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What Does A Decanter Actually Do?

small bourbon decanter

Decanters are an elegant addition to bars, coffee tables and even the desks of high rolling suits on the big screen — think Mad Men and James Bond. With this in mind, you might find yourself scrolling through our collection of glass decanters and envisioning them in your very own home.

At the same time, you might also be wondering:

“What does a decanter do? Do I need a decanter?”

Decanters aren’t just decorative — in fact, decanters have multiple uses for home and bar owners who love fine wines and spirits. In this article, we share the ins and outs of decanters from their uses to their history and more. Read on!

Decanter meaning & history

pouring a whiskey from a decanter

Decanter’s meaning comes from the verb “decant” i.e. “to pour” as well as its Medieval Latin source “decanthare” i.e. “pour from the edge of a vessel”.

Throughout history, decanters have been important for serving red wine — the vessel would be filled with wine from amphoras and brought to the table where they could easily be handled by a single servant.

The Ancient Romans pioneered the use of glass decanters but after the fall of the Roman Empire, glass production became scarce. Until the Venetians reintroduced glass decanters during the Renaissance, the vessels were made of bronze, silver, gold and earthenware. The design of decanters also changed around this time — the Venetians made glass decanters with long, thin necks that opened to a wider body, exposing the surface area of the wine and allowing it to react with the air.

In the 1730s, British glass makers introduced a stopper to limit air exposure and encouraged bar keepers to use decanters to store all kinds of spirits tapped from aging barrels and casks, like:

  • Whiskey
  • Cognac
  • Rum
  • Bourbon
  • Brandy
  • Scotch
  • Vodka
  • Tequila
  • Gin

Decanter purpose & uses

pouring wine into a decanter

Decanters are a straightforward piece of glassware in purpose and principle. A decanter’s purpose is to store the decantation of a beverage and its sediment (if any).

Traditionally, decanters are used to serve wine with a lot of sediment (e.g. red wine). Sediment can be the result of old wine or wine that wasn’t filtered or clarified during the winemaking process — however, modern winemaking practices have reduced sediment in wine significantly, meaning there’s no pressing need to decant wine… but it’s certainly classy!

Another reason for decanting wine is to aerate it or let it “breathe”. You might have let wine “breathe” before by swirling it around in your wine glass — this stimulates the oxidation process and triggers the release of more aromatic compounds. This process can also smooth out some of the harsher elements of wine like tannins and wine faults.

When it comes to spirits like whiskey, a decanter’s purpose is wildly different.

  • Preservation
    Unlike wine, spirits like whiskey won’t necessarily improve over time. Leaving whiskey in an open bottle with air or “head space” will accelerate the oxidation process and can leave it tasting stale. If you’re going to open a nice bottle of whiskey, your best course of action is to pour it into a smaller storage bottle with a stopper (like a decanter) to preserve the delicious aromas.
  • Appearance
    Decanters come with a lot of aesthetic appeal. However, the visual benefit isn’t vain – if you love to entertain but want to keep spending to a minimum, a decanter can enhance the appeal of bottle shelf spirits. Of course, a decanter won’t make cheap spirits taste better but guests will appreciate the effort more.
  • Crowd control
    Again, when it comes to hosting an event, decanters can be both beautiful and practical. Brown liquor is best when shared but everyone has their limit when it comes to sharing an expensive drop — a decanter can be a sneaky way to keep track of your supply and avoid awkward conversations with a particularly thirsty whiskey drinker. After all, there’s only so much whiskey to go around!

Give your decanter a purpose of its own — shop decanters online at the Gift Factory

A decanter doesn’t have to be used for alcoholic beverages. A decanter can also be used to hold sparkling water, punch and other non-alcoholic drinks! There’s no limit to what you can serve out of a glass decanter — beverages will always seem special and sophisticated when poured from a decanter into a glass.

Find a luxe decanter to add some class to your bar online at the Barrel & Bar Gift Factory, or create something 100% unique for a friend or loved one! We design and engrave custom decanter sets in-house — just customise one of our existing designs or submit your own and we’ll engrave it for you.

Gift shopping has never been easier with the Barrel & Bar Gift Factory!

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