Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Industry Leader of the Year”: Glencairn Crystal

February 25th, 2011

You might have a great whisky, but if you’re not drinking it out of a proper glass you won’t fully appreciate it.  This is true for any fine beverage. That’s why there are brandy snifters, sherry copitas, glasses designed specifically for Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on.

A decade ago, when it came to whisky, there was very little glassware to choose from.  Most consumers drank their whisky out of a traditional sturdy tumbler or “rocks” glass. More “refined” individuals drank it out of a brandy snifter. In the industry, master blenders were using “nosing glasses” that narrowed toward the top, but they are fragile to the point of not being practical for everyday consumer use.

What we needed was a whisky glass that was sturdy like a tumbler, but was shaped like a nosing glass. The few designs that were on the market didn’t (in our opinion) incorporate both concepts.

About a decade ago, Glencairn Crystal worked with leaders in the whisky blending industry to design a glass that would properly capture all the nuances of a fine whisky, while also being functional. And that’s exactly what they did. It has a sturdy, masculine base. The side isn’t thick and clunky — you can see all the whisky’s attributes, and it narrows toward the top to capture the whisky’s aroma. (As any blender will tell you, you can smell more than you can taste, so this is very important.)

The Glencairn Crystal whisky glass is now used by nearly all the major whisky companies in all the major distilling countries. It is also the leading whisky glass at various whisky festivals worldwide (including Malt Advocate’s own WhiskyFest). Glencairn didn’t just make the glass. They tirelessly promoted it to the industry and whisky consumers so it could be properly recognized and appreciated. (Okay, and maybe so they could make a buck or two in the process. Fair enough!)

True, there are other very nice whisky nosing and drinking glasses on the market, but none have become this much a fixture in the whisky world. And for good reason — it’s a great whisky glass. Congratulations to Ray Davidson, managing director, and everyone else at Glencairn for what you have done for whisky.

The “Distillery of the Year” will be announced here, tomorrow.

34 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Industry Leader of the Year”: Glencairn Crystal”

  1. Michael says:

    Great choice! I believe that many do not realize how important a proper whisky glass is.

  2. Scribe says:

    John, an inspired choice!! I did not, when first getting into Scotch and bourbons, appreciate the importance of the glass — until I visited my first WhiskyFest in New York. Taking home my first “door prize,” I realized how much more enjoyable the entire experience is with the right “hardware!” Congratulations to the Glencairn team!!

  3. ps says:

    Interesting! I didn’t realize the whisky glass was a relatively recent innovation.
    (I happen to use riedel whisky glasses that are very similar in shape)

  4. MaltExplorer says:

    Glencairn is definitely my favorite glass for whisky. Too bad that in some countries those are very hard to get.

  5. JWC says:

    long overdue. i use glencairns and other glasses for my bourbon and scotch. in the photo, what is in the orvw 23 decanter? it appears too light in color to be the actual orvw 23 juice. do they also sell the glasses that came with the orvw23 without any markings? looking forward to the distillery recognition.

  6. Vince says:

    Great Choice John!! I drink all of my whisky from a GlenCairn glass. It makes a big difference. Looking forward to the distillery of the year!

  7. two-bit cowboy says:

    Congratulations to Andy and the whole gang at Glencairn. Well deserved.

  8. Gary says:

    I enjoy all my whiskey in my Whiskey Fest GC Crystal. Definitely makes a difference.

  9. whiskymonique says:

    Always my favorite nosing and tasting glass. They have taken the time to perfect a design for a specific market and product. As opposed to other glassmakers (fine glassmakers… ) that want to design everything for everyone and end up missing the mark.

  10. DB says:

    I’ve acquired many Glencairn glasses throughout the past few yrs and love em. Good stuff!

  11. mongo says:

    i must be in a very small minority of people who don’t find these glasses to be anything special. they’re not comfortable in my hand, and i prefer these mini brandy snifters i got from crate and barrel, and also the whisky exchange’s single malts of scotland glasses (glencairn shape with a stem). port glasses are good too. i guess i prefer “feminine” bases….

    did glencairn do something different/new in 2010? or is this an award that recognizes a different industry leader each year?

    • Thomas W says:

      I actually own a lot of Glencarin glasses. However, I am so glad that someone prefers something different. The comments were getting single-sided, if you ask me. Some whiskies just like to be drunk in more… breakable glasses! Some whiskies even seem to demand tumblers with one cube of ice to be at their best. So variation is probably best. At least that’s my opinion and experience.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Glencairn glasses are allright, but they’re a pain to wash. It’s hard to get your finger all the way down to the bottom of them.

      I much prefer those Congac glasses that look like little Glencairn glasses with stems.

  12. Mary says:

    Spot On Choice! I can’t say enough good about these glasses – they have upped my enjoyment of whisky and rum tremendously! They are not overly expensive (like Riedel), they are sturdy but still elegant & they make that “ting” sound when you clink glasses. FYI: Amazon often has them 4 for 3 price & even if not 4/3, still best pricing I’ve found.

  13. Pat says:

    Don’t forget to get a cap/glass cover to go with the glass. Many times it is not included. Allows you to temper the amount of air exposure.

