snifter has become an iconic image. Most people see them in movies, where they are held by the snooty rich at cocktail parties or by brooding men in smoking jackets. However, a brandy snifter is a real object, and has a genuine use in holding brandy for sipping.
The snifter is a cocktail glass holding about 17 ounces (502 ml) of liquid when filled to the brim. The glass is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, to concentrate the "nose" or fragrance of the brandy. A brandy snifter has a short stem and wide pedestal, giving it a characteristic shape. The wide bowl of the glass accommodates the hand, which warms the brandy for drinking.
Brandy came into Western culture sometime in the 12th century, probably. It is a distilled wine, and sounds like something a vintner did as an experiment. Distilling wine and aging it in wooden casks sounds counter-intuitive, but in this case, it worked. Traders discovered that wine would last much longer this way, and water could be added back in to the brandy when it was drunk. Adding water never caught on, though. People liked the more concentrated taste of brandewijn —- Dutch for "fire wine" -- and the distilled version became widely popular by about the 14th century.
As glassware became more popular in the 16th century, glass blowers were always looking for more designs to sell, and the snifter probably came into being sometime in that era. "Snifter," incidentally, is a British colloquialism for a small amount of alcohol in a glass. When drunk "properly," only a small amount of brandy is poured into the snifter, and it is held in the hand so the brandy warms from the hand's heat.
A brandy snifter may also be used to serve elaborate mixed drinks, recipes for which are available online. Most crystal makers sell some version of the brandy snifter, large or small, and they are also sold by standard glassware manufacturers. A brandy snifter can be purchased singly or in sets, in various sizes, and can also be used for decoration or as a vase.