Get to Know: Glencairn's Martin Duffy

The busiest part of my year begins in February when whiskey events start. … Then things slow down some later in the year, and I work on creating distillery trails for different states. Yes, that’s for Glencairn.

Get to Know: Glencairn's Martin Duffy

As the North American brand representative for Scotland-based Glencairn Crystal, Martin Duffy travels Canada, the U.S. and, increasingly, Mexico looking for events, brands, bars and restaurants that could use his employer’s signature whiskey glasses. The job requires a lot of cold calls that, because of Duffy’s engaging style, become warm welcomes and lasting relationships. He likes people, people like him and a lot of people like that elegant glassware line—which has grown well beyond its immediately recognizable whiskey glass.

Duffy took a moment to chat about his job, traveling and taking care of himself while endlessly on the road. This short version of his story is in his own words. 

I was a small-time actor in the 1980s. Yeah, I really wanted to do it. I guess my most notable job was as an extra in the Paul Newman movie, “The Color of Money.” He was a nice guy. Bought all the actors a beer once. Budweiser, of course, which was his favorite. 

I didn’t make much money acting, so I was a waiter at a pizza parlor. But the better money to be made was tending bar. So I did that for 12 years, in Chicago, where I grew up and still live. In 1996, I was told about a position for Johnnie Walker Scotch, where I was in the Kilted Clan. Yep, we wore kilts, ran into bars and bought people drinks for four or five minutes and then left and did it again at some other bar. Yeah, it was fun. You’re all about the brand and you go and make people happy.

Martin Duffy wearing a kilt on the far left.

Eventually Johnnie Walker made me a Scotch ambassador and then a brand ambassador. I taught a lot, sometimes 150 to 200 people a session, and sessions were sometimes back to back. The point was to sing the praises of Johnnie Walker and tell them what Scotch was. Eventually they wanted full time brand ambassadors in the U.S. for Johnnie Walker and, eventually, other Diageo stuff like Bulleit, George Dickel and Bushmills.

I put together my own Irish whiskey history classes, which I taught in Chicago. Also around that time, Dave Schmier, who owned Redemption Rye then, was running an indie whiskey festival, and had me run his Redemption table for him. It was a success, so I convinced him to create and co-operate the Chicago Independent Spirits Expo.

I met Raymond Davidson, founder of Glencairn, back in 2001 at WhiskeyFest Chicago. Raymond saw that the event lacked real whiskey glasses, and he and his son, Paul, thought it was a good idea to create them. I’d see the family anytime they came to Chicago, and when I went to Scotland for my own work, I visited them.

In 2014, Andy Davidson, Raymond’s youngest son, asked if I wanted to work for Glencairn. The job had no real description, so I got to create it by figuring out what my role entailed. To this day much of what I do is I travel throughout north America and Canada attending events that feature our glass. It’s a great way to meet brands who are or become our customers. I go to other trade events to see if they could use our glassware. It’s a lot of hellos and handshakes, just making contacts. A lot of traveling, too.

Martin Duffy (center) representing Glencairn and hanging with friends.

The busiest part of my year begins in February when whiskey events start. … Then things slow down some later in the year, and I work on creating distillery trails for different states. Yes, that’s for Glencairn. Ohio just launched a distillery trail, and I’ve done it also for Michigan, Colorado, Texas and Wisconsin.

To do, it I drive a lot between distilleries and map out what I think would be a convenient trail to take if I were a tourist. I really enjoy traveling like that because it lets me wander some. I like seeing things off the beaten path—the world’s largest taco, the world’s largest pencil, stuff that just interests me. Of course, I like meeting new people, and they always have their personal recommendations for places I should eat.

Are those places I regret going to eat? No! Their suggestions interest me! But eating right is a tough part (of traveling a lot). Sleeping, too. I’ve learned the hard way … to drink considerably less than I once did, and I won’t drink unless there’s food.

For me, the best part of the job is at events. That’s where you see so many friends you’ve made over the years. Craft distillers are especially interesting because so many have been in other careers before they took the leap into whiskey making. You see them during the event, and then, maybe you go out to dinner, and then, maybe to the hotel bar for one last drink before you go to bed and do it all over the next day. 

How many glasses has Glencairn sold? As of 2020, we’d sold 25 million whiskey glasses. But now the line has grown so much that I have no idea what that number is. We have Wee Glencairns, copitas (for tequila), gin goblets, crystal tumblers, Glencairn Mixers and other stuff. We’ve gone well beyond just whiskey, and I think there’s still room for more product ideas.