This is a bit of a different Malt Review article.
What we’re going to learn about is my newest endeavor, the Bennuaine Whisky Glass. Before I get started, the disclaimer is that, yes, I am linking to my Kickstarter that just launched, but I promise that the editorial team has ensured this is more origin story than sales pitch. And also… If you so graciously decide to support this project by clicking said link, a portion of the referred proceeds will be returned so we can keep Malt Review running.
Back to it.
I’ve been drinking whisky for over a decade and have loved almost every drop. In that time, I’ve come to really appreciate not just the actual liquid, but also everything that surrounds it. Now, if some 30-year-old aqua vitae is poured down my throat, that’s truly great. But if someone pours me that same spirit, and I can drink it with family and friends, in Scotland, in a cozy backyard or some peaceful place, and consumed from a nice glass, it’s going to be an even better experience… Perhaps one that might even influence my enjoyment of that whisky.
Over the decade-plus I’ve been appreciating and learning about whisky, I’ve also been learning about other beverages like beer, wine, fortified wine, mezcal, tequila, aperitifs and liqueurs. One consistent part of enjoying those drinks is that each has its own glassware. In some cases, like with wine, there are in fact many different shapes of glassware for all the different styles and varietals.
I remember in particular I went to Canlis in Seattle years and years and years ago and was fortunate enough to enjoy the tasting menu and accompanying wine pairing. The crystal stemware they used was absolutely incredible. It was hand-blown, ultralight, elegant, and even to my rudimentary knowledge of wine at the time, seemed to positively influence the aromas of the alcohol. Despite having bought my mother a lot, perhaps too many, crystal candle votives over the years, I had never really considered glassware to be an interesting component of drinking until that moment.
Inspired by wine glasses of exquisite craftsmanship and my serious passion for whisky, I began looking for something beyond the Glencairn. It’s a decent glass and certainly better than a tumbler, but I’ve always thought there could be something a bit better. Over the years I searched high and low, bought more stemware than I should ever admit to having purchased, and still came up short. Whether it was in form or in function, every glass had left me just hoping for a little more. I wanted something that I felt would work for my everyday dram, but also be deserving of some old Brora.
Function specific, at some point a few years back I discovered what is called the Blender’s glass. If you’re not familiar, it’s referred to as an onion shape, rather than a tulip. Basically, it’s just an orb with a super narrow opening. It’s exciting because it offers a lot of volume that really captures a spirit’s aromas. It was a totally different and more rich experience for me. The downside is that if I poured anything hearty in it – a peat bomb or something above 46% ABV – the nosing experience could really torch the nose hairs. It’s great for lighter Japanese whisky or something really old, but alcohol easily becomes overwhelming. I wished for something that would be the middle ground between that and the Glencairn.
Form wise, I found myself wanting something a little more refined than a Glencairn as well. I don’t love the fingerprint smudges I get on the glass. Plus, speaking of hands, I’ve certainly found that whether it’s from eating parmesan fries served alongside the whisky, or the soap from washing that scent off my hands, the proximity of my hand to the whisky really affects what I smell from the spirit. Personally, I love having a stem with some height and think a durable yet respectably thin stem adds a lot of elegance as well.
The Project Details
By now you might be thinking “Whoa, this guy sounds a little nuts,” and I won’t necessarily disagree. I will remind you that I’ve been at home drinking a lot of whisky, and thinking about this, since March 2020. What started as a “Holy Grail” quest for the best whisky glass turned into a year-plus quarantine project filled with calipers, 3D printers, and a heck of a lot of whisky.
The Bennuaine Whisky Glass is, to me and the others who have tried it, a new experience. As a result of studying nearly two dozen glasses, I started identifying a few key elements that really influenced how a glass performs for whisky.
The first is surface area. A wide glass allows the spirit to really interact with oxygen and release all those delightful aromas.
The second is volume. As the aromas release from the spirit, a glass that provides more room inside it enables more of those scents to hang out and party together.
The third is focus. A tumbler has no focus, no taper to its sidewalls. Whisky just goes straight out. The taper helps concentrate the aromas and prevents them from escaping too quickly.
The fourth is the release. Most glasses have a rim that directly, or almost directly, connects to the bowl. What this means is that when you go in to smell the whisky, your nose goes directly into, or has close very close contact with, the interior of the glass and that can be too overwhelming.
Finding the delicate balance of those four elements was really tricky. Fortunately, I love design and took the opportunity to get to learn 3D printing, which was exciting on its own. I set up that printer at home in the kitchen (apologies and thanks to my lovely girlfriend for tolerating a giant machine running for 8+ hours a day over a few months) and went to work prototyping.
