How Does The New Norlan Glass Compare?

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Side-By-Side Whiskey Glass Comparison: Norlan vs. Glencairn vs. Snifter

By Richard Thomas

Norlan Whisky Glass comparison

Norlan vs. Glencairn vs. Snifter
(Credit: 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.

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6 comments

  1. Seeing those three styles compared, the Glencairn Canadian whisky glass shape is so similar, and priced currently about equal to the original Glencairn. My friends have individually settled on one style Glencairn vs the other consistently since their introduction. Innovation may come up with better, but what’s pleasing inside the glass is where the money goes now. None here would disagree!

    • Indeed. Back in the day, Kentucky’s master distillers used to gather and share their produce in Dixie cups. Glassware is a fun trinket, but nothing more.

  2. When I received my two Norlan glasses I was ecstatic. The design was everything I’d been led to believe it was, making these the prettiest glasses I had for drinking from. I began sipping my whiskey from them and enjoyed every bit of the experience, until I found broken glass in my whiskey. It seems the Norlan glass is only good if you don’t like your whiskey cold from ice cubes. You know the typical manner of placing ice in a glass, right? Drop the cubes into the empty glass, then pour the whiskey on top. You can’t do that with the Norlan glass, as the wall of it is far too thin and breaks easily from a single cube striking it. I set the broken glass aside, not in the least happy to find such an expensive glass rendered useless. At least I hadn’t swallowed any of the broken glass. From then on I placed my ice in my lone existing glass as carefully as possible, but found that swirling the ice while drinking is just as dangerous as dropping the ice into an empty one of these glasses.
    I had written to Norlan and told them of my displeasure when the first glass broke. They responded quite well in sending me a replacement and only THEN informing me the Norlan glass was not designed for placing ice within. THAT tidbit would have been nice to know from the onset, thank you. When all my carefulness in drinking from the Norlan glass resulted in my second glass STILL breaking I set the replacement glass aside, afraid to ever use it again, for fear of one day swallowing broken bits of glass.
    Thank you, Norlan, for creating an expensive glass I cannot drink from as I am used to doing, since your glass does not “play well” with ice. My recommendation on the Norlan glass? It’s fine as long as you drink your whiskey at room temperature, but if, like me, you prefer your drink on the rocks, forget this atrocity and go with something better suited for a cold enjoyment.
    Oh, and I now see Norlan has come out with a “black” glass, which only means they coated the OUTSIDE with black to make it look even cooler than before, BUT the inside wall is just as fragile as before, so the black glass isn’t any better suited for drinking on the rocks as the original. I wouldn’t use the Norlan glass if they sent me a dozen of them for free.

    • Thank you Jacob. These truly are sexy glasses for those of us that love our whiskey. I was so close to hitting the order button & thought I better double check what others think. Like you a I prefer my whiskey slightly chilled. I’ve become accustomed to a large whiskey rock and pour Bourbon straight over it. I love the way it’s cascades over the rock and thought the Norlan would make the presentation that much more stunning. I’m so glad I read your review before making that mistake.

    • I also like my whiskey chilled. I thought the double wall of the glass was a brilliant move because it acted as a buffer between my hand and the whiskey preventing the ice from melting faster I have had my Norlan glasses for two years now and fortunately have not broken one yet. Maybe just dumb luck that it hasn’t happened .

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