exposure has permanently fixed public preference to the larger bowl, long stem glasses.

The critics have instructed the public in the intricacies of swirling, nosing and evaluating wines to the point where it has almost become second nature, and as never before, huge numbers of non-industry oenophiles are flocking to the sommelier schools to gain more education. Major magazines are providing buying guidance to the general public, and no judging event worth its medals would dare use small bowl stemless glassware. The wine glass appears to have achieved its own ultimate state of development.

Although the larger bowls permit better swirling and increased evaporation, rim sizes do not get proportionally larger with the bowl sizes, and designers conform to a single perceived but unwritten and unquantified “rule” to keep rim sizes to the small size required to prevent aromas from escaping olfactory detection.

Other than this single restriction, new wine glass design is still, as always, conceived and styled in a design studio, sent to evaluation panels for final decision, then to marketing departments to add the “science” spin. Almost never part of an original concept, “market science” provides compelling reasons to buy by applying the myth, romance, and magic of imagined, non-factual science).

Most recently observed in an article reviewing a well-known, expensive crystal wine glass are statements that the sharp angle of convergence “holds the alcohol down”. A high school scientist knows alcohol is the lightest stuff in the glass and it always hits the rim and the nose first, unless it is tightly covered.

Of course, the larger the disparity between bowl sizes and convergent rim diameters, the more one has to tilt the head back to get the last drop. Not surprisingly, most have adapted quite well to the inconvenient head-tilt of convergent rims as well as the handling of large bowls and long stems, and previous criticisms of head-tilt restrictions have all but vanished with acceptance of larger, even more convergent “burgundy bowl” style glasses.

Existing design and a few utility patents prove out this conclusion with minor physical changes to enhance air mixing, evaporation, swirling, or style. Recently, the single most radical departure in physical wine glass design has been the stemless “O” glass, introduced by Riedel in 2004, retaining the large bowls of their stemmed brethren. This simple variation places less costly nose-able glassware on more tables, and has at least gained a solid footing in the American market, in spite of the possibility of bowl fingerprints detracting from visual appearance.

Significant bowl size differences exist between white and red wine glasses, yet very few understand why. It is all about the drinking temperature of the wine than anything else. Major flavor profile differences between reds and whites are easily noted by drinking both red and white at 70 degrees F, side-by-side, in identical typical red wine glasses, then repeating with both chilled to about 55 degrees F in identical typical white wine glasses.

Both types of wine have very different flavor profiles. Serving whites colder slows aromatic evaporation subduing lighter, aromas even more, allowing fruity aromas to dominate. Smaller glasses collect the less available cold aromas near the nose, while for warmer red wines, larger bowls and swirling help volatize and oxidize aromas found in the red wine profile. Red wines served cold lose most of their aroma because lower temperature shuts down evaporation. Smaller white wine glasses boost intensity of the white wine flavor profile. At the very least, one needs a set each of red and white glasses. A few floral whites come alive in larger glasses, slightly chilled.

State of the art glassware technology currently concentrates on improving breakage resistance by the addition of various compounds such as magnesium and titanium, and little else novel has recently reached the marketplace. No doubt we will see future glasses of even stronger materials. Perhaps dashing the wine glass into the fireplace after a passionate toast will result in zero breakage accompanied by a cacophony of ringing as the undamaged glass bounces out onto the floor. What could possibly be next?

No doubt, new discoveries will continue to change the course of evolution and lead to new directions in thinking and enjoyment. For the most part, the shape of wine glasses has evolved on economics, the whims of the rich, and subjective considerations, with the great void of true science still left to be discovered.

In part 2 of 3, Evolution of the Spirits Glass, we will explore the development of spirits glassware, and in part 3, we will explore future possibilities and application of science to wine and spirits glassware design.

Author: George F Manska

I couldn’t believed what he did to his drink…



Discovering that glass shape can redirect strong alcohol away from the nose, coupled with years of development to find that perfect shape, Arsilica, Inc. released the patented NEAT glass in February 2012. NEAT dissipates alcohol so drinkers can detect and enjoy the subtler aromas of distilled spirits without nose burn.

With NEAT, one does not have to be a trained expert to find the attributes or flaws which hide behind overabundant nose-numbing alcohol in convergent rim glasses. The secret is in NEAT’s patented interactive function of neck and flared rim, and its low profile design, which display the more elusive aromas for easy detection.

NEAT promotes swirling (the enemy of the copita user) to power aroma evaporation, and its low profile places the nose closer to characteristic aromas lurking lower in the glass. The science has always been there, it just needed application.

NEAT (1) doesn’t need water, dissipating alcohol aroma on its own, without shutting down evaporation of other aromas (2) is not specific about spirit type, and belongs to all spirits, including cask strengths, and (3) is responsible for the increase in popularity of spirits among the ladies, who have far more sensitive noses than their male counterparts.

Less than 13% of drinkers believe strong alcohol is necessary to spirit aroma, and initially refuse to adopt the NEAT method, but growth in conversions to NEAT among these traditionalists is phenomenal. Die-hards will never smell many aromas that define the true character of their favorite spirit. Who ever said we absolutely had to have the smell of alcohol? The only reason alcohol aroma is present, is because no one could figure out how to eliminate it until NEAT came along. We all know the smell, and very few beyond the hopelessly addicted consider it pleasant.

Perhaps blenders should use a glass designed for drinking spirits full strength, the way consumers choose to drink. It would certainly make their job easier to nail an identifiable product profile that could be a hit with the consumer.

NEAT is already the official glass of most spirits competitions, and just as sure as cars replaced horses and cell phones replaced land lines, NEAT will likely replace any functionless glassware which destroys drinking enjoyment. Science built a better glass. More at    

feb 16

Why All the Fuss Over a Simple Spirits Glass? George Manska