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A new chapter in Glasgow’s whisky story…
The Clydeside is the second malt distillery to spring to life in Glasgow in recent times. Ever since the Kinclaith stills within the Strathclyde grain complex fell silent, the city has been bereft of malt whisky production. It is a rather sorry state of affairs for a city that once housed several distilleries and countless blenders and bottlers.
Back in those days the River Clyde bustled with activity. Ships from all over the world sailed up the river with many of them berthing at the Queen’s Dock. Constructed in 1877 by Morrison and Mason, building of the dock was overseen by John Morrison. As part of the design, he incorporated a hydraulic pump house that raised and lowered the bridge that served as the dock’s gate.
Queen’s Dock wasn’t a particularly safe place to work. An article in The Fife Herald of Thursday 12th December 1878 tells of a “melancholy accident”. On a foggy morning, three men were delivering goods to a waiting ship. In the murky conditions they missed the warning light that declared the bridge raised. Horse, cart and passengers plummeted into the freezing Clyde. There were no survivors.
Such incidents were far from rare. Further browsing through old newspapers turned up another incident the same year. A labourer by the name of McNaught was shunting wagons when he lost control and was run over. He suffered massive injuries and died later that evening. Another incident took place on the 28th of June 1895. A seaman named William Leisk lost his footing when he was tying a mooring rope and drowned in the river below. Similarly, in 1908, another seaman lost his balance whilst boarding the SS Greendyke. He too lost his life in the Clyde.
By the 1970s the thriving industry of the River Clyde had all but disappeared. The Queen’s Dock had been filled in and the Pump House lay dormant. In the years that followed, the building served time as an Indian restaurant, a Contractor’s Office and even a visitor centre for the Tall Ship attraction that was moored nearby.
Then in 2011, the story of the Pump House came full circle. Tim Morrison, formerly of Morrison Bowmore and owner of AD Rattray, purchased the building with a view to converting it into a distillery. Tim is the great-grandson of John Morrison, who built the Pump House and the dock it served, 134 years earlier.
Due to the unusual nature of the building and its riverside location, the project met with a series of complications that delayed building work until 2016. The pot stills finally began to flow in November of 2017 and the distillery’s doors opened to the public on the 23rd. Yours truly popped along that very afternoon to see Glasgow’s newest distillery with my own eyes.
By then, the Glasgow Distillery Company had already been producing in the southside of the city for a few years but even though that is an interesting project in its own right, its small, craft nature and urban setting prevented them from welcoming guests in any great number. With The Clydeside, Glasgow had a distillery that people could visit and tour. Finally, Glasgow was back on the whisky map.
The death of Glasgow’s shipping industry was, in many ways, the death of the city so there’s maybe no greater symbol of the city’s rejuvenation than new businesses springing up on the banks of its deserted river. That there is now a distillery, making single malt whisky on the very dockside where cases of the stuff were once shipped all over the world is all the more satisfying.
The Clydeside reached the all-important three year milestone in late 2020. Since then, whisky fans have been eagerly waiting for the arrival of its first single malt expression. I’m incredibly pleased to say, that it has now been released and I have a bottle sitting in front of me, ready to be opened.
Smell: Quite a complex nose. First thing I noticed was toffee and malt. Next came some honey with a bit of lime. There was apple too. Then more of that gristy, malty character. With a splash of water I noticed some pear and even more citrus. Over time the fruity notes became tropical with pineapple and mango coming through.
Taste: More robust than I expected. The nose is quite light and fresh but the palate has pepper and liquorice all-sorts at first. Then there’s honey and orange. Then lots of apple. Pear, too. A touch of lemon. Water brought more fruits. Turning more tropical. Lime and kiwi. Pineapple. Some fresh oak on the finish.
Thoughts: To the credit of all involved, I don’t think there’s a really obvious immaturity about the spirit and it also hasn’t been smothered in overactive oak. In fact, the balance between spirit and cask is quite good. That’s a pretty good indication that quality spirit is being produced because there’s nowhere for it to hide. Sure it’s been helped along but it seems like the best aspects of this dram come from the spirit, rather than the oak.
It’s great to see Glasgow’s newest whisky bottled at 46%, as well. I had some concerns when they started offering label-your-own distillery exclusive bottlings at 40% and really hoped that wasn’t a sign of things to come. Thankfully, it wasn’t. In any case, it would have been a crime to chill-filter this dram. It’s got a lovely weight on the palate and I’m sure that would have been ruined.
It’s a young whisky but it shows its youth through a fresh, vibrant flavour profile rather than any unwanted spirit heat. It was also rather sensibly priced, at £45 a bottle. There are some positive signs that new distilleries are choosing not to pander to the silly flipper’s market with their pricing. Ardnamurchan, Torabhaig, Lindores and now, The Clydeside have all released their debut bottles at affordable prices. Long may that continue.
For the sake of adding a little balance, perhaps one slight criticism I could offer is that there isn’t anything particularly unique or unusual going on. I thought the dram shared some characteristics with several other young malts I’ve come across lately. Still, what it does, it does very well and admittedly, it is really early days. At the risk of sounding biased, I’m delighted! It would have really sucked if Glasgow’s new single malt wasn’t very good. Fortunately, they’ve made one helluva start.
For more on The Clydeside visit here