Glasgow might not be Scotland’s capital city, but its streets ahead of its rival on several fronts. Distilling arguably might be one of these categories. For years whisky in Edinburgh has been in a sorry state with only the North British grain distillery flying the flag. It’s a fine grain distillery and for a time after the closure of Port Dundas, Glasgow only could count upon Strathclyde to call its own.
Then Scotland’s whisky boom arrived and took a firm grasp of the country, or mainly the countryside in reality. Distilleries have been popping up left, right and centre but for Scotland’s major cities where space is at a premium, the seeds of growth have taken longer to establish roots. Glasgow has the upper hand with the Clydeside distillery and Glasgow distillery both now in production and verging on being able to produce their own whisky. Edinburgh meanwhile is still stuck on the starting grid, waiting for the green light to start its various proposed projects.
The Clydeside is unsurprisingly set along the banks of the great river itself. Housed in the former Pump House it dates back to 1877 when Customs & Excise would carefully note the shipments from dockside to destinations further afield. Having visited this area of Glasgow for several years there’s been a noticeable regeneration of what previously had become a decaying mausoleum to shipbuilding and a lost industry. Slowly but surely this area has attracted new investment and former structures have been given a new lease of life.
The Pump House was built to serve the Queen’s dock. An engineering feat of the period that was granted the royal seal of approval – an accolade that any whisky baron would welcome. A key feature of the dock was the opening and closing of the swing bridge. At its heart were 2 powerful pumps that pushed water into a huge vertical cylinder that was admirably hidden within a sandstone clock tower. This landmark not only harboured an industrial accumulator but also served the purpose of displaying the time on what would have been a frantic and bustling dockyard environment. Glasgow’s heyday as a maritime port would slowly decline after World War 2. By the end of 1969, the Queen’s Dock was surplus to requirements and closed never to reopen. The gaping chasm was conveniently filled with rubble and debris from the demolished Glasgow tenements, the St Enoch railway station and Cathcart Castle. Only a towering crane near the Scottish Exhibition Conference Centre and the Pump House itself remain to highlight the previous purpose of the site.
What goes around comes around. Thus the fact that the great-grandfather of the Clydeside distillery’s founder Tim Morrison was involved in the dock’s construction is marvellous coincidence. Although this linkage was not discovered until much later after Tim had identified the building as the perfect place to bring distilling back to Glasgow. Keen to resurrect Scotland’s second city as a whisky landmark, the family which once owned Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Bowmore set about creating the Clydeside. Despite selling the trio of established distilleries the family were still involved in whisky owning independent bottlers such as A.D. Rattray and Morrison & MacKay.
A weekend in Glasgow offered Malt the opportunity to visit and experience the hospitality of this new distillery that only opened its doors in November 2017. The convenience of its location and availability of public transport links means that you no longer need to venture further afield to Auchentoshan or Glengoyne. Simply hop onto a city tour bus and a dedicated stop means you’re ready to experience Scotland’s liquid treasure. The tour itself costs £15 per person with a tasting of 3 mystery regional whiskies at the end.
In recent times I’ve visited several of Scotland’s newly established distilleries. Whisky tourism is gathering pace and importance across the country. How do you cater for visitors whilst waiting for our own whisky to mature? Each new arrival goes about tackling this issue in their own unique style. For the Clydeside it already has the historical site and Glasgow itself being a major hub for blending and export. It’s these details that are woven into the visitor experience.
You never know what to expect until you step inside. A typically dreich Glasgow day did not dampen our spirits as we arrived at the former Pump House. The structure itself has been given a modern annexe that houses a set of imposing onion bulb shaped stills – Scottish built of course. There’s a welcoming cafe that serves some of Scotland’s finest produce alongside the temptation of a warm scone and cuppa. Whisky flights are also new on the menu allowing you to explore established names within view of the distillery shop. And what a selection of whiskies it showcases. I’ve never visited a distillery that offers such a range of whiskies from across Scotland. Whether its blends, independent bottlings, official single malts or special editions the Clydeside harbours an assortment that puts many standalone whisky shops to shame. There’s also a premium wing that caters for the more luxurious end of the market. Both areas are well worth exploring as you’ll find nuggets like the latest limited Hazelburn release. Also on sale is the Clydeside’s new make spirit that I’ll cover in a stand-alone review. The shop itself could become a magnet and it feels like a celebration of whisky, which is a theme that continues into the tour.
