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A look at Glencairn Crystal's premium decanter business

Katie Nichol

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A look at Glencairn Crystal's premium decanter business

Scotland’s Glencairn Crystal crafts bespoke decanters to house some of the world’s oldest prestige spirits. New Product Development Director Scott Davidson talks to Luxe Packaging Insight about his priorities for the business.

How is the current crisis impacting investments and your business in general?

At the beginning of the crisis we went down to skeleton staff due to government regulations, but no projects have been cancelled and more are coming on; our production schedule extends into next year. Our sales are around £12m and we grew last year by 11%, a great result given that we were heavily impacted by the pandemic in the last few months of our financial year.

We are expanding our factory with 50% more production space that will be dedicated to our decoration facilities. This was put off for a few months, but is now going ahead as planned.

The ultra-premium segment is less affected. During the 2008 financial crisis volumes went down but value went up; the presumption that people would trade down didn’t become a reality. This trend looks to be repeating with the current health crisis.

In terms of market segments, from the feedback we have cognac has slowed down quite a lot, and has been more impacted than Scotch whisky.

Decanters account for around 30%* of your business. What do you bring to the table?

We do the design, development, complex parts and assembly in-house. We have a team of six designers, and a spread of knowledge internally, from capabilities to product development, be it a tumbler, a decanter with simple branding or an ultra-premium decanter such as the Glenfarclas Pagoda Ruby Reserve.

All the decanters are handblown, hand cut and hand polished. We are able to produce them with semi-automatic processes, but this is for lower-value products.

It can nearly take two years from starting talks around a project to produce the final decanter. Aesthetic requirements need to be reconciled with technical limitations—for example, one might assume that the decanter can be filled all the way to the top, and not consider how the color of the whisky might interfere with the branding. Additionally, when a product is made by hand, the glass is much thicker than industrial glass—perhaps 4mm instead of 1mm—so there isn’t the same space for the whisky to expand under heat and pressure. 

 

The 2014 Royal Brackla (Dewars) project is one example. We had to put a very long neck in the collar and stopper assembly so that the whisky could expand by at least 3.5%-4%. Additionally, the decanter sits on a hollow metal crown-shaped frame. There are only four contact points, and each glue area is only 5mm by 5mm. The filigree on the silver needed to be replicated every time, but that cannot be done under normal methods—it’s impossible to cast as the shapes are too complex—so instead we had to create a resin mold, produce the pieces in resin and then plate over it.

Beyond decanters, many know us for the Glencairn glass, but we also produce point-of-sale items such as tumblers, and do lots releases for rare whiskies, where we’ll use one of our standard bottles and then add very ornate decoration. This can be heavy engraving, or infilling with copper or gold, for example.

 

How do you approach quality control for your premium decanters?

In the premium space our clients expect perfection so some of our projects demand a jewelry standard. There are numerous challenges when it comes to quality control. We’ve been working with Sansoar for many years for matching corks to our decanters, as well as developing certain metal parts.

With the Dalmore Constellation Collection project (see photo), each of the 21 decanters had to be filled to the same level and the silver collars had to be the same height. Here we allowed for a mere 1-2mm variation in the height of the neck and the fill level. 

What are your priorities in terms of eco-design?

Recyclable is our core interest. Premium products still call for heavier glass. Who knows how the market will change, but unless it evolves towards very lightweight glass this won’t be a focus for us. A lot of our premium products are retained after use due to their high price point, and are therefore not recycled. Many of our partners are working towards carbon neutral standards, and our crystal suppliers operate zero-carbon factories. At Glencairn we are looking to upgrade to solar energy, so we’ll be self-sufficient for 92% of our energy needs**. 

 

* in value
** Glencairn does not blow glass at its facility

 

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