I was recently watching the Columbo episode "Ashes to Ashes". In one scene a lady stands in front of several decanters, filled with spirits of the same'ish color, and asks if she can help herself (see picture).lady in front of several decanters

Columbo tells her this is no problem, but she should keep her hands off the Scotch. She replies that she's a Bourbon lady anyway and goes (like a homing missile) for one decanter and pours herself a bourbon.

Now, I was wondering, how could she possibly know which decanter contains bourbon? She didn't smell it, it's the first time she entered this house, the only thing I see are the different decanter shapes.

Thus my question, is/was there a standard for certain spirits and their decanter shape? (or is this some kind of mistake in the tv series?)

1 Answer 1


Is there a standard for spirits and their decanter shapes?

The short answer seems to be no.

There seems to be no known standard for spirits or wine and their decanter shapes. Historically, I can find no basis for any movie to suggest there was. Obviously, not everything on TV should be taken as true, but with a grain of salt.

There seems to be main two reasons that people decant their wines. The first reason being that there is sometimes sediment in a bottle of wine and decanting wine allows sorts that sediment. The other reason that wine is decanted is to let it breathe and bring the flavor out.

Decanters And Dining Customs

Many British dining customs relied on the decanter. It was traditional to keep the glasses and bottles on a sideboard during a dinner party rather than on the table- they were only really handled by servants. However it was often the preference of the men of the group to continue drinking after the meal was over and the wives and children had retired to bed.

This lead to a lot of wine being passed around, and the unique shape of the decanter was considered to be more pleasing for this uses than the dark green bottles, as well as less likely to spill while being passed between the men. The business man George Ravenscroft (1632-1683) was one of the first people to notice that a decanter would be more appropriate for this purpose; he therefore pioneered their introduction to the English aristocracy.

The only shortcoming of this custom was the fact that, with decanters, the drinkers would not know the contents of the bottle they had been passed: hence the invention of the silver bottle label/ ticket which would be hung around the neck of a glass or silver decanter announcing its delicious contents.

A standard decanter holds 750ml of liquid.

A decanter is a vessel that is used to hold the decantation of a liquid (such as wine) which may contain sediment. Decanters, which have a varied shape and design, have been traditionally made from glass or crystal. Their volume is usually equivalent to one standard bottle of wine (0.75 litre).

Although conceived for wine, other alcoholic beverages, such as cognac or single malt Scotch whisky, are often stored and served in stoppered decanters. Certain cognacs and malt whiskies are sold in decanters such as the 50-year-old single malt Dalmore or the Bowmore Distillery 22 Year Old.

Decanter with stopper

As of today, there is no stated standard for decanter shapes, one’s imagination is the limit!

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