We all know the scene. An important Don Draper/Jack Donaghy-looking businessman walks to a sideboard in his office and pours himself a glass of brown spirits from a crystal bottle. It’s a scene that’s become so ubiquitous that it’s one of the first things most of us think of when we think of whiskey decanters, but have whiskey decanters always been seemingly the exclusive province of wealthy executives?
Drinking on the job and potential workplace misogyny aside, the answer is yes and no.
Up until the late 1800s when bottling became prevalent, if you wanted whiskey, you had to get it from a wholesaler, like a store or a tavern. The tavern would keep their whiskey in big barrels, and if you wanted to bring some home with you, you needed a vessel to transport it in. The wealthy would transport and store their whiskey in pretty bottles. So yes, decanters were for the wealthy, but they were (and still are) largely kept at home.
I spent more than a decade working in bars and have amassed quite a home bar over the years, and I must say, drinking your whiskey out of a pretty crystal bottle sure beats pouring it from a big brown jug with three large black Xs on it. While whiskey decanters are still something of a luxury item, they’re more accessible (and affordable) than ever. They elevate any home bar and make fantastic gifts, but with so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out what’s right for you. That’s why I put together this guide on how to find the best whiskey decanter.
Bottom Line Up Front
When shopping for a whiskey decanter, look for a sturdy vessel with a strong seal. Avoid vintage or lead crystal, as they can result in lead leaching into your whiskey (yes, really!) Beyond that, the most important thing is whether you like the decanter’s style, so choose something that you think looks good!
Of the decanters that I tried, I liked the Irish Cut Whiskey Decanter from Viski the best. It’s a beautiful cut-crystal piece that was easy to pour from and felt great in my hand.
There are plenty of reasons why you might want to decant wine. It helps to aerate the wine, softening tannins and mellowing flavors, and it helps to remove sediment that can occur in older or natural wines.
Whiskey, on the other hand, is ready to drink when it’s bottled. It doesn’t age in the bottle like wine, so an 18 yr single malt Scotch will always be an 18 yr single malt Scotch, regardless of how long it’s been sitting on your shelf.
Pouring your whiskey into a decanter won’t really change its flavor much, so why would you decant whiskey?
The Short Answer is Because it Looks Cool.
Unlike wine, decanting whiskey isn’t really going to change the way it tastes. Whiskey has a pretty high alcohol content, so it’s unlikely that the flavors will transform much in the bottle. This is good and bad since you really won’t be able to “aerate” your whiskey to mellow out the flavors the way you can with wine (if that’s what you’re looking for), but your whiskey is also unlikely to become oxidized and take on off-flavors.
(Note: some people swear decanting whiskey makes a difference in the aromatics of the spirit, but there isn’t really any conclusive evidence either way. I tend to believe that pouring it into the glass releases enough aroma. Or better yet, I’ll have an excuse to give it a healthy swirl around the glass so I can look extra cool while pondering the meaning of life — or watching superhero movies — with my friends.)
Whiskey decanters aren’t really necessary, but if you like the way they look, that should be reason enough alone to decant your whiskey.
It Adds to the Ritual
It’s no secret that we humans love our little traditions and rituals, especially when it comes to food and drinks. In the same way that a particular tea setup or a meaningful champagne toast can heighten your experience, pouring your whiskey from a pretty vessel can make it feel all the more special.
A Decanter Can Replace Ugly or Faulty Bottles
Say you go to pour yourself a glass of whiskey, and you accidentally break the cork stopper in your hand. Or maybe you drop the bottle at just the right angle, and a crack starts to form.
Decanter to the rescue!
You can transfer your whiskey from the damaged bottle into a decanter, and no one will be the wiser. The same holds true for ugly bottles that just have no place on display on your thoughtfully curated bar. I’m looking at you, Bruichladdich.
You Can Store and Serve Your Concoctions
A decanter is a great way to display your house-infused whiskey. Just note that depending on what you’re infusing the whiskey with, it may become cloudy or even oxidize quicker. A whiskey infused with cinnamon sticks (that have since been removed) will last a lot longer on your shelf than a bourbon infused with fresh peaches — but both will look (and taste!) great when you serve them out of a decanter at your dinner party.
How to Spot the Difference Between a Whiskey or Wine Decanter
You don’t use wine decanters and whiskey decanters for the same reasons, so it stands to reason that you wouldn’t use the same decanters for both purposes.
