It’s the company that employs the brains behind your go-to tasting glass – as well as some of the world’s most expensive whisky bottles – but how much do you know about Glencairn Crystal? As demand for luxury spirits elevates the company to dizzying new heights, director Scott Davidson reveals how it all began…
What do you decant your dram into? Chances are, it’s a Glencairn Glass. The vessel has become synonymous with whisky world since it found its way onto our shelves in the early 2000s. Of course, if you’re really lucky/fancy, you might just be pouring liquid from a Glencairn Crystal decanter.
Glencairn broke the £10 million revenue barrier for the first time this year, with sales up by an astronomical 20% – the largest percentage jump since the business was founded by Scott’s father, Raymond Davidson, back in 1981.
If the world was thirsty for premium-and-above spirits bottlings five year ago, it’s positively parched now. Last year the decanter and glassware side of the business grew by 40%, driven by demand for the super-old and rare. On its CV? Glenmorangie Pride 1974 and Gordon & MacPhail’s Mortlach 75 Year Old.
“Over the years the value of whisky has increased considerably,” Scott Davidson explains. “We believe we’re just tracking our success in line with the whisky companies. They’re doing fantastically well right now, all having really strong growth in the premium sector. If we weren’t doing this well, we’d probably be wondering why!”
In the decades since Glencairn Crystal serviced its very first customers – Inver House and Burn Stewart! – the business has worked with every single Scotch whisky company going, as well as a bevy of Cognac, Port, rum, vodka and Tequila producers. In the US, Glencairn counts more than 300 craft distillers among its extensive clientele, as well as tasty household names like Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve.
With such a diverse array of clients, has he noticed any trends developing, I ask? Special bottlings and private cask bottlings are becoming the norm, says Davidson. Producers are also taking steps to jazz up their existing ranges with special techniques like engraving and in-filling.
“We’ve done a lot of really expensive decanters,” he explains, “they’re asking us to take elements of those design aspects and apply it to their standard bottles.”
When whisky lovers fawn over fancy bottles, they want a decent vessel to decant them into. Sales of the iconic Glencairn Glass surged by 25% last year, making the creation of this essential piece of whisky kit all the more serendipitous.
“Back in the seventies and eighties, my dad would ask for his whisky to be put in a wine glass, because you get a chance for the aromas to build up,” says Davidson. “When he started up the business, he made a little glass that he thought would be ideal for drinking whisky.”
The prototype was relegated to the filing cabinet for almost 20 years, when Paul came across the glass searching through samples. He decided to take the glass to Dalmore master blender, Richard Paterson.
“He said, ‘if you wanted a glass to educate consumers, how would you like it to look?’,” recalls Davidson. “Almost word-for-word, Richard described the glass that Paul had in his pocket. From there, my dad and Paul took the glass to a number of master blenders, and they all thought it was a really good idea. That’s when we said, ‘we should take this further’.”
After a few tweaks here and there, the Glencairn Glass was born: a functional, accessible tasting glass that give whisky fans the full ‘master blender’ experience, without looking out of place in “a working man’s pub in Airdrie”.
“If you go into a bar as someone that didn’t appreciate whisky, wouldn’t it be nice if the barman could take you on a journey through the gantry?” says Davidson. “You could pick up the differences really easily and quickly, and find out what your flavour is. We wanted to empower the barman to be able to educate. The Glencairn Glass is a little brand ambassador for the drinks industry.”
With 3,000,000 Glencairn Glasses to produce each year, and hundreds of luxury decanter projects to service, it’s no wonder the business has scaled up its workforce. Though there are now 60 staff on the books at the East Kilbride-based workshop, Glencairn Crystal remains very much a family affair.
“Everybody gets their breakfast cooked for them in the morning,” says Davidson, who has been engraving crystal since his early teens. “One of our most experienced operators only works afternoons now, because she makes breakfast. It used to take half an hour, but now it’s the whole morning.”
If they keep growing at this rate they’re going to need an entire restaurant.