A visit to the Clydeside Distillery (Plus Cask Islay Single Malt review)

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Distilling has returned to Glasgow

Glasgow has a long and proud industrial history. Whisky, along with tobacco and shipbuilding, played a significant role in the story. At one time there were as many as 40 businesses; distillers, brokers, blenders and bottlers operating within the city boundaries. Sadly, however, the distilleries have all but disappeared from the landscape over the years with only the Strathclyde grain distillery remaining in production.

The situation has been improving, however. First came the Glasgow Distillery in 2014 and now the Clydeside will continue the industry’s revival on the banks of the river that provided its lifeblood for many years. The importance of the Clyde to Industrial Age Glasgow cannot be overstated. The river’s many shipyards and docks brought employment and trade to the city on a massive scale. During the industrial peak of the 1900s, a fifth of the world’s ships were constructed in Glasgow. By the 1980s, however, it had almost completely disappeared. The industry left a city with an identity crisis, rife with poverty and unemployment.

At the very heart of Glasgow’s river industry stood the Queen’s dock, built in 1877 by one John Morrison of Morrison & Mason. Access to the dock was gained through a gate, opened 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.

The Queen’s Dock was eventually filled in. It is now the site of the Scottish Exhibition Centre while the Pumphouse has served as a restaurant, among other things. Tim Morrison, owner of A.D. Rattray and Grandson of Queen’s Dock builder John, bought the old building in 2011. He saw the Pumphouse as an opportunity to bring whisky back to the banks of the Clyde. In November of 2017, that dream became reality as spirit finally ran from the stills, heralding a bright new era for this once derelict section of river.

The Clydeside opened its doors to the public in late November and I couldn’t wait to pay a visit. The visitor centre houses an impressive bottle shop, welcoming cafe and an educational walkthrough which relays the story, not only of the local whisky industry but also of the dock, giving the visitor a real understanding of the building’s place in the city’s history.

The whole project has been designed to perfection with newer sections in stark contrast to the 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 proper, things are rather more functional, though the stunning still-room acts as a focal point for the whole affair, with expansive views of the river that encourage you to stare for a while and dream of the ships that must have swarmed here all those years ago. I found myself forced to subdue a ripple of excitement at the sight of new make flowing 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.

Alas, however, the Clydeside single malt remains some years away as yet, though fortunately the owner’s sister business can step in to offer up a tasty dram in the meantime.

The Whisky

Cask Islay is a single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery that has been bottled at 46% alcohol by volume.

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.

Thoughts: £30 is a very fair price for an Islay malt art 46%. Sure, an age statement would be nice but we all know that Islay whisky does well at a young age so it’s not much of an issue. It’s recognisably Islay, of course, but its perhaps subtler and more rounded than some. Certainly not as overtly smoky as the distilleries on the south coast of the island. Cask Islay is a well put together dram that offers an affordable, yet high quality introduction to the Islay style.

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*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers. 

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