Mushrooming from a medieval bishopric and 15th century university town, Glasgow's existence as a small religious and academic rural settlement was transformed as it rose as a vital trade hub in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its importance to the transatlantic tobacco and cotton trades.
By 1787 the city was home to three licenced distilleries (Dundashill, Yoker, and Gorbals) and countless illicit stills with the number of distilleries seeing further growth following the favourable terms of the 1823 Excise Act, which was shortly followed by the deepening of the Clyde to accommodate larger ships into the city’s docks.
However, this success wasn’t to last and the city’s whisky scene declined along with its transatlantic trade, shipbuilding and other heavy industries. The last single malt distillery to be built in Glasgow was Kinclaith, which was added to the Strathclyde grain distillery complex in 1957 but was dismantled in 1975.
Strathclyde Distillery is very much alive. Located in the Gorbals, this 40 million lpa per year site was originally built in 1927 by Seager Evans to supply both grain whisky and grain neutral spirit, in time becoming a supplier to the Long John stable of whiskies.
Glasgow’s other grain distillery, Port Dundas grain site, owned by Diageo, managed to survive until as recently as 2010 before being closed and demolished. Built in 1811 beside the Forth & Clyde Canal, its water-links with the rest of the country made it a valuable asset to the city. Two serious fires during the early 20th century didn’t put it out of commission for long and it was modernised in the 1970s.
While its reputation as one of the world’s greatest shipping waterways is realistically a thing of the past, the River Clyde continues to be the focal point and recently saw a new distillery grace its banks.
Located on the Queen’s Dock, which was once at the heart of the city’s transatlantic trade, the new Clydeside Distillery came about following a £10.5 million project spearheaded by Tim Morrison, of Morrison Bowmore Distillers fame.
Incorporating the sandstone pump house that once controlled the bridge entry into the dock, the Clydeside Distillery makes for an impressive sight on the waterside. The new visitor centre also includes a café which is drawing in tourists and locals alike. And so the city now has a fully-fledged whisky visitor attraction close to the city centre, thus restoring the city’s whisky credentials.
However, that’s not to say Glasgow and its surrounding country did not offer plenty for the whisky traveller before Clydeside came on to the scene. In fact, Clydeside is only the most recent of the city’s distilleries, as it was preceded by the 200,000 lpa per year Glasgow Distillery in Hillington, founded in 2012 by Liam Hughes, Mike Hayward and Ian McDougall. The distillery has become well known for its Makar Glasgow Gin and G52 Urban Craft Vodka. However single malt Scotch whisky is to be the core of the business going forward. In fact the Glasgow Distillery recently announced its first single malt release, named ‘1770’ after Glasgow’s original distillery that was founded at Dundashill in that year.
Beyond the city limits there is plenty to occupy the whisky traveller as three well-known distilleries can be found practically on the doorstep.
The first of these is Auchentoshan Distillery, which until recently was the most viable whisky visitor attraction for tourists spending time in Glasgow. This certainly would’ve given any uninitiated visitor a bit of cause for pause as, unlike the vast majority of single malt whisky produced in Scotland, all of Auchentoshan’s spirit is triple distilled. It was founded around 1820 and was licenced by 1823. Like many distilleries, it changed hands many times until it was bought up by Stanley P Morrison (the father of Tim Morrison of Clydeside Distillery) in the mid-1980s and became part of the Morrison Bowmore Distillers stable. Today, it is owned by BeamSuntory. The distillery is open to the public, offers regular tours and is a key stop for anyone wishing to understand triple distillation.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away to the north, past Milnagavie, lies the picturesque Glengoyne Distillery. This distillery is famously situated in the Highlands (just), while its warehouses, which are located across the road, are still in the Lowlands. Founded in 1833 by George Connell, the site didn’t acquire the name Glengoyne until 1907 and was originally known as Glen Guin of Burnfoot. Today, the distillery is known for producing its spirit very slowly and promoting copper contact at every stage in order to create a light and elegant new make.
This distillery is also particularly remarkable for its green credentials 100 per cent of the electricity used on site is from renewable sources. The distillery’s spent lees are processed for release back into the environment via a series of 12 reed beds.
The final distillery in the area can be found in the town of Alexandria, West Dumbartonshire. Once famous for being the home of the Argyll Motor Works, then Scotland’s largest car manufacturer, today all that remains of this pioneering company is the grand sandstone façade of the now-demolished factory. However, this sleepy town is in fact home to one of Scotland’s larger distilleries: Loch Lomond. Built in the mid-1960s, this distillery is famous for operating three different types of stills: traditional pots (for single malt production), column (for grain production) and finally ‘Lomond’ style stills, which have pots as bases and tall, cylindrical necks fitted with copper plates. The site also experiments with different yeast types and is able to produce a total of 11 different spirit styles to supply its numerous brands. There is also a cooperage on the site, which processes around 10,000 barrels per year. Loch Lomond Distillery isn’t open to the public, however its brands are becoming more widely available.
Sampling the whisky at Glengoyne