Glasgow has a long and proud industrial history and whisky, along with tobacco and shipbuilding, has played a significant role. At one time there were around 40 active businesses; distilling, blending and bottling within the city boundaries. Sadly, in recent years, the national spirit has all but disappeared from the landscape with the Strathclyde grain distillery the only site to remain in production.
This situation changed however, when the Glasgow Distillery opened in 2014, and now, the Clydeside will continue the revival on the very banks of the river that proved so vital for so many years. For the importance of the shipyards as an employer cannot be overstated – it is said that a fifth of the worlds ships were built here during the peak of the 1900s, but by the 70’s and 80’s, much of the industry had gone, leaving a city in something of an identity crisis, rife with poverty and unemployment.
At the heart of this vast industry was Queens dock, built in 1877 by one John Morrison of Morrison & Mason. Access to the dock was granted through a gate, raised and lowered using hydraulic power generated by the adjoining Pumphouse. As the industry sank into decline however, the dock fell into disrepair and the old Pumphouse lay deserted. Then, after a few stints as a restaurant, it was purchased in 2011 by Tim Morrison, owner of A.D. Rattray and formerly of Morrison Bowmore. The grandson of Queens Dock builder John, Tim saw in the Pumphouse an opportunity to restore distillation to the banks of the Clyde and in early November 2017, spirit finally ran from the stills, heralding a new era for this once derelict section of the river.
The distillery opened it’s doors to the public in late November and I couldn’t wait to pay a visit… The site houses an impressive bottle shop, as well as a cafe and visitor centre which relays the story, not only of the local whisky industry but also of the dock, giving the visitor a real understanding of the history of this beautiful building and underlining it’s significance to the city.
The whole project has been designed to perfection with the newer sections of the construction in stark contrast to the rough stonework of the original Pumphouse, while the dark glass of the still-house, impressive even from the outside, beautifully mirrors the dark sheen of the Clyde as it flows sluggishly by.
Inside, the distillery is largely functional, yet is crowned by that stunning still-room with extensive views of the river that encourage you to stare for a while and imagine the ghosts of the ships which came and went all those years ago. I found myself forced to subdue a ripple of excitement as the new make flowed through the spirit safe – even five years ago, the very notion of a new distillery in the heart of my hometown would have seemed outlandish and totally unrealistic yet here we are, in 2017, with two Glasgow malts on the way and plans for a third already announced.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though… The Clydeside dram remains some years away and so, a replacement is required in the meantime. Fortunately, the tasting that concluded my tour provided the solution in the form of ‘Cask Islay’, a 46% single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery, bottled by sister company, AD Rattray.
Smell: Vanilla, Lemon & Honey with Aromatic Peat Smoke & Barbecue.
Taste: Vanilla, Toffee, Biscuit, Lemon and a touch of Woody Spice. Undercurrent of soft Peat Smoke throughout.
Value for Money: Very affordable at £30 per bottle.
Scores: 42 / 50. About the Scores…
A very pleasant dram at the budget end of the market. Sure, an age statement would be nice, but the decision to bottle at 46% has helped add that little extra depth to the malts character. Recognisably an Islay of course, but subtler and more rounded than some – certainly not as overtly smokey as the distilleries in the south of the island and perhaps a nice introduction, at a sensible price, to the world of peated whisky.