I sat down with Shane Bahng, the COO of Norlan Glass, the newly funded Kickstarter project. Their glass was developed using 3D printers and a select group of Scotland’s whisky industry experts that offered feedback on the 90 or so design choices they started with. The design selected is intended to be a beautiful tumbler-style glass that offers a better nosing experience.
I had an hour with the glass while interviewing Shane Bahng. It wasn’t nearly enough time to get a good feel for the glass, but it was enough to offer first-impressions. Norlan glass gives whisky a nice pop upon first pour. It seems to elongate the light zesty notes while tempering the heavier sweet flavours. It probably will freshen-up dark sherry finished whiskies and give more texture to scotches in that 10 to 12 year range.
The whisky is not as contained, however, compared to narrower tulip-shaped whisky glasses. Norlan’s wider opening and inner container are intended for swirling whisky. Swirling increases ethanol evaporation and oxidization—removing that sting. If you don’t find whisky harsh on the nose, or regularly drink whisky at higher proofs, this might not be the glass for you. This is definitely not just my opinion. Norlan’s Kickstarter video is all about making design choices that remove ethanol from the whisky while maintaining flavour. It does reach this goal, though I question how many regular whisky drinkers have this problem to begin with.
It is a fun glass to hold and drink from. The design is simple and beautiful. It's almost as thick as a rocks glass, but because there’s a gap between the outside glass and the inner glass, it's really quite light and delicate to hold. Norlan glass is quite comfortable to lift and sip from. I disagree with the Kickstarter video that suggests Glencairns are antisocial. Glencairns might be awkward to sip from at first, but so are broad wine glasses, large coffee cups, and tiny espresso cups. You get used to it.
Interestingly enough, as well, this Norlan glass is intended for neat whisky sippers. While the inner part of the glass is slightly larger compared to a Glencairn, it be awkward to place ice-cubes inside. It’s a sipping glass for whisky drinkers that find the proof levels of whisky too strong, but would prefer not to water it down or use ice.
As you probably figured out by this point, I’m a bit of a fanatic about glassware. The type of glass you pour your whisky into absolutely affects your drinking experience. My least favourite glass are those big tumblers with thick rims. It creates a large surface area that aerates the whisky.
The problem with aeration is that along with alcohol content, you also lose flavour. As Davin de Kergommeaux said in The Whisky Topic, once those flavours leave the glass, they're gone. As alcohol leaves the glass, so does the flavour. The problem Norlan glass is attempting to solve has to do with keeping the flavour, while aerating the alcohol.
Does one whisky glass fit all? Probably not. Wine drinkers have this figured out. They sell glassware by the type of wine. It's all about fluid dynamics and bringing out the best of flavours from the type of wine you drink. With the NEAT Whisky Glass and Norlan Whisky Glass, the whisky world might just be heading in the same direction.
Norlan glass has won the praise of Heather Greene and Jim McEwan. I asked if these were endorsement deals, and Shane Bahng quickly dispersed that thought. Both Heather Greene and Jim McEwan were asked for their opinions, and both were positive. McEwan went on to say he could see himself using the glass in his lab for tastings.
For myself, I tasted two different whiskies in the glass. First, I poured Knob Creek and compared the Norlan to a Glencairn. The Norlan nose was more focused on the sweeter flavours, but there wasn’t a dramatic shift compared to the Glencairn. It nosed and tasted like Knob Creek, and while there were subtle differences, it wasn’t overly dramatic.
This wasn’t the case for the scotch. Bruichladdich Classic Laddie had fascinating deep lemon notes on the nose with the Norlan glass compared to the Glencairn. It lost a touch of the peat, but opened up nicely. It was a familiar flavour, but a different balance, neither better or worse than what I'm used to. Most impressive, really, is the “pop” of zest on the first pour. It didn't last. Over time, the whisky flattened out and started to get less interesting to drink. This happens to all whisky left sitting in the glass, but certainly swirling whisky accelerated the problem. The Bruichladdich was missing the heavier flavours I appreciate after just a short time in the glass.
It’s clear in the Norlan video that the makers want to remove ethanol from the whisky with the swirling motion. The tabs inside the glass make the whisky all-the-more volatile. It serves that purpose. If you already drink whisky over 40% ABV, this is probably a purpose you don’t need. If 40% ABV whisky is unapproachable, this is one solution. Warming a Glencairn glass, as I wrote in my book, is a very reasonable alternative.
Will it make whisky more approachable for those new to whisky drinking? Possibly. I’d love to do a whisky tasting with old and new whisky drinkers and get their feedback for a broader experience. Either way, I have happily supported the Kickstarter program and look forward to receiving the Norlan glass when it becomes available. My intention is to have more time with the glass, to have an alternative to a tumbler that makes for a better sipper, and to offer whisky in the glass to new whisky drinkers.
I can’t honestly say I would use this glass when writing whisky reviews, but I also generally only swirl whisky unless I find it overly tight on the nose (most often, this is when I first pour whisky from a brand new bottle).
It is an exciting time in the whisky world that a new glass could raise over $160,000 in a Kickstarter campaign. In chatting with Shane Bahng and seeing where the vision for Norlan Glass is going, I’m quite possibly more excited about the other products this team is considering making.
Either way, Don Draper would probably never drink whisky from a tulip-shaped glass, but he just might do so from a Norlan glass. That's probably a point not lost on the design concept behind Norlan. There's still time to support the project, and first delivery is expected in April of 2016.