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A true touch of glass

Glencairn Crystal is playing a major role in promoting dedicated whisky glasses. But as Dominic Roskrow reports, there is more to the company than that
By Dominic Roskrow
Question:What do British actor Leslie Grantham, American superstar Kelsey Grammer and the folk behind Glencairn Crystal got in common?Answer: They have all been very successful, and they have all been victims of their own success. So well known has their best creation been that they have struggled to get recognised for anything else.You suspect, though, that while the reputation of Dirty Den and Frasier has been an annoying bane to the actors saddled by them, Glencairn’s Davidson family would merely shrug their collective shoulders at the dilemma, and treat themselves to another glass of whisky – served naturally in the company’s distinctive glass of course.Glencairn has built up a formidable reputation for its dedicated and stylish whisky tasting glass in recent years, so much so that there are plenty of us who don’t feel entirely comfortable enjoying a dram from any other vessel.But the glass isn’t the be all or end all of the company’s business – far from it. And for the fatherson partnership team of Ray, Paul and Scott Davidson, that’s ironic. For stroll around the family’s factory shop in East Kilbride on the outskirts of Glasgow and there’s barely a whisky tasting glass in view.What there is are shelf after shelf of tumblers, decanters, bottles and vases, sports trophies and, perhaps a little more surprisingly, porcelain.“Perhaps we haven’t been the best at telling other people the whole story,” says Ray. “We are very enthusiastic about whisky and we have built up a close relationship with the trade during the last 25 years.“Work in the whisky trade accounts for about 40 per cent of all our business. But that still means that a great deal of what we do isn’t in that area at all.” It’s worth noting, too, that much of the company has nothing to do with glasses. The company designs packaging and gift packs for a wide range of whisky companies, specialises in stylish decanters and has the flexibility to meet the specific demands of an industry where the personal touch still counts for so much.“We have the capability here to deal with bulk orders and the big orders of the biggest whisky suppliers but also to do one off items and small scale orders,” says Paul.“While much of what we do can be generated through computers, we have deliberately set out to maintain traditional crafts and skills and we have people working here who ensure that the artistic skills remain in place.” What this means in practice is that while Glencairn is ‘trade focused’ it has never allowed itself to get too big for the individual. Which means that if an individual or a whisky club wanted a decanter or trophy making, or wanted a specialist gift, the company can cope.“Without a problem,” says Ray. “We’ve done all sorts of strange clubs and sporting trophies. And we can be involved at every stage from initial design to completion.” Most recently the company designed two stunning decanters for Whisky Magazine’s special Make Poverty History 20 year old Speyside bottling.Inevitably, though, the conversation does return to their glasses. In 2005 they won the company an award for Business Excellence for Innovation in the Scottish Marketing Awards.More than one million of them have been sold and the company is predicting annual sales of 500,000 glasses a year in the near future. It’s an amazing success story, but according to Ray one that still has a long way to run.“Whenever anyone anywhere in the world asks for a whisky, we want it to be served in a Glencairn glass,” says Ray.Take note Kelsey and Leslie: don’t bite the hand that feeds you – especially when it’s your own.