The Glencairn Whisky glass has become an indispensable accessory of the Whiskey aficionado as well as Whiskey bars around the globe. When you order a dram at the bar and it’s presented in a Glencairn glass you know that you are in an establishment that is serious about Whisky and Whisky service.
In just over a decade the iconic glass has become a staple in the industry. The distinctive shape of the glass is a physical representation of whiskey as is a silhouette of a still. This is a hell of an achievement.
The world famous Glencairn Whisky glass is the invention of Raymond Davidson. Davidson tweaked his initial design based on input he received from the master benders from the five largest Whisky companies. In 2001 the glass was introduced to the world and the rest is history as they say. The Glencairn Whisky glass is endorsed by the Scotch Whisky Association and in 2006 it won the Queen’s Award for innovation.
Recently I had the chance to catch up with Andy Davidson, the son of Raymond Davidson. We had a nice chat about the Whisky industry and the latest happenings at Glencairn Crystal (over pints and drams of course). Here is a portion of that conversation presented as a Q&A.
My Q&A with Andy Davidson of Glencairn
1. I have been told that the Glencairn Whisky glass was created out of the realization that Champagne, Wine, and Brandy all have their own glass but Whisky had no dedicated glass to best show its complex aromas and flavors. Tell me about the process of creating the glass and when was this done?
The short story is, my father Raymond has been a Whisky drinker all his adult life. When he first set up Glencairn in 1980 one of his earliest ideas was to design a glass for Whisky. This came from his frustration of being served whisky in anything from lowball tumblers to paris goblets, unlike most of his peers he wanted to appreciate the nose as well as the palate. I often wonder if growing up in the under-appreciated, but once prosperous, Whisky hub of Airdrie had any impact on his appreciation for Whisky… probably not, though it’s still home to Inverhouse and Burnstewart Distillers.
The initial sample was a good bit smaller than the glass we make today – largely because he preferred a smaller measure. Unfortunately in those days there wasn’t much single malt in demand or on the gantry with your choice pretty much restricted to Glenfiddich and Glen Grant. As other parts of the business took the focus of attention, The Glencairn Glass drifted onto the back burner and eventually into a filing cabinet.
In late 1999 just before malt Whisky as a category took off, my brother Paul found the sample and Raymond explained the story to it. Paul took it to Master Blender Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay and asked him to describe the ideal glass for drinking whisky in a bar. He pretty much described the Glencairn Glass. From that initial conversation, they rallied five Master Blenders from five of the largest Whisky companies and asked them to help develop the glass – what you see today is the end result. A glass, specifically designed in consultation with the experts… for Whisky. It finally launched in 2001 and in 2008 we moved all our production to lead free crystal.
2. When your family first created the now iconic Glencairn Whisky glass did they imagine that it would become a required tool for nearly every distiller and Whisky drinker?
That was always Raymond’s ambition, but for the record he never envisioned it as a connoisseurs glass – he always saw it as a glass for the average Whisky drinker. Needless to say he is incredibly pleased with how successful the glass has been. We all view it as part of the global apparatus to encourage the appreciation of Whisk(e)y not just the consumption.
The shape and size has proven to be hugely successful. I find when filled to the widest point in the bowl with spirit (wood aged in particular) it really does shine above pretty much every other glass out there. I think it is the perfect balance between function and form and if you’re into spirits then you have a duty to try out different shapes of glass because there is no two ways about it – the shape of the vessel you use to consume spirit makes a difference. Unless you’re injecting/snorting/eyeballing/mixing, etc. I simply don’t understand why people would serve expensive spirits neat in anything but a glass that was at least tulip shaped. I suppose to toe the company line I should say, “anything other than a Glencairn!” but I’m first and foremost a Whisky/spirit drinker. However, if you want the best possible experience I’d be lying if I said anything.
3. What other types of glass and accessories are crafted at Glencairn Crystal?
We do everything from hundreds of thousands of crystal rocks tumblers for Johnnie Walker Blue to One-Off decanters for some of the oldest spirits in the world. The Glencairn Glass was based on the traditional sherry nosing copita, which we still produce and supply to distillery labs around the world.
4. What is your current big growth item at Glencairn?
The demand for special bottles and decanters is still soaring as aged stock becomes more in demand and people who own single casks look to do something special with the presentation. It’s funny that this was what Raymond wanted to do when he first started the business, but back then people didn’t think anyone would really be prepared to pay the extra for their Whisky in an expensive container! The Glencairn Glass is still just scratching the surface in many markets – so we’re busy banging the drum all the time!
5. Are there any current or developing projects that you can tell us about?
Most of our work is top secret until it launches and more often than not we’re the silent unsung partners. However, there is always on-going work in the Whisky world so I know there are some exceptional limited releases on the horizon as well as some exciting developments in Asia. Unfortunately I can’t name any in case I get myself into trouble but suffice to say I’m excited about quite a few products that are in the pipeline…