How an Engineer Hacked the Whiskey Glass

Whisky glasses on either side of a bottle of whisky.
In contrast to a traditional whisky snifter (on the left), the Denver & Liely Whisky Glass (right) boasts improved design for a more aromatic and functional whisky sipping experience. Photo by Beth McKibben.

It was an unlikely path that led Denver Cramer to designing a well-loved whisky glass alongside business partner Liely Faulkner.

His penchant for design began when Cramer studied both industrial design and mechanical engineering before landing a posh job with a high-end housewares and furniture company, Jardan. He helped design elements for many of Australia’s embassies across southeast Asia and the T3 terminal in Singapore’s airport. For most young people, landing these big ticket projects meant promises of a long and prosperous career, but for Cramer, they fell flat.

“I’ve had a privileged life. I don’t know if it’s any more privileged than anyone else but when you travel to other countries, you realize how much you have,” Cramer says. “Your perspective changes. I felt I had to do more.”

“More” meant taking a hiatus. He resigned from Jardan a few years later to travel and volunteer in the Himalayas and then to work in the Solomon Islands, rebranding their national newspaper and training their staff in marketing and design.

His work in the Solomon Islands would eventually catapult him into other organizations like the Red Cross and the UN, where he worked on finding sustainable solutions to problems like fresh water and food sources. But, when the money ran out, Cramer found himself back in his native Australia working for another furniture company to make ends meet.

He continued to travel to keep his creative juices flowing and his wanderlust at bay. It was on one of his many trips to southeast Asia that he met up with long time friend and fellow engineer, Liely Faulkner. He showed Faulkner a sketch he’d made of a whiskey glass would transform their lives.

“I remember sketching the glass one drunken night,” says Cramer, “I think it was in Myanmar. Or maybe it was Sri Lanka. I showed it to Liely when I returned because I was really excited. He wasn’t immediately sold and refined the design further. This was a collaborative effort.”

Together the partners developed a sleek and sexy, hand-blown glass, combining the traditional and purposeful Glencairn snifter with the classic functionality of a tumbler. It was the perfect marriage of science and design. Cramer and Faulkner never intended to make more than 100 glasses, which they had created as Christmas gifts. 70 glasses would go to loved ones and 30 would be sold to the general public to recoup costs. The lot of 30 sold out in an hour and a half despite none of the customers having physically seen or test-driven the glass.

“We knew we had something special when we sold those 30 glasses so quickly, right before Christmas. Nobody had tried the glass yet. We did a run of 1,000 in January to see what would happen. Those sold out in two weeks,” he says.

With the success of the glass, which came to be known as the Denver & Liely Whisky Glass, the partners set to work on finding production facilities with ethical work practices, proper accreditations and skilled craftsmen making a living wage.

“Sustainable solutions and giving back are really important to us. We needed to make sure our company, Denver & Liely (D&L,) provided ethical and fair working conditions.”

D&L has sold over 80,000 hand-blown glasses since that first run of 100. They proudly display the following statement on their website: “Each glass is made by man, not by machine; accordingly a few small bubbles may be visible, slight variances as well as other marks associated with the Artisanal process. This is a by-product of the hand-blown nature of the glass and makes each and every glass unique.”

That statement also accounts for the $50 price tag, which has done nothing to deter those whiskey nerds eager to get their hands on the now coveted glass.

The science behind the glass

The widest point (which is toward the bottom) maximizes the surface area like the bowl of a red wine glass. This helps the whisky to breathe. The concave sides direct airflow upward toward the mouth opening. When the glass is tipped forward, airflow is forced up and out like a funnel allowing the whisky’s aroma and taste to come together simultaneously.

Cramer explains, “The design of our glass has you drinking whisky on an angle. The airflow changes with the alcohol coming through the bottom and the lighter notes pushing to the surface first. This creates a more consistent and pleasant experience by splitting the bouquet.”

Each time you tip the glass toward your lips, heavier ethanol notes are forced to the bottom while lighter aromatic notes are forced to the top. The design continually activates and agitates the liquid acting as if it were freshly poured.

Even the thickness of the bottom has been purposefully designed. Layers of thick glass create thermal mass and act as an insulator to control the temperature. Cupping the bottom heats it, while gripping the sides of the glass keeps the whiskey cooler. The layered insulator in the bottom of the glass maintains a consistent temperature while you control whether that temperature goes up or down according to your hold.

The future of Denver and Liely

What’s next for Denver and Liely? Cramer tells us they’re working on a gin-focused cocktail glass, on trend with the clear spirit’s growing popularity.

“Gin is having a moment. Cocktails are about presentation and taste, not smell. With this gin glass, we want aroma to be just as important. It has spent a lot of time in R&D — seven gin distilleries have given it a go. We’re doing a batch of 3,000. 1,000 of those will be pre-sold in August to current customers. We’ll open the rest to the public in September.”

While they’re fiddling around with other design ideas, Cramer and Faulkner are focusing their energies on these two glasses and the day jobs they still need. Cramer admits he would love for D&L to be his full time work, but the company is not quite there yet. For now, he works as the head of creative for a bike storage company, designing outdoor solutions for large buildings and public spaces.

“I want the freedom to work from anywhere and have the ability to take on volunteer projects around the world while designing. Denver and Liely is a step in that direction. There’s more in the works but nothing’s been pushed forward. Who knows what I’ll create on my next drunken night in Myanmar.”

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