Wine decanters are usually large, sweeping or ballooning glass pieces. They’re meant to aerate wine and add a little showmanship to your dinner. Since you would normally serve the wine as soon as a few minutes and no more than a few hours after you’ve decanted it, these decanters don’t come with stoppers. In fact, the mouths of wine decanters are often larger and more vase-like than whiskey decanters.
Since whiskey decanters are meant to keep your whiskey safe over longer periods of time, they’re often sturdier and smaller than wine decanters. These will come with a stopper to prevent dust from entering the bottle and keep your whiskey from oxidizing.
One final note before we move on: I wouldn’t recommend holding your whiskey in a decanter indefinitely. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend keeping any open bottle of whiskey indefinitely. Although it happens slowly, it is possible for whiskey to oxidize over long stretches of time, so make sure your seal is airtight and try to enjoy your decanted whiskey within a year, especially if there’s a lot of headspace in the bottle. Oxidized whiskey probably won’t kill you, but it won’t taste great, either.
Also, note that when exposed to too much light or heat, your whiskey can become cloudy, so make sure you store your whiskey properly, especially if it’s in a clear decanter. The cloudiness won’t hurt you; it just doesn’t look as nice (especially after you went through all that effort to put it into a nice decanter!)
What to Look for in a Whiskey Decanter
Not all whiskey decanters are created equal. Pay attention to the following features when choosing the best whiskey decanter.
Design and Aesthetics
Since whiskey decanters are primarily decorative, it doesn’t really make sense to purchase one if you don’t like the way it looks. You can match it to the rest of your home decor or just go for a style that speaks to you and makes you happy. Just make sure it meets all of the criteria below as well!
The size of your whiskey decanter is pretty important, especially since you’re going to want to display it somewhere. First, consider the volume that the decanter holds. Does it hold a full bottle’s worth of whiskey? If you often entertain large groups of friends, you might opt for a larger size decanter.
It’s also important to pay attention to the height of the decanter. Does it fit in your liquor cabinet or on the shelf where you intend to display it? You’re also going to want to consider the footprint of the decanter when determining whether or not it fits in your space.
Aesthetics aren’t the only thing that will be affected by the shape of your whiskey decanter. It’s important to find a decanter that looks nice, but make sure you pay attention to the following as well:
- Can you get a good grip on the bottle? If you need two hands to pour a glass of whiskey, you run the risk of looking like a child in front of your important business friends.
- How easy is it to pour out of? Does your precious whiskey trickle down the side of the decanter when you tip it toward your glass?
- How easy is it to clean? There’s a good chance you’ll need a bottle brush to really scrub the inside of the decanter, but are there narrow twists and turns in the bottle that would even give a plumber’s snake a run for its money?
Most whiskey decanters will be made from glass or crystal. There are upsides to both, but I prefer lead-free crystal for a whiskey decanter.
- Glass decanters tend to be less expensive than crystal. They’re relatively durable, as long as the walls are thick enough (which is more of an issue in wine or cocktail glasses.)
- Crystal decanters are more expensive and sparklier than glass decanters. Crystal is made from glass with minerals added to it (traditionally lead, more on that below.) The additional minerals make the glass stronger, so it can be spun thinner and cut into intricate facets while still maintaining its durability.
Lead vs. Lead-Free Crystal
Traditional crystal is made with the inclusion of lead oxide in glass. It makes the glass heavier, sparklier, more durable, and easier to manipulate for manufacturers. The unfortunate drawback to this is — well — lead. Over time, lead can leach out of the glass and into your drink. This isn’t much of an issue when you’re drinking wine out of Grandma’s vintage crystal goblets since the wine isn’t in contact with the glass for too long, but if you’re storing whiskey in a lead crystal decanter for even a few days, you could run the risk of exposing yourself to lead.
Luckily, modern innovation has brought us lead-free crystal. It’s made using other (non-poisonous) oxides in place of the lead, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally lacing your whiskey with something terrible. It’s still sparkly and durable and even tends to be dishwasher safe, unlike lead crystal!
