Halloween in Glasgow with the Spook School…
Margaret and Frances MacDonald aren’t household names but there’s a strong case to be made that they should be. Along with their husbands and creative partners – Charles Renine Mackintosh and Herber MacNair – they created the Modern Style, a precursor to the Art Nouveau movement that swept across the world a decade or so later at the end of the 19th century.
No MacDonald sisters, no Kiss from Klimt.
Separately, they were known as Glasgow Girls and Boys, members of the broader Glasgow School of artists. Collectively – for obvious reasons – these two couples were labelled “The Four.” But, for less obvious reasons, they were also known as “The Spook School,” owing to their ghost-like designs and ethereal depictions of the human form.
On a recent trip up to Glasgow – which happened to coincide with Halloween – it seemed only fitting to spend some time exploring the seasonally appropriate world of “spooky” art. It was also a fitting opportunity – as no trip to Glasgow would be complete without some solid boozing – to hunt out some local whisky haunts to weave through the weekend.
Being a big fan of a distillery trip, and vaguely remembering receiving a sample of Glasgow 1770 from Whisky Me (a UK whisky subscription service) a couple of years ago, I figured the Glasgow distillery would be a good bet. I was wrong. It’s located in a retail park outside of the city and isn’t open to visitors. That said, a quick scan of the brand’s website informed me that there is a pop-up shop located in the city centre.
It’s fair to say that the distillery shop isn’t anything to write home about either, being a sort of perma-pop-up sampling and retail counter in a shopping centre. Still, a bottle of Glasgow 1770 Peated was purchased (£49), and I also learned of the brand’s connection to the MacDonald sisters; two of the distillery’s four stills are named Margaret and Frances in honour of the Glasgow Girls of Spook School fame.
An unexpected and satisfying connection… spooky, one might even say.
“But why 1770?” I hear you ask. That was the year Glasgow’s first whisky distillery was founded at Dundashill. Incidentally, just down the road from the distillery site sits the Glasgow School of Art, the now-iconic (and tragically fire-ravaged) home of the Modern Style, where the MacDonald sisters enrolled as day students just over one hundred years later.
Traces of their (Modern) style are evident in the bottle and label design of the Glasgow 1770 range; the ribbed bottle effect nods to the distinctive glasswork of the period and the simplicity and colouring of the label speak to the Celtic-inspired designs of Francis MacDonald in particular.
Having just read David Levine’s excellent review of the Remus Gatsby Reserve 15, how the bottle and artwork “transport the drinker to the roaring 20s and the height of Art Deco design,” I do think there’s something interesting in how packaging and visual design work on the senses. So often dismissed as merely marketing-confected cosmetics, packaging and bottle design can shape and elevate the whole whisky-drinking experience, acting as a sort of sensorial primer before the aromas arrive and the liquid hits the lips.
Speaking of the liquid: it really is a sight to behold.
Glasgow 1770 Peated – Review
46% ABV. £49.
Colour: Impossibly dark and rich Golden Syrup that’s 100% natural
On the nose: A huge tangy malt hit. Like dunking your head in an old beer barrel or the musty sweetness of a sourdough starter. As the damp wood builds there’s a smokiness stirring underneath, which develops into a bacon-flavoured meatiness.
In the mouth: Much lighter and more restrained than expected. Almost a total reverse of the nose, with the peaty and peppery smoked bacon up front and the fruity tang of fried plantain and jaffa cakes moving up from below. There’s a slight volatility of youth which tips the scales towards the smoke spice, but overall it balances out quite well with the sweet notes to create a very enjoyable end-of-evening sipper.
An outrageously deep and dark whisky that absolutely oozes “class in the glass.” For those who tend toward the Islay end of the peat scale it’s probably not going to deliver the goods, but it’s a great alternative option for fans of a sweeter peat style.