Let’s get something out-of-the-way before we dive into our review of the Norlan whiskey glass. I’m able to enjoy bourbon from just about any type of glass, cup, jar or bottle. At the end of the day the quality of the juice and the company are more important than the delivery vehicle. Yet, I do prefer a glass designed for whiskey when I sit down for a tasting or to write a review.
Just like with wine and beer there is no shortage of glasses designed for drinking whiskey. The most popular being the Glencairn whisky glass which is my preferred glass. Another popular glass among whiskey drinkers is the NEAT glass.
The NEAT glass debuted a few years ago and has become a favorite among many diehard whiskey fans. As the self-proclaimed “ultimate spirit glass”, the NEAT is the result of a scientific approach the creator calls “Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology” or NEAT for short. Clever, right?
To be honest I’m not a fan of the NEAT glass. First off, it comes with special instructions on how to use it. I’m of the opinion that if a glass requires instructions one should avoid using it for alcohol. And then when you follow the instructions you feel and look like a dork when drinking. It’s a clunky user experience. While the NEAT may isolate some of the lighter and harder to notice aromas on a few select whiskies the Glencairn outperforms it on all other fronts.
Check out this guy’s take on the NEAT glass. If he can’t look cool drinking from it no one can.
With that all out-of-the-way let’s get back to the topic at hand – the Norlan whisky glass.
When I first viewed the Norlan Whisky Glass Kickstarter campaign I admit my first response was petty and snarky. I prefer not to put into writing my complete thoughts but let’s suffice to say it included things like:
- Oh great! Another pretty face wrapped in marketing.
- Great, just what we need. Another fancy whiskey glass.
- Holy shit, they’ve created the most elaborate backstory I’ve ever read for a whiskey glass. (With all due apologies to the NEAT glass and their scientific approach.)
- Hmm, I’ve never thought of the Glencairn glass as anti-social.
- I doubt it will be any better than other glasses but the design alone will sell a shit ton of these glasses.
Yeah, I know. I’m a real prince sometimes when it comes to new product releases. But in my defense, I only shared my initial thoughts with people I came into contact at my day job. Luckily any damage from my comments was minimal. Most people at work have learned to ignore my whiskey ramblings.
After dismissing the product without a 2nd glance I received an email from Norlan’s PR agency. They wanted to know if I would like to schedule an interview with the company’s COO, Shane Bahng. Their follow-up email piqued my curiosity and I decided to take them up on their interview offer. I wanted to find out if there was more to this glass than just another pretty design and hoped I could try one out in person.
Wait a minute. Stop the presses.
Before we go any further I need to know. Have you studied up on the Norlan whisky glass before checking out my review?
If not please stop reading and watch the video below for more details. Or better yet, visit their Kickstarter campaign website here.
Welcome back. Let’s get back to my interview with Shane Bahng.
When I spoke with Shane we spoke for about 45 minutes. We reviewed Shane’s background and revisited the story behind the Norlan whisky glass. Everything was consistent with the materials on their website. But it became clear that Shane and his team are passionate about their product. And they’re not afraid to put their glass in front of those who know a few things about whiskey.
I told Shane that their campaign video was impressive. Including positive feedback from both Jim McEwan and Heather Greene was a great coup for the brand. I questioned if they were somehow invested in the product and Shane assured me that they were offering their opinion for free. No compensation involved. Great news for Norlan and a great thing to capture on video to help sell the product.
I also learned a few other things from my conversation with Shane:
- Kickstarter funding is coming from around the globe with the US and European markets being the biggest contributors.
- They started with 90 initial designs, narrowed down to 25 and tested all those in Scotland with real distillers.
- Their post-Kickstarter distribution strategy is still a work in progress. Most likely will sell direct online and partner with specialty wholesale partners.
- They’ve been dealing with lot of social media push back on their glass concept. Something about people thinking it’s nothing revolutionary, just another pretty face, etc. What? How rude.
- Most importantly, Shane agreed to lend Bourbon & Banter a glass for an extended hands on test drive. Woot!
I was pretty stoked when Shane informed me I could borrow a glass for a review. Then he scared the shit out of me by saying how he only had a few and that he actually dropped one the week prior. Thereby reducing the available inventory by something like 33%. Nothing like stressing the reviewer out in advance Shane. I doubt that your PR team would have approved of that tactic.
A mere few days later the glass arrived in one piece – thank you whiskey gods. I immediately unwrapped it, held it in my hand and raised it above my head uttering, “By the power of Norlan…”
Okay, I made that last part up but I sure felt like doing it.
Instead, I held it up and showed it to my wife who carefully looked at it and said, “What the hell is that?”
Have I told you how much I love my wife?
My first impression? Super cool. Way better than my initial online impression.
While the glass’ design appears fragile it actually feels solid in your hand. The tumbler-based shape feels right a home and is easy to grip with the faceted base. I’d have no problem holding one of these in my hand all night while drinking with friends.
But looking cool is just part of the equation. What matters is how it performs once I add whiskey and start drinking. Since I’m a stickler for hands on research I rinsed the glass and poured myself a nice measure of a 12 year Willett Family Estate Bourbon. (I also poured some in a Glencairn and NEAT glass for a scientific comparison and data gathering.)
Fast forward….we’re skipping my thoughts on the NEAT as it once again failed me and I felt stupid using it. I just can’t win with that damn glass.
Here are my thoughts on how the Norlan compared to my trusty Glencairn whisky glass:
Appearance: Whiskey looks darker and richer in the Norlan glass as a result of its double wall construction. It makes the whiskey more attractive it’s a bit problematic when you’re trying to judge the age of your whiskey by its color. You have to raise the Norlan to eye level to get a proper color reading like that from a Glencairn glass. But once you know how to compensate for the color difference, the Norlan wins for a better visual experience.
Nose/Aroma: Tasting note – I always let my whiskey sit for 5-10 minutes to let it breathe a bit so the ethanol isn’t too over powering. The Norlan’s wider opening does a better job letting the rough ethanol vapors evaporate. This allows the bourbon’s true aromas to come through. Although given some extra time the Glencairn delivers similar aromas. The wider opening of the Norlan also allowed me to get into the center of the glass easily and less awkwardly then the NEAT glass resulting in a richer aroma experience.
Taste: The design of the glass had no direct impact on how my bourbon tasted. Yet, since much of our taste is actually done with our nose the increased richness of the aromas from the Norlan glass heightened my tasting experience.
Social Adeptness: The Norlan campaign website states that the Glencairn glass is anti-social because it forces you to break eye-contact with your friends when drinking from it. My nose is far from small and I’ve never had an issue with the Glencairn glass. I can drink from it without tipping my head back leaving me with complete control of when to break eye contact with my friends. I have to call bull shit on the anti-social marketing angle.
But, I think the Norlan glass has better social adeptness for other reasons. It fits in your hand comfortably and blends in with other glassware. I’ve never had anyone call me out for drinking from a Glencairn glass but I know people who feel it looks pretentious. The Norlan looks like normal tumbler glass until you get up close. I can see people using the Norlan whisky glass as their preferred glass in social drinking situations for this reason alone.
And then there’s the fact that the Norlan is a sharp looking glass. The design is not only functional but also aesthetically pleasing. The team behind its design did an amazing job crafting it to be both fun to drink from and enjoyable to look at. In my book that’s a combination that always gets my vote.
In closing let me sum up my experience with one line of advice.
I’ve already backed the campaign and can’t wait till I have a few of my own to use around the house. I hope that you’ll enjoy yours as well.
Now it’s time to pack up the loaner and send it back to Shane. I hope I don’t “accidentally” drop it one the way to the post office. That would be a shame.