So how do you spot the difference? The only way to know for sure is to buy your decanter from a reputable seller who can get you that information from the manufacturer. Most contemporary decanters will have the information right on the box or on the online product description. If you’re not positive, you can try holding a piece of crystal up to the light. If you see a lot of rainbow-colored refraction, there’s a good chance it’s lead crystal. If you’re buying a vintage decanter, you should probably assume there’s lead in it. Holding it and having it in your home won’t harm you, but it’s better left as a display piece rather than for storing whiskey that you intend to drink.
Stopper and Seal
It’s always great to be able to inspect the stopper of your decanter in person, but if you’re unable to because you’re shopping online (because who am I kidding — aren’t we all?), look for closeup photos of the stopper or comb the product description. You want your bottle to be airtight, or at least mostly airtight, so that the whiskey doesn’t oxidize and debris or dust don’t enter the bottle.
A plain glass or crystal stopper will block most dust from entering the bottle, but a stopper with a plastic or rubber seal on it is ideal. Natural cork also works well for keeping your bottle airtight but will dry out, deteriorate, and crumble over time. Depending on the whiskey, your decanter might even have a better seal than the bottle that it came in.
As with everything, you should determine your budget before you begin shopping for a whiskey decanter. Since decanters are luxury items, the sky really is the limit when it comes to their prices. Luckily, there are plenty of options available for all budgets. Since a whiskey decanter is something you want, not something you need, I would recommend that you look for the best quality within your budget but don’t feel the need to spend a lot of money for what is essentially expensive (and temporary) clothing for your whiskey.
Where to Find the Best Whiskey Decanters
There are plenty of places to find whiskey decanters for sale, but I would suggest buying one from a reputable bar supply company such as Viski, a home goods shop like Bed Bath and Beyond, or a department store like Macy’s.
You can find a whiskey decanter or whiskey decanter set, which comes with matching whiskey glasses, on websites like Amazon, but make sure that the listing includes an accurate product description. I wouldn’t recommend getting your decanter from an antique store unless you don’t intend to drink out of it. You’ll run the risk of ending up with a lead crystal piece.
Testing Some of the Best Whiskey Decanters
I tested out some whiskey decanters from Viski and considered all of the criteria I outlined above. I was impressed by their website’s detailed product descriptions and their selection, which included single decanters and decanter sets that came with matching whiskey glasses.
Prism Whiskey Decanter
This decanter is heavy! I was actually pretty amazed at how solid this Prism Whiskey Decanter from Viski felt. I wasn’t about to try, but I felt like this decanter could probably take a bit of a beating.
I really like the way this decanter looks. The cut crystal design is sparkly but not overly fussy-looking. It’s luxurious but not high-maintenance. This would be a great piece for a cool, modern home bar.
It was a little too wide for my smallish hands, which, combined with the decanter’s weight, made pouring a little uncomfortable. It wasn’t terrible, and I didn’t need two hands, but I was a little nervous it was going to slip and come crashing down on my whiskey glass!
I like that it’s large enough to hold a full bottle of whiskey, but the stopper is made completely from crystal with no rubber seal, which means it’s not completely airtight, so I probably wouldn’t fill the bottle with more whiskey than I thought I would drink within a few months.
The decanter was pretty easy to clean with a soft bottle brush. Since it’s so sturdy, I wasn’t really worried about shattering it.
- Made from lead-free crystal
- Holds 28.75 oz
- Dishwasher safe (hand wash recommended)
- It feels very sturdy.
- It holds a full 750ml bottle of whiskey.
- The shape, combined with how heavy the crystal is, made this a little awkward for me to pour. If you have larger hands, you might not have that problem.
- I wish the seal was airtight.
Irish Cut Whiskey Decanter
The Irish Cut Whiskey Decanter from Viski is even prettier in person than it is in the pictures. While I thought I’d prefer the cooler, more contemporary style of the Prism decanter, this one had me once I saw the way that the facets sparkled in the light.
I wouldn’t say that it’s “delicate,” but this decanter is definitely smaller and lighter than the first one I tried. The slim design made it very easy to get a good grip for pouring.
One thing I didn’t like is that this decanter only holds a little more than half a bottle’s worth of whiskey, so you’ll be stuck hiding the remainder of the bottle in a cabinet somewhere, at least at first. I also wish the stopper had some sort of rubber seal on it. At least the fact that the decanter is smaller means that there’s less space for air to potentially oxidize your whiskey.
