Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s Official Tasting Glass

Since a congressional resolution passed in 1964, bourbon has officially been America’s native spirit. More than 50 years later, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association has partnered with leading glass manufacturer Libbey to create the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s official tasting glass.

Jerry Moore, Libbey’s senior category manager for beverageware, calls it a “natural partnership.”

“Libbey’s got a really rich history; we’ve been in business for 199 years,” says Moore. “Bourbon in Kentucky goes back decades and decades. It’s total Americana and Libbey’s total Americana.”

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was established in 1999 by the KDA as a way to educate visitors about the bourbon distilling process. Together, the KDA and Libbey, which is sometimes called America’s Glassmaker™, have engineered a tasting glass that’s meant to be as American as the bourbon it holds.

Through the Tasting Glass

During the extensive design process, Libbey’s glass experts worked alongside master distillers and other representatives from the KDA to identify the best way to enhance the bourbon experience by sampling different bourbons from a variety of existing glasses and collecting data on the results.

“We tasted the bourbons and we noted which of the glasses we preferred and why,” explains Moore. “We took all that data from tasting bourbon out of those glasses and we designed this glass around the parameters that we learned out of the tastings. Then we did several revisions and different prototypes to land on this final design, which is the official tasting glass of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”

The official bourbon tasting glass of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, courtesy of Libbey.

The bourbon tasting glass features a heavy sham that’s more comfortable to hold, as well as a wide bowl and narrower neck that enhances the bourbon’s aroma and flavor without allowing the alcohol to become overwhelming. Though it’s billed as a tasting glass, Adam Johnson, senior director of Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences, says the glass was designed to be versatile – just like bourbon.

“It’s great on its own [and] it’s great in cocktails,” explains Johnson. “We needed a glass that mirrored that because there’s a lot of different ways that people like to enjoy their bourbon. For me, there’s some bourbons I love just neat, and it’s perfect for nosing or a tasting flight. A big chunky ice cube will fit [in the glass], unlike other tasting glasses, [because with] some bourbons you really like a little bit of ice or water just to open things up. I make my cocktails in it, too.”

Although there are several other glass options for whiskey enthusiasts – including a standard rocks glass and the popular Glencairn glass – the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s bourbon tasting glass has one clear advantage: it’s stackable. Carla Carlton, author of The Bourbon Babe blog and Barrel Strength Bourbon, explains why that could be such an advantage for bourbon enthusiasts.

“The Glencairn glass is a real tradition, I think, just for sipping whiskey in general, and of course bourbon is a type of whiskey,” says Carlton. “I probably have over two dozen Glencairn glasses that I’ve just collected for tastings, and pretty much any event you go to they give you a commemorative Glencairn glass. So I have a couple shelves in a cabinet that are devoted to these Glencairn glasses, and if I could stack them, it wouldn’t take up nearly as much room.”

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s official tasting glass is currently available online and at participating distilleries. Because the glass has been co-branded under the Libbey Master’s Reserve line of premium glassware, it will also be available for commercial use in restaurants and bars, where adequate storage space and broken glassware can often be a challenge.

“It’s such a well-made glass; it’s very durable,” adds Johnson. “Being able to stack these and make sure they’re not just gonna break every time you use them is a big selling point.”

It doesn’t impact either form or function, but one of the glass’s neatest features may be the Kentucky Bourbon Trail logo etched into the bottom. It serves as a subtle reminder of where the American spirit comes from.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail logo is etched on the bottom of the tasting glass.

New Glass, Old Spirit

The collaboration between Libbey and the KDA was announced in a press release on May 18, but development began in 2016. Coincidentally, the same year the Kentucky Bourbon Trail achieved 1 million visits, a new record.

“It’s hard to point to any one particular factor [for Kentucky bourbon’s growth],” says Johnson. “I think people like authentic things and stuff that you can’t really cheat your way through; bourbon is definitely one of those things. We’ve been making it really the same way for hundreds of years [and] I think people like that sense of an American product. I think the cocktail culture had a huge part to play in it.”

In addition to those factors, Johnson says the increasing popularity of the Trail has helped spread the word about Kentucky bourbon.

“With more and more visitors coming through, it’s really creating more brand ambassadors,” he says. “People get a lot of education and knowledge when they come here, and then they go back home and they tell their friends.”

Because Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s supply, the Kentucky bourbon industry is valued at $8.5 billion. That’s a lot of bourbon – so much bourbon, in fact, the KDA estimates there are 1.5 bourbon barrels per person living in the state.

Don’t like bourbon? Don’t worry – according to Carla Carlton, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s appeal isn’t limited to the smooth stuff they let you sip while you’re there.

“People have asked me before, ‘My wife or husband doesn’t drink bourbon. Should they come?’ I say absolutely, because you do get a tasting of bourbon at the end of the tour, but even if you don’t drink bourbon, I think it’s really interesting to see how it’s made,” says Carlton. “The distilleries are all located in really beautiful areas of the state, and it’s a great way for people to experience not just bourbon but also the culture and the beauty of Kentucky.”

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in English. She spends her free time playing tabletop and video games and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.