When I was satisfied with three designs, it was time to go from plastic to glass. Unfortunately, it was nowhere near as easy as buying some gadget off Amazon and learning how to make a 3D model. With the help of some friends, I found an extremely talented glassblower in Los Angeles who could take my printed designs and free-hand blow glass to those shapes.
I’ve always been a crafty person. From LEGOs as a kid, to building sets and light layouts in high school theater, to making my own wood and metal furniture as an adult, I can’t stop myself from making things. Recently I’ve been watching Blown Away, the horribly punny-named Netflix glass blowing competition and have become enthralled by the process. It’s fast and there’s little room for error, and it all happens awfully close to a 2,000 plus degree furnace. After watching the show, and then seeing it in person, it feels like a whole different level of craft. It was truly incredible to watch my glasses emerge from a glowing red lump of goopy molten glass.
Seeing my prototypes in glass gave me the confidence to start searching for manufacturing partners. This turned out to be quite the significant hurdle, but one that didn’t seem as scary given what was about to unfold…
I got COVID post-vaccination. It knocked me out for three weeks, and obliterated my taste for two months, and over three for my sense of smell. To say it was scary would be an understatement. Obviously losing both is scary enough on its own, but in my context, the severity felt quite amplified. I was worried about losing two senses that provide me so much joy. We’re all spirit enthusiasts, so imagine if you poured yourself some Laphroiag and got… Nothing. I always love food, but especially when I travel internationally – it’s one of the ways I deeply connect with the culture of where I’m visiting, and that means so much to me. And of course, I was worried about this glass project. Here I was working on something that was so incredibly exciting – and yes, potentially financially promising if done correctly – and suddenly its future was uncertain and bleak. If I couldn’t personally enjoy and validate my product, what was the point? I won’t tease and bury the ending, so know that I’ve recovered, but it was rough, to say the least.
While I was on the mend, I tried my best to stay positive and productive with the manufacturing search. It was pretty clear from the beginning that it would have to be done in Europe. Their quality standards for crystal are unmatched. That doesn’t sound so bad, but it meant I couldn’t just go on Alibaba, search “glass blower”, find a supplier in China, and voila. It took almost my entire several month recovery period to find and vet suppliers. The process relied on countless hours of internet searching, tips from friends and friends of friends, and reference checks that all together made the whole thing seem essentially like the craziest game of “Telephone”.
I had several manufacturers turn me down because the potential of producing several thousand glasses was too much work. Imagine that, huh? Hand-blowing glass is an extremely difficult and labor-intensive operation, and the reality is that sometimes Kickstarter projects can go viral without any planning or expectation. I had to be prepared for that scenario, because I’ve seen it totally ruin a lot of new businesses. On the other hand, I also needed a manufacturer that wouldn’t require an insane MOQ, or Minimum Order Quantity. And ultimately, I needed the price per unit to work. Not only is hand-blowing difficult, but using crystal is particularly expensive, as is effectively paying extra to accommodate for the rippling strength of the Euro.
If you haven’t had to think about selling consumer goods, here’s a quick breakdown of some expenses for this project: Cost of goods, freight to the distribution warehouses, fees to fulfillment partners, insurance, custom packaging for fragile items, subsidized shipping costs which include duties as well, Kickstarter fees (5%), credit card transaction fees (3%), accounting, marketing, taxes… It’s a sizable list.
It’s all worth it though, because the mass production samples I’ve received have been absolutely stunning.
This journey (and written story) has gone on for quite a while, but I hope it leads to a satisfying end for everyone.
I have poured every ounce of myself into The Bennuaine Whisky Glass. The project has been a true labor of love, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of the work to get here. Without a doubt though, the best part has been receiving feedback and feeling the love and support from the whisk(e)y community. The other night a friend said the most current version of the glass has benefitted from the feedback of our whisky club. It was so rewarding to hear that they felt recognized for their contribution to the process. Yes, this glass was created to probably mend some deeply recessed trauma from a past life, but the greatest unintended benefit of the Bennuaine story is that it has shown me how much everyone cares – about beautiful things, shared experiences, and, of course, aqua vitae.
Thanks to Taylor for letting me share my story, and thanks to you for coming along for the ride.
If you’re curious, you can learn more, ask me any questions, and see some pretty epic photos on the Kickstarter page.
P.S. Remember, if you are interested in the Bennuaine glass, go through this link! This referral will send some proceeds back to the site to help keep it running smoothly.
Photos by Laurel Dailey