Glencairn Glass – officially the best.

Any port in a storm, the sailors say, and any drinking vessel when the spirits demand, I say.   I’m not a fussy drinker, especially in an emergency. I loved Chieftain’s Cigar Malt, albeit from flimsy plastic cups, cramped up in Air Chance cattle class en route from Havana to Paris. I arranged a party during a 12-hour layover at Charles De Gaulle, where my touring companions and I drank Veuve Clicquot from paper cups. I can handle mild inconvenience;)

But what when one wants to get it right. What does one do when there is no rush, no shortage of time nor implements, simply a need to taste whisky in the best way possible? It seems that the world (not South Africa, yet) has moved to the Glencairn Glass as the official glass of the Whisky Magazine festivals.  I have a few of these glasses at home and use them when I want to really focus on what I am drinking and write tasting notes.

In 2001 Glencairn Crystal identified the ideal glass for whisky. Raymond Davidson designed it some 25 years earlier. The plans remained in his drawer until his sons got hold of them and moved ahead with the project. The final, perfected design was the result of a collaborative effort by Davidson and the master blenders from the five largest whisky companies around the world

They say the glass was “Designed to help educate the consumer and encourage the average whisky drinker to enhance the experience through nosing their whisky. The design of the glass has its roots in the traditional nosing glasses used by blenders around the world. The tapering mouth allows an ease of drinking not associated with traditional nosing glasses whilst capturing the aromas on the nose. The wide bowl allows for the fullest appreciation of the whisky’s colour and the solid base is designed to be easy on the hand.

Today the glass can be found in use by every distillery in the UK & Ireland and many more around the world, from craft distillers in the
USA to Far East brands such as Kavalan.”

An interesting aside was that I thought that the best glasses were from lead crystal. I was wrong. Crystal glass contains a metal or other oxide that dramatically increases the refractive properties making it more brilliant and “sparkly” than ordinary glass. Glencairn moved away from lead-crystal because of the heal risk in using lead. Now the oxides include zinc or potassium – for safety and clarity.

Speak to Paul from Aficionados for more info about the glass.


Bernard Gutman



  1. Thanks Bernard. I popped into the Glencairn factory in Glasgow on Friday and discovered they also do the ornately decorated decantors for the top end products from the likes of Macallan, Glenfiddich and Dalmore (e.g. the Constellation Collection).

  2. I have no doubt that the Glencairn is optimally designed for identifying flavours but I find it uncomfortable to hold and awkward-looking. I came across a Libbey glass some time ago which I much prefer: it’s small, with a tapered, vapour-focusing rim, but it also has a eye-pleasing, rounded profile, and a thick, heavy-ish base which sits comfortably in the hand. I was also given a pair of Bowmore thistle tumblers earlier this year which I particularly enjoy – rim to lip it’s as comfortable a glass as I’ve ever used.

    1. Patrick, I think the best way to deal with this complex issue is to conduct a scientific test (or about as scientific as our whisky evenings can get) as soon as possible. Let’s bring along some Glencairn, a Libbey, the Bowmore tumblers, a normal ISO glass, the usual tumbler and let’s see. Given the luminaries clear enthusiasm for all things scientific and experimental (or is that enthusiasm for all things whisky) I am sure we will get a result.

      Ideally, for everyday dramming I want a glass large enough to hold a very decent dram and a splash of water – and that makes the best of the content. For specialised tasting, something different, like the Glencairn.

      Let’s see when the renovations at Casa Patrick are complete!

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