The Unique Origin Story Behind Neat Bourbon Glasses

Order a bourbon Neat at your local bar and you'll probably get a shot served straight up in a rocks glass. If you happen to be sampling the wares at a bourbon-centric venue though, you may find yourself sipping from a glass that looks more like a mini-vase than barware. If so, what you have in your hand is the ultimate tasting glass; a finely tuned vessel crafted to reveal even the most subtle nuances of bourbon. It's called Neat, an acronym for naturally engineered aroma technology. The prototype for the specially engineered barware was created by accident in 2002. It all came about because its inventor forgot to run his dishwasher.

In the early 2000s, George Manska, a longtime engineer with Ford Motor Company, met Dale Chihuly, a world-renowned glass artist, at a wine-tasting event. The two got to talking, and Manska came away from the conversation inspired to try his hand at glass blowing. He didn't have much luck. In fact, most of his creations ended up tucked away in a storage cabinet. Then one day, Manska was about to pour himself a shot of Scotch when he realized he was out of clean glasses. The company website shares the tale. "I noticed my 'mistake' glass on the shelf," Manska said. "It seemed to be calling, 'Try me!'" He grabbed the glass, poured himself a couple of fingers, took a sip, and realized he was tasting depths of the whiskey he had never previously experienced.

The nose always knows

Intrigued, Manska realized he had stumbled upon a new dimension in whisky tasting, but he wasn't sure exactly what it was. To get to the bottom of the matter, Manska enlisted glass-coating specialist Christine Crnek. Together, the two recruited Spencer Steinberg, a University of Las Vegas professor who specializes in environmental analytical chemistry, to help solve the mystery. In turn, Steinberg created tests to compare Manska's Neat glass to existing barware. The goal was to determine if the unique shape of Manska's (almost) throw-away art project changed the way a taster experienced bourbon.

"What I found was that because of the shape of (the Neat) glass, a drinker could actually get their nose closer to the surface of the whiskey and at a position where they were more likely to inhale fatty acid ethyl esters," Steinberg told the University of Las Vegas News Center in 2012. In other words, the tulip-shaped rim of the glass funnels the aromatic burn of ethanol away from the nose, letting nuances of the bourbon shine.

It took a decade to get the uniquely shaped glass to market, and it's still a rarity in bars and restaurants, but it's made a definite impression in the world of the bourbon elite. It's the judging glass of choice at more than three dozen international spirits contests annually, including San Francisco World Spirits where, according to a YouTube video shared by Neat Glass, competition judge Tim McDonald of Wine Spoken Here, once compared the Neat glass to the evolution of wine glasses in their various shapes and sizes.