Reader Paul Moody writes: Is there any real reason to decant a bourbon? There seems to be a good selection of crystal decanters to be found on the market these days, but are they primarily for style and looks?
They are strictly for looks.
Decanting wine is done to aerate the wine and minimize the amount of sediment you get in your glass, but these aren’t real concerns with spirits, which don’t change after they reach the bottle. Yes, a spirit will often “open up” after it’s sat in a glass for a few minutes, but that’s due to alcohol evaporating. That doesn’t happen in a sealed decanter.
There’s actually a reason to avoid decanters, too: With leaded crystal (which comprises the majority of crystal glassware), there’s serious concern that lead can leach out of the glass and into your spirit. If you’re drinking wine from a leaded crystal decanter over the course of a few hours, that contact’s not likely to be a problem. Leave that whiskey in the decanter for a few years and it may very well become one. The FDA has even said that alcoholic beverages are even more at risk of this happening, with substantial effects seen after just a few days of exposure to the leaded crystal.