Karen Somerville and her father, Tom Young MBE, produce beautiful glassware, creating the very best in innovative and creative concepts through whisky glassware specialists Angels’ Share Glass. Together they have supplied some of the world’s leading distillers as well as consumers throughout the world. Karen is also Co-Director of the Fife Whisky Festival, a WES Ambassador and a member of The Scottish Business Network. She was kind enough to spare some time to share how it all started…
Why did you decide to start Angels’ Share Glass? Where does the passion for Scotch whisky come from?
Whilst watching the Film The Angels’ Share by Ken Loach (pictured below), my dad and I realised having been in and out of distilleries we’d always been told of the angels share but nothing was out there to represent that.
So we created some glass angels filled and sealed them with Scotch Whisky and voila, The Angels Share was now a visible thing. We use a secret process for sealing the whisky into very hot glass and that’s the magic. My father is a master glassblower and designed and manufactured distilling glassware in his lengthy career and we were always delivering sprit bowls or hydrometers to distilleries locally.
I personally had a fascination for the spirit, but didn’t actually like it, till The Angels Share began.
Can you tell us more about the business?
We started off in a small home office and summer house studio and we swiftly grew, so we found premises locally perfect for setting up a purpose built glassblowing studio.
We have two in house Glassblowers and we outsource to around five others in Scotland and the UK. Our team is now at seven and our business has grown organically over the last 7 years.
We now have a full range of glassware aimed at the Whisky Lover, and now even the Gin lover. Gifting is a big thing and we have the alternative option to just a bottle of scotch.
What kind of craft is involved behind making the products produced by Angels’ Share Glass?
Lampworking is a smaller form of furnace glassblowing, we use very hot flames from a torch on the bench rather than a big hot furnace where you need lots of fuel to power the kilns.
We use pottery kilns to fire all our glass and so our operational side of things is quite small. Compared to say bottle manufacturers or barware glass factories. We want to keep the skill alive so we are investing in training up new glassblowers in our studio and helping keep the skills alive.
Which brands have you collaborated with?
Initially, we were supported by our doorstep distillery Deanston who has also grown in the last seven years. We also work on bespoke collaborations with The Macallan, Chivas Distilleries (Aberlour and Glenlivet), Diageo Distilleries (Blair Atholl, Glenkinchie and Cragganmore), and most recently we have been working with Diageo Prestige and designing and making something very special for Johnnie Walker.
We have also worked with Springbank and Islay Distilleries – such as Kilchoman and Bunnahabhain – and of course, independent Distilleries like Glasgow, Arran and Ardnamurchan amongst others. We work with them to produce exclusive and bespoke designs of our glassware.
What has your experience been like as a women entrepreneur within the Scotch whisky industry?
Awesome! When I first started I knew very little about whisky and the industry – I learned fast, I undertook a few courses, read a few books and had a good few mentors who kept me right.
I then fell in love with the whole industry. It is very welcoming and what we were doing I think was interesting and new. Then I met Justine via The Scottish Field readers challenge and from there we formed The Fife Whisky Festival, now in its 3rd year. I am a very small person so sometimes I am overlooked, but I think once people get the chance to chat with me they get the real passion and love that is behind what I do.
How did you become involved as a judge at The Scottish Whisky Awards?
Can you tell us about working with Justine Hazlehurst on The Fife Whisky Festival?
There are some things I just cannot tell she’d kill me haha…
Justine and I work very well together and we have a mutual understanding of how each of us operates and we both have very good businesses, so we have to always have them as priorities. I think as a female team we again are underestimated and we like that. We are highly organised so we get things done and tend to get them done without the maximum of fuss.
Looking back, what have been the highlights of your experience since launching the business?
Too many to mention! My top highlights have included Charles Maclean officially opening our glassblowing studio. It was so fitting for him to open it for us, after all, watching him in his starring role in The Angels’ Share film started this journey.
We also stayed in Ghillies Cottage on the Macallan Estate during the Speyside Whisky festival, where we demonstrated our skills in The Macallan visitor centre to many wonderful guests and visitors.
Being part of the Islay Feis Ile and the Campbeltown Malts Festival, glassblowing in actual distilleries with our mobile unit, that was really very special too.
Going to Kentucky and learning all about Bourbon, sitting in Brown Forman’s head office and doing a deal to supply them right there and then was mind blowing…having dinner at Jim Beam’s head office in Louisville and them displaying our glassware in their reception display cabinet was also a very proud moment for us. I am so grateful for the many wonderful experiences I have since I started this business.
But most recently launching our own spirits glass (pictured below) has been a highlight this year, it had always been in our plans and actually during the Covid-19 crisis we had time to progress it and make it a reality. That has been a highlight in what has been a very difficult year for us so far.