The tour commences with a short film that recreates the dockside during its heyday. The regional dialect is prominent as is the sense of humour. It sets the tone for a relaxed and informative visitor experience. Photographs are allowed throughout the tour with the only limitation being nearby the spirit safe. I cannot emphasise how welcome this is given how other distilleries are banning the use of photography. We need to make visitors feel welcome and able to capture their visit in some form.
On a side note our tour was populated with several different nationalities underlining the appeal of whisky and the ease of reaching the distillery. After the film, we headed upstairs to the exhibits and interactive areas. Whenever I’m faced with such environment I have flashbacks to the Macallan tour (old version) where it felt you were trapped within their realm being brainwashed by the importance of wood. Thankfully the 20 minutes or so here are well spent learning about the roots of whisky in Scotland and Glasgow’s role. The whisky barons and the historical ramifications of legislation are covered and you’re left to explore at your own leisure.
The resurrection of the Clydeside is covered in the next area before you move into the modern wing. The site is small and the use of bonded warehousing of whisky banned from the Clyde area. The steps of distillation are laid out before you venture into the mill room. It still never ceases to surprise me when you see the mill at a modern facility that it’s not the classic style maybe salvaged from somewhere else. Instead its an Alan Ruddock engineering example from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk that is in situ and coloured red in a nod to tradition. The perfectly formed mash tun leads onto the modern sterile metal washbacks that provide a fermentation time of 72 hours.
The still room is the highlight for many. Gazing out across the Clyde and greater Glasgow even on a wet day such as this was still hugely memorable. A room with a view. Rounding off the tour is 3 drams from Scotland’s whisky regions. These continue the theme of celebrating Scottish whisky that’s so evident throughout the Clydeside tour. Whilst their origins are unknown they are united by being ex-bourbon matured, a decade in age and at 40% strength. Each bottle is available with a personalised label for £30 from the distillery shop – nice touch. And if you’re driving then there’s a welcome take-home option in dinky glass pots. For fun, I’ve reviewed these below.
Lowland 10 year old – review
Colour: sliced apple
On the nose: a very classic Lowland arrival with ripe meadow fruits, mint leaf brings freshness and a chalky mineral aspect. Approachable and engaging without too many barriers to overcome or mysteries to discover.
In the mouth: much of the nose transfers onto the palate with the addition of white chocolate, vanilla and tonka bean. Shortbread comes through and water isn’t necessary. An inoffensive and easy drinking example displaying a balance between the spirit and the cask.
Highland 10 year old – review
On the nose: more apples and pears, more definition alongside sugar cubes and a light caramel vibe. A twist of lemon with a touch of smoke. Very pleasant and assisted by a drop of water.
In the mouth: more apple peel, lemon sponge and vanilla custard. A toffee aspect and honeycomb. Solid enough if lacking depth and strength, but for its purprose on the tour perfectly adequate as an introduction to the region.
Islay 10 year old – review
Colour: a light haze
On the nose: typical coastal aromas with seaweed, driftwood and sea salt. Pine nuts, tablet and a delicate wisp of smoke. A classic selection box of Islay aromas. There’s a sweetness as well with pineapple rings and almonds.
In the mouth: of the trio this whisky suffers the most being taken down to 40% strength. Vanilla popcorn, more almonds and some salt with that touch of smoke once again. Pleasant and in this form very much a starter Islay experience.
A very positive experience and my better half – well versed in such tours as a passenger – was very upbeat about her visit. Almost faultless upon reflection and when we were asked for feedback it was difficult to highlight anything of concern. A tour that underlines Scotland’s national spirit in more ways than one.
My thanks to Bridgeen and the Clydeside distillery team for their warm welcome, hospitality and complimentary tour. Especially Ross for taking us around and his passion for whisky. We’ll certainly be back again if not for the tour then more of those scones in the distillery cafe.