According to the packaging and website, this decanter is dishwasher safe, though I don’t think I would try it. It’s easy enough to hand wash with a soft bottle brush.
- Made from lead-free crystal
- Holds 15 oz
- Dishwasher safe (hand wash recommended)
- This decanter is very easy to pour from using just one hand.
- The slim shape of the bottle means that it will be easy to store or display, even if you have limited space.
- It doesn’t hold a full bottle of whiskey.
- The crystal stopper doesn’t form an airtight seal.
Globe Liquor Decanter
Despite my minimalist sensibilities, I was charmed by Viski’s Globe Liquor Decanter.
I’ve seen a lot of over-the-top decanters that are borderline silly, and I was worried this one might look a bit gimmicky. I was very pleasantly surprised, though. It’s still a statement piece, but they managed to reign in the design just enough that the decanter doesn’t look cheesy.
Putting it all together
My biggest complaint about the globe decanter is that it felt very fragile. The glass feels thin, and the neck is much more delicate than the other decanters I tried out. That, combined with the fact that the globe needed to be either balancing on its stand or rolling around on the table, meant that I was a bit nervous to let my guard down around this one.
I liked that the decanter came with a small funnel. It was a thoughtful touch, and I like the attention to detail, especially if I were going to give this as a gift. Filling the decanter proved to be a bit tricky, however, since it doesn’t have a flat base to rest on. I had to hold the decanter upright with one hand while making sure the funnel stayed balanced on top and pouring whiskey into it with my other hand. It wasn’t exactly an acrobatic feat, but I would have appreciated a way to set the globe upright without assistance. I have a feeling that had I chosen to pour from a more unwieldy whiskey bottle — something like Willett Pot Still Bourbon — I might have needed to call in for backup.
The bottle stopper is made from glass and natural cork. Cork tends to wear out over time and can dry out and crumble, but I was hoping it would at least allow for a tight seal. Unfortunately, it sat a little bit loose in the mouth of the decanter. I might have been able to force it in further, but I was worried if I tried, I might break the delicate neck of the decanter.
The stopper is pretty, but felt a little loose
Cleaning the decanter also proved to be tricky. I didn’t have a bottle brush that was long and narrow enough, and I felt like I had to treat the decanter with a lot of care to avoid accidentally breaking it. I ended up just rinsing it with some warm water and calling it a day. I think with the right size bottle brush, it would be easier to clean; just make sure you use a soft brush and a gentle touch.
All told, I think this decanter might be more of a showpiece than something I would store one of my everyday spirits in. It looks nice sitting on a shelf and would make an excellent gift, especially for the price (it costs less than $50), but I think I would eventually break it with repeated, regular use.
- Made from wood and glass
- Holds 32 oz
- Hand wash only
- It’s a conversation piece and would make a fantastic gift.
- It holds a surprising amount of liquid — more than a full 750ml bottle.
- The included funnel for filling the decanter was a nice touch.
- The globe is made of glass and feels fragile, especially since it doesn’t have a flat base to rest on when it’s not in the stand.
- It was somewhat difficult to fill.
- The stopper felt a bit loose.
Answer: I would recommend keeping your whiskey in a decanter for no more than a year, depending on how airtight the seal is and how full the decanter is. The less whiskey you have in a decanter (and consequently the more air), the faster it will oxidize.
Answer: Unopened whiskey will keep indefinitely. Once a bottle of whiskey has been opened, it begins to slowly oxidize. While oxidized whiskey probably won’t hurt you, it might not taste the way it was meant to.
Answer: You should not store whiskey in a lead crystal decanter. While there are some gorgeous vintage decanters, the crystal is made with lead oxide in it, which can leach into your whiskey and poison you. While it’s best not to eat or drink anything served from lead crystal, acidic things, such as whiskey, will cause the lead to leach from the crystal at a faster rate. Combine that with the length of time you would typically keep your whiskey sitting in a decanter, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
While I can’t say I condone knocking one back in the middle of your work day, a whiskey decanter is a great way to add some style and ritual to your home bar and elevate your drinking experience. Decanters also make thoughtful gifts, especially since you can display several on your bar filled with different spirits.
Of the decanters I tested, I was surprised that the Irish Cut Whiskey Decanter was my favorite! Based on their website photos, I was sure it would be the Prism Whiskey Decanter, but the Irish Cut decanter was just so much more comfortable to pour from!
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