  14. sam k says:

    I keep about four different glassware types at my disposal, and find a time and place for each. The Glencairn is probably my number two most-used type, and I love them when the time is right. I think this was a very creative choice for the award.

    As much exposure as the Glencairn design has rightfully earned in the world of whiskey, no single glass is perfect in every given situation. Just look at John’s picture at the top of this page.

    • John Hansell says:

      That’s correct, Sam. Being the Industry Leader doesn’t mean Glencairn always best for any given situation. I have a bunch of different glasses, which I use at various times and for different reasons.

  15. Louis says:

    One nice thing about the Glencairn glasses is that you have to work hard to spill anything out of them.

  16. B.J. Reed says:

    Nice choice – I have been collecting these for years at whisky fest, distilleries and even hotels (Lochside on Islay) and now I have a large enough collection to share drams with friends and not run out of Glencairn glasses! (of course I will keep collecting) :)

  17. Ryan says:

    Very nice whisky glass. And since decanters are also pictured above, I shall add that I thoroughly dislike decanter packaging.

    • Me too – although I do enjoy having one in the house to encourage me to finish a particular bottle that would otherwise hide amongst the tall rounds!!! Although I suppose I should mention when Raymond first left Edinburgh Crystal to start up his own, it was special decanter presentations that helped him find his feet… Long before there was any interest in single malts!

      • Ryan says:

        That is interesting and understandable… corporate customer pockets are certainly deeper than this consumer’s. But I still don’t like decanter packaging:) Cheers, and congrats on the award.

  18. Wow! What a surprise and a privilege to be recognised like this. The glass has been around for nearly ten years, and having read the comments above I’m delighted to hear there is still lots of support for it from the educated audience. When my father conceived the idea of a glass for Whisky over 25 years ago, he wasn’t thinking of connoisseurs he was thinking of the average every day drinker who doesn’t give too much thought to his Whisky or Whiskey.

    We know there’s lots more work to be done and wish to thank everyone out there for their continued support!!

    I should say i got an email telling me about this only 1 hour ago… as I write this I’m sitting in ‘The Last Hurrah’ in Boston. Time for a dram!!!

  19. Mark C says:

    I don’t use anything else these days. It’s a modern classic.

  20. Henry H. says:

    After poo-pooing the need for special glassware for the first couple of years of my whisky-drinking life, I’ve become a convert. The Glencairn seems to focus the nose like no other. Nice to see them get this award.

    Must take issue, however, with your “sturdy” description, John. After reading some reviews describing the glass as nearly indestructible, I sprang for eight of them. I was down to four after only a few months. Unless treated quite gently, they break around the lip much too easily. No matter, I still love having them.

  21. sam k says:

    A great family portrait, too, I might add!

  22. bgulien says:

    I must be one of a few dissenting voices here. I don’t particularly like the Glencairn glass.
    It’s too heavy at the bottom.
    I like a stem to hold the glass for swirling the whisky around. With a stem you have more momentum to swirl.
    I mainly use tulip glasses with stem and the old copita nosing glass. I have a few Glencairn glasses, but mainly as gifts from distilleries. I never use them.
    Still Glencairn deserves to be recognized for trying, and reading the favorable comments, succeeded in making a “standard” glass.

  23. Congratulations Glencairn!

    As you say Andy, the glasses were designed to be used every day in the pub – they are fairly indestructible. They go down so well with the regulars at The Grill they help themselves to about six a week!

    Just came across your feature on Ralphy.com from a year or two back – can you give me a price for the large Glencairn Glass – seriously?

  24. Congratulations Glencairn Crystal on this most deserving award of “Industry Leader of the Year” not only for The Glencairn Glass but a fine line of products for and promotion of the whisky industry. We totally agree and that is why The Glencairn Glass is the only whisky glass we sell and use for all aspects of nosing and tasting all types of whisky / whiskey neat. We love these glasses and the Glencairn Cut Crystal Glass as well and would not think of using anything else for whisky tastings, personal use and even at the pub. We dislike trying to figure out how to hold on to brandy snifters, sherry copitas and any of the wine stem style glasses like Reidels. We love the heavy base and find them much more durable than anything but the cheapest rocks or shot glasses and we can say this after washing and using 1000’s of them.

  25. Jeffh says:

    The Glencairn glass has a great design. My only criticism is that the glass is too small, and I’d like to see larger sizes offered. So, keep the design and increase the size 1.5x – 2x in all dimensions. Or perhaps a glass with a stem, while retaining the Glencairn bowl. Like others, I use a variety of glasses depending on the ‘subject’.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      That’s a different perspective Jeffh. What I usually hear more often is that people feel the Glencairn glass is a little too large. As mentioned above, there are stemmed Congac glasses which are shaped like the Glencairn– Unfortunately though, they tend to be a little smaller– Maybe you should start your own glass making company ;)

  26. Nick T says:

    I wish these glasses went back to the original thickness. I have a 10 yr old glass from Talisker, it is much thicker than the Glencairn glasses available now. Very few people have noticed this change and the older glass was much much better.

    I hope someone comes out with a copy and not just in crystal.

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