Keeping an ample supply of whiskey — whether it’s American single malt, single malt Scotch, Irish whiskey, or bourbon — at the ready is a good thing, indeed. And whether you’re just getting into whiskey or you’re a true connoisseur, a whiskey decanter elevates your home bar selection and the very experience of whiskey drinking. Not only do they dress up the look of your bar or bar cart, but they also impart sophistication to the serving and drinking experience.
What Is a Whiskey Decanter?
A whiskey decanter is a container or vessel made out of glass or crystal that serves three purposes: storage, display, and dispensing of spirits. Typically, whiskey decanters are rectangular or cylindrical with short necks and matching stoppers. Designs vary, but they are usually found with stylized bodies and kept in view where the true color of whiskey can be seen and admired. In some cases, a whiskey decanter set with matching glasses accompany the decanter itself. Whether you drink your whiskey neat or on the rocks, a decanter can change the tone of the imbibing atmosphere.
What Is the Point of a Decanter For Whiskey?
Whiskey didn’t always come in glass bottles. Back in the 1700s, whiskey was predominantly stored in wooden barrels and sold to bars or retailers. Buyers would have to bring smaller receptacles like ceramic jugs in order to bring whiskey home. The origin of the decanter dates back to the Romans, and it re-emerged during the Renaissance. In the 1730s, British glassmakers added a stopper to the decanter to minimize oxidation. Affluent households wanted to serve their spirits in a more refined manner, and the decanter became the perfect aesthetically pleasing receptacle. Glass and crystal whiskey decanters, as a result, grew in popularity that started to wane in more everyday circles as glass bottles became cheaper in the 1900s.
Why Do You Need a Whiskey Decanter Today?
Now that all whiskey is sold in glass bottles, there really is no practical purpose to pouring it into a decanter. In fact, many whiskey bottles emulate the shape of decanters and come with labels that further dress up the look. Plus, those who imbibe regularly want to know which great whiskey they’re drinking, and leaving the liquid in the bottle makes that easy. However, even the fanciest whiskey bottle can’t elevate the display and serving experience the way a fancy decanter will. There’s no label to obscure the view of the honey-colored whiskey, and virtually all decanters are clear glass or crystal that allows untrammeled viewing. Pouring whiskey from nice decanter levels up the refinement for those who you’re serving. Just make sure to pour it from a beautiful decanter into an equally beautiful glass — no plastic tumblers, no juice glasses.
Is It OK To Leave Whiskey In a Decanter?
Whiskey doesn’t fall prey to the hazards of oxidation the way wine does. Wine decanters have wide bottoms and long necks to both expose wine to air and to separate the tannins from the liquid. This design opens up the wine’s flavor profile. The downside is that the flavor of wine rapidly changes. Whiskey isn’t nearly as vulnerable to flavor changes when it has been exposed to air over time (that said, it will change eventually so you shouldn’t leave a bottle or decanter open in the long term).
Whiskey changes due to a process known as dissipation, which essentially means that whiskey undergoes “breathing” in the presence of air, even if it’s just within the decanter. The more you drink, the more air gets introduced, as well as moisture from the surrounding environment. It’s essentially an evaporative process which changes the flavor the more frequently it’s exposed. The aroma and flavor molecules escape to the air through what’s known as “volatiles” (the higher the ABV, the more volatiles are present). For higher proof, cask strength whiskeys, this evaporative process generally mellows them out, while those with lower ABVs can be negatively affected. The truth, however, is that most whiskey drinkers won’t notice and won’t let a full decanter sit there unconsumed for very long at all. But if you leave the decanter open, chances are your whiskey will eventually go flat because it has lost the character that makes it so wonderful do drink. Rule of thumb: use the stopper when you’re not pouring, and your whiskey will remain mostly unaltered.
Another important thing to note is that some crystal decanters, particularly antique ones, use leaded crystal. Whiskey left over even a short time in a leaded crystal decanter will absorb some of that lead, which is obviously dangerous. While that decades or century old decanter may be beautiful, it’s always best to check that your decanter is lead free before using it to hold your whiskey.
The Best Whiskey Decanters
LeFonte Irish Cut Whiskey Decanter
For a pittance, you can get a beautiful decanter that looks like it cost you four times more than it does. Irish cut lead-free crystal means it has both beauty and heft, and this one holds a full 750 milliliter bottle. The large square stopper is textured, and it provides air tight protection of the precious contents.
Whiskey Decanter in Antique Grey with 24K Gold Leaf
The most expensive decanter in the set warrants its asking price with antique gray handblown glass in a soft square shape with a diamond pattern that plays with light. The stopper might be the most special aspect of the decanter with gold leaf applied to the outer band during the glassblowing process. The stopper is beveled for a tight seal to protect your favorite whiskey.
Nude No.9 Whisky Decanter
The Nude No.9 is a beautiful exercise in minimalism. The stopper caps off the cylindrical lead-free crystal decanter and matches its shape. The most dramatic aspects are the sculptural indentations in the stopper and the thick base, which both just happen to point to the very thing you want to drink, of which it holds a whopping 42 ounces (a little more than a standard bottle and a half) of the good stuff. This sucker weighs five pounds without the whiskey, so maybe do some curls first.
Glacier Glass Whiskey Decanter
Looking like it was carved from ultra-clear glacier ice, the Glacier decanter is wildly but still handsomely styled with a matching stopper. It’s crafted from Italian lead-free crystal and holds 750 milliliters. The way the surfaces play with light may convince you that you’ve consumed less than you actually have. Win.
Crate & Barrel Ezra Optic Decanter
Long, elegant, and multi-faceted, this crystal whiskey decanter is both modern and classic all at once. The Ezra Optic Decanter has a tapered stopper, neck, and base for optimal artfulness on top of your home bar. It holds about a bottle and a half of whiskey, which should provide both a visual and a palatal feast.
Waterford Markham Stacking Decanter & Tumblers
This decanter is as much of a topic of conversation as the whiskey you’re serving to guests. The decanter stacks on top of two matching Waterford crystal tumblers to make a single unit. It has a relatively small capacity of about half a standard bottle, but it’s a sacrifice that’s worth the beauty of the classic wedge cut stacking set.
Twine Chateau Whiskey Decanter
The Twine Chateau looks like it might qualify for a royal coronation. So ornate is the cutting of the lead-free crystal on the body and the stopper that it looks downright regal. The Twine Chateau’s intricate stopper is both beautiful and functional, and the tall and elegant decanter holds 26 oz of your favorite spirit, especially if it’s whiskey.