Glass decanters come in so many shapes and sizes that collecting them becomes a huge project, or one is forced to specialize in only one or two types of glass decanters.
The glass decanter is, as the name specifies, a place to hold some form of liquid in a container that is not the storage container for the liquid. One decants wine to prepare to serve it. Some wines require time to breathe before they are served, and this is done in a decanter without a stopper, or with the stopper not placed in the new of the decanter.
Wine and hard liquor is frequently decanted to hide the brand or maker. Removing them from the labeled bottle makes then the “house” brand, whether better or worse than average. This occurs in private homes as well as restaurants and bars, and is at least more honest then pouring the lesser product into a better product’s bottle to pass it off as what it is not.
An old style decanter without (or missing) a stopper.
Water decanters hold water at more convenient places for use, like on the bedside table for the middle of the night. That way water is available if needed with getting out of bed. Frequently glass water bottles for bedside use have a drinking glass that either fits over the outside or into the neck of the decanter, serving as a cover and minimizing the space taken on the bedside table. These decanter/glass combination are quite useful. They have been made since before homes had running water, and are still made today.
Cut glass decanters are very elegant and quite beautiful when full of red wine or a colored whiskey. They grace a sideboard or bar and bring the serving of wine or hard liquor to the highest level of refinement. Even empty, cut glass decanters provide sparkle and light, an make the viewer glad. However, be careful of keeping hard liquor in a lead glass decanter too long, as the lead can be leeched out of the glass and into the liquid. The alcohol may also etch the inside of the decanter, leaving it partially frosted on the inside.
Decanter and glasses on a silver tray.
Modern glass decanter can be safely used for short-term storage and serving of liquids. They are usually strong enough to stand up to handling and cleaning with a mild soapy water and rinse clean. Try not to let anything dry in the bottom of these containers, as it may be difficult to get out later. At least rinse them once the liquid is served, and wash as soon as possible. You should treat the glasses the liquid is served in in the same manner.
Antique glass decanters, those that are more than one hundred years old, require a little more care. You will have to weight the risk of damage to the decanter against the pleasure of using it. This is especially true if the original stopper is included with the decanter. Many time one or the other is chipped or broken, leaving the remaining half of the pair to wander the earth alone. If your antique encompasses both pieces, consider carefully before using the decanter. Perhaps just looking at it is enough, while you serve from a modern glass decanter.