Side-By-Side Whiskey Glass Comparison: Norlan vs. Glencairn vs. Snifter
By Richard Thomas
Part of the world craze for all things whisk(e)y is a parallel boom in stuff, including stones, ice molds, and especially glassware. Twenty years ago, the classic snifter was good enough for enthusiasts, but it was supplanted after 2001 to a large extent by the Glencairn, and now it’s common to find snobs scorning it. The success of the Glencairn and the explosion of interest in whiskey has inspired a wave of successors in recent years, and the latest to appear is the much-hyped Norlan Whisky Glass.
The Glencairn And The Snifter
Although I often drink whiskey from a tumbler, I recognize that the key aspect for true whiskey glassware is a bowl- or bulb-shaped cup that concentrates vapors evaporating off of the liquid as an aid to nosing. The simplest whiskey glasses resemble miniature wine glasses, and do an adequate job of focusing the scent and improving the nosing experience.
The snifter has the added feature of having a relatively large interior surface area that assists in vaporization, but that is a mixed blessing since the extra vapors are more likely to burn the nose as the ABV of the whiskey goes up. The snob’s staple complaint that the snifter’s bowl is designed to allow the hand to warm the bowl and its contents has always been meaningless, since anyone concerned about that can simply grasp the stem, as is done with wine glassware.
I also like the plain old snifter because it is cheap, and also very stable. Although the Glencairn has an elegant simplicity that makes it prettier, and is an all around better nosing glass, it’s also more fragile than the snifter. Also, although I wouldn’t say the Glencairn is top heavy, it is tall for its modest base, and that makes it prone to tipping.
These points matter because I live with two large dogs and a toddler. Things that are easily toppled will be knocked over in my house, and I’m certain I share this practical concern with every whiskey enthusiast who has lively pets and/or young children. The same considerations play into accidents in the kitchen sink. After losing a few Glencairns in this manner, I stopped bringing them out except when I could guarantee a safe measure of solitude. Snifters, being harder to knock over with a casual jostle and sturdier, are more survivable.
Enter The Norlan
More than anything else, what helped generate so much buzz for the Norlan was its look. It’s a gorgeous glass, so much so that my wife tried to serve her father water in them just last week, pointing to how interesting and attractive they were.
What caught my eye, however, was how the design combines the best elements of the tumbler with the Glencairn. The interior bulb shape is more miniature wine glass than Glencairn, but I found the nosing characteristics identical in a side-by-side comparison. The curvature of the rim is a bit awkward at first, because the meeting of the inner and outer parts make it rather thick, but this is easily adapted to. After your first use of the Norlan, you won’t notice this anymore.
In practical terms, the glass is light to hold, almost insubstantial, in fact, making it very handy indeed. It’s also more stable, with its lower profile, wider base, and lower center of gravity. Norlan suggests that although the glass is dishwasher safe, you wash it by hand instead to avoid possibly scratching and discoloring the acrylic outer parts, which is fine by me because I never put fragile Glencairns in the dishwasher anyway.
The only real downside for the Norlan is the price: $48 (or the equivalent) per pair. A pair of Glencairns is approximately $15, and a pair of NEAT glasses is about $20. Even so, the glass is demonstrably a step up in aesthetics and practicality. Although expensive, the Norlan offers something more for the money.