Tumbler Tradition

Tumbler Tradition

August Outturn 2023 Article


A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure (?) of reaching a so-called milestone birthday. The sort of milestone where I am now, officially, middle-aged. Of course, there are many signs and signals you’ve reached middle age long before you officially get there. Many of those signals are physical: You’re simply not as active, fast, agile, strong, flexible, and resilient as you used to be. Some of the signs are mental: Your patience and attention span are tested more frequently; your memory is less reliable; and you tend to be quickly dismissive of things you consider to be less important or relevant in your life. You also find yourself watching more cooking shows and being increasingly vocal about how much better the music of the 70s and 80s was than the nonsense served up today. For me personally, however, one of the key signals of approaching middle age was more unusual: I occasionally found myself pouring my drams into a traditional tumbler glass. Oh, the irony.

If you’re wondering where the irony lies, it actually borders on hypocrisy. Why? Because I have long been one of the loudest and most passionate advocates for ensuring whisky is served in appropriate glassware, designed to facilitate appreciation of the spirit’s aroma. Copitas, snifters, XL5s, brandy balloons, SMWS glasses, and the now-ubiquitous Glencairn glass…if you weren’t enjoying your dram out of one of these glasses, I was convinced you weren’t enjoying your dram! 

When I’m engaged by the corporate or private sectors to host and present a whisky tasting, the first thing I lock down — even before discussing the whiskies and the budget — is ensuring that appropriate glasses are supplied for the event. (It is, understandably, a challenging and confusing exercise trying to explain to someone that the traditional whisky tumbler is, in fact, the worst possible glass for a whisky tasting!) Indeed, one of the earliest articles I wrote for and contributed to another publication over 20 years ago — long before the arrival of the Glencairn — was all about the importance of glassware. And yet, here I am now, coming home at the end of a long day and occasionally splashing my whisky into a tumbler.

So, what’s changed? Well, in a sense, nothing. Don’t get me wrong: When it comes to whisky appreciation and, indeed, critical analysis and assessment of a whisky, there is no substitute. It’s essential that the whisky be served in a glass that captures, concentrates, and delivers the whisky’s aroma, bouquet, vapours, and volatiles to your nose. A traditional tumbler will not and cannot cut it. In such matters of the spirit, I am a staunch fundamentalist. And yet somewhere, somehow, I have clearly mellowed. Hmmm…just like whisky, is that not what aging is all about?

On reflection, the traditional tumbler glass does have its merits. Heck, it’s even in the name: Traditional! It’s easy and comfortable to hold in the hand; it’s stable on the table and less likely to be knocked over; and — if you’re that way inclined — you can add ice to your drink and enjoy it on the rocks. The pragmatist in me even acknowledges it stands better when inverted in your dishwasher and won’t topple or collapse to one side, as Glencairn’s invariably do! Sure, the tumbler is terrible at allowing you to discern and pick apart a whisky’s nose…but then there are times when you’re less focussed or intent on undertaking such analysis. Particularly when you’re busy, distracted, or simply tired. Sometimes, you simply want to drink and not think.

The Society also hits a milestone birthday this year. However, unlike us mere mortals, The Society has done the opposite of mellowing over time. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s ramped things up. It’s got busier and more active. Mind you, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Life begins at forty, right?


Cheers, AD.


This article is featured in August 2023 Outturn — bottles will be available to purchase on Friday the 4th of August at midday AEST exclusively to members of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Not a member? Click here to learn more about the world’s most colourful whisky club.


About the Author:

Andrew is a Director of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Australia, and is also its Cellarmaster and its State Manager for NSW, roles he's held since 2005. He describes himself as a whisky presenter, host, educator, taster, and writer!

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