We’re in the middle of a whisky glass set giveaway, so we reached out to World Whisky Day founder Blair Bowman to find out a little bit more about his favorite whisky glasses and his recommendations for novice whisky drinkers looking to learn more.
Blair’s whisky drinking adventures have taken him around the globe, from the windy west coast of Scotland, delighting in a wee dram in Shanghai, to judging whisky competitions in Denver. World Whisky Day has even made its way with him to Antarctica.
Please, tell us a little bit about yourself and how world whisky day came about.
I’m from Edinburgh, in Scotland, and moved to Aberdeen University in 2008 to do a degree in Hispanic Studies. In 2011, I was living in Barcelona as part of a year abroad during my studies. I was doing an internship as a Social Media Manager for a Webinar company and noticed one day on twitter that #WorldGinDay was a global trending topic. In my first year of university I co-founded a whisky society, so because of my strong interest in whisky when I saw there was a World Gin Day I assumed there would be a World Whisky Day.
After a lot of searching I typed in www.WorldWhiskyDay.com and was surprised to see that it was available to buy for about £12 [just under US$16] – so I rushed home from work and bought the domain name. A day later I had made a Facebook page and Twitter account and it just took off from there.
How did you spend your latest world whisky day?
On World Whisky Day this year I was tailed by a BBC documentary crew for the whole day. The morning started early with photoshoots at Edinburgh castle for the media, then I rushed over to the offices of The Scotsman newspaper (the national newspaper in Scotland) for a live streamed whisky tasting.
After this I climbed Arthur’s Seat (the highest point in Edinburgh) with the World Whisky Day Team, plus the BBC film makers, and we gave out free whisky to all the tourists at the top of Arthur’s Seat.
From there we headed back to Edinburgh city center for the official World Whisky Day party at a night club with fans and the whisky companies who support World Whisky Day.
What are your favorite ways to drink whisky? For novice whisky drinkers how would you suggest starting off?
I think it is important to highlight the differences between drinking whisky for enjoyment and drinking whisky for appreciation. In my eyes enjoying whisky means drinking it however you please, with ice, with mixers (like coca cola, ginger ale, green tea) or in cocktails.
Then on the other hand appreciating whisky is really all about nosing and tasting the whisky to really understand the whisky and unlock all the flavors and aromas you can from the glass of whisky.
For someone just starting out in whisky I would recommend trying a simple whisky with soda water. Sometimes drinking whisky neat can be quite daunting to some people, this way you can enjoy the taste of the whisky enhanced by the effervescent fizz of the soda water. Then in time you may wish to try whisky neat.
If you are wanting to try a whisky neat and really appreciate it I would recommend trying the whisky neat first then just adding a drop or a splash of water. This helps open up the whisky and will reveal more flavors and aromas in the glass as the water unlocks these.
We talked about four different whisky-specific glass styles and shapes in our article What’s in a Whisky Glass?. We asked Blair about some of the glasses and to tell us which ones are his favorites.
What differences do you think the glasses make in the enjoyment of whisky?
It is now understood that the type of glass you are using can make a big difference to one’s whisky appreciation experience. Some glasses like the copita glass and Glencairn glass are excellent at concentrating aromas in the top of the glass for your nose to get in there and detect them. While on the other hand wider necked glasses, like a cognac balloon or the NEAT glass can help to disperse some of the aromas and in doing so can reduce some of the alcohol prickle on the nose.
Can you tell us about why you chose to back the Norlan glass campaign?
I think what impressed me the most about the Norlan glass was their attitude to disrupting the norm and shaking things up a bit. Their Kickstarter campaign video made some very bold statements that really piqued my interest so I couldn’t resist – its the first time and only time I’ve backed something on Kickstarter. Now that my glass has arrived I have to say that I am impressed by the design and it certainly helps pull out different notes in the whisky, when compared to other glasses with the same whisky.
What makes the Glencairn the best in your opinion?
The shape of the Glencairn glass is now truly ubiquitous with whisky, and iconic. Considering the glass was only first produced in 2001, it is quite impressive indeed. The glass fits snugly in your hand and has a lovely bowl shape which allows for plenty of swirling which then tapers to allow you to really get your nose into the glass. In Scotland we are famed for being tight with our money and not liking to waste anything, so if you happen by accident to knock over a Glencairn glass, the design of the bowl of the glass will always save a good amount of the whisky from spilling out of the glass! If you knock over a whisky tumbler you will lose all of the contents of the glass because of its straight edges.
What do you think of the NEAT glasses?
Earlier this year I was judging whisky and spirits in Denver, USA. The official glass of the spirits competition was the NEAT glass. It was great in the sense that at the end of the day, after judging well over 100 different whiskies and spirits, I didn’t have any nose burn. However, due to the wide open neck it meant that I really had to stick my nose deep into the glass to get more from the whiskies and spirits.
This is something I’ve never been asked before!
If you were to design your own glass for the perfect whisky tasting, what would you look for?
This is something I’ve never been asked before! I think I would want it to be at an accessible price point but feel sturdy and robust in your hand. It would work well for both nosing of whisky but also as a glass to make cocktails in too. I’ll let you know if I do end up designing a glass!
What’s upcoming in the whisky world?
There are a lot of exciting things happening in the world of whisky at the moment. So called ‘New World Whiskies’ (i.e. whiskies not from Scotland, USA or Ireland), are really starting to take off and the quality of their whiskies is increasing dramatically. In Scotland there are currently around 25 new distilleries under construction or planned to be built very soon. This means that in a few years time there will be lots of exciting new Scotch whiskies available soon. However, most of these new distilleries are very very small so what they do produce will be snatched up quickly I imagine. Exciting times indeed!
If you’re interested in finding out more about whisky and Blair’s World Whisky Day journey, you can check out the World Whisky Day website or watch a video of his TEDx Talk called Whisky – It’s Not Just for Old Men.