Distillery Focus

A Still Called Annie

The spirit starts to flow in Glasgow
By Gavin D. Smith
When the first cask was filled on 4 March of this year in the anonymous former warehouse which is home to the Glasgow Distillery, it marked the return of malt whisky distillation to Scotland's largest city for the first time since 1903.

The original Glasgow Distillery was built in 1770 at Dundashill and was operated by the Glasgow Distillery Company from 1825. A column still was installed to produce grain spirit in 1899, just before the blended Scotch whisky boom turned spectacularly to bust. Four years later the distillery fell silent never to reopen.

Fast forward to 2013 when the Glasgow Distillery Company was revived by Liam Hughes and business associates, initially with the intention of distilling only gin. Hughes has been in the drinks business since leaving university - working for Grand Metropolitan amongst other firms - while Marketing Director Mike Haywood was employed by Burton-on- Trent brewers Bass.

"We both have sales and marketing backgrounds," says Hughes "and we always wanted to do something like this.

We looked at the growing gin business, and we were keen to do it in Glasgow, where I live. Glasgow is a vibrant city with great bars, as good as you'll find in London or New York in my opinion." "Glasgow had no heritage of gin-making but we found out about the old Glasgow Distillery Company and although we were just going to distil gin to start with, we got into the idea of bringing malt whisky production back to Glasgow." Meanwhile, a 450 litre gin still called Annie - the first gin still in Glasgow - had been installed in the premises sourced by Liam Hughes as the base for the Glasgow Distillery Company. He had been working in association with the Russell Group - a major Glasgow based transport and logistics firm with substantial interests in the movement of spirit for Scotch whisky distillers - and was able to lease premises from them.

As Hughes explains, "The building was originally a wine storage warehouse and had been used by Russell's to decant casks. It was within their secure site at Hillington, just off the M8, where there is lots of warehousing for spirits. Having the use of this existing building meant we were able to get up and running quite quickly." So it was that the seven times distilled gin began to flow from Annie, with 300 bottles being filled from each run. The gin is named Makar - an old Scots word for poet - and Liam Hughes says that "It's to be found in most of Glasgow's better bars and far beyond and has greatly exceeded our expectations. It is stocked by Fortnum & Mason in London and in The Whisky Shop chain and Majestic Wines' Scottish branches. It's also now just going into the USA, Dubai and right across Europe." When it came to the business of making whisky, Hughes and associates called on the expertise of David Robertson, whisky investment guru and one time Macallan distiller. "David helped set up the distillery and acts as consultant," explains Hughes, who adds that "The wash still is called Tara after my daughter, and the spirit still is Mhairi, after the daughter of one of our directors." All the distilling equipment was supplied by the Stuttgart family firm of Carl, which specialises in fabricating artisan distilling and brewing kit.

According to Liam Hughes, "We're aiming for a style of spirit with a sweet, malty, creamy mouthfeel and a fruity character. We're taking a broad spirit cut to help give it a creamy, oily character." In charge of distilling is Jack Mayo, who was appointed to the post straight out of Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh where he retrained as a distiller, having previously gained a PHD in astrophysics!

Some dozen casks are currently being filled per week by Mayo and his colleagues, and most spirit is being filled into ex-Bourbon casks, along with some port pipes, plus a number of 50 litre and 100 litre ex-sherry casks. "We will mostly release single cask expressions or 8 to 10 casks vatted together at most," says Liam Hughes, "and we may offer 'work in progress' bottlings or we may wait for five years before the first release. That's still to be decided." The well established revenue raising model of selling casks of new-make spirit has been embraced by The Glasgow Distillery Company through its '1770 Club' membership programme.

Club members can choose to purchase from a range of cask sizes, and have them specially stencilled, as well as being given the opportunity to tour the distillery. This does not take long, as all operations take place within the single production building, where the first 100 casks filled, along with the '1770' casks, are stored, though a dedicated on-site warehouse has also been established.

However long consumers might have to wait to sample malt whisky made on the premises, Hughes and his associates have come up with a way of providing them with a little something to sip as the Glasgow single malt matures.

As Hughes explains, "We bought some old 26 Years Old Speyside single malt on the condition we didn't use the distillery name, so we're selling it as Prometheus.

We did this partly for revenue generation and partly because it's very important we get the name of Glasgow Distillery out there - on the Prometheus label and box.

"The emphasis is on bringing high quality products to the market under our name. It's all about associating the Glasgow Distillery name with quality, just as we do with Makar gin. It also allows us to establish a distribution route which we can use for our own whisky in time, and Prometheus is already being exported to the USA. We have 3,000 bottles of Prometheus at 26 Years Old, and we plan to release older batches in time, probably including a 30 Years Old." With the commencement of whiskymaking by The Glasgow Distillery Company the city can now boast that it has a second distillery to join Chivas Brothers' Strathclyde grain distillery, located in the Gorbals district. This restores the long-time status quo of Glasgow having two operational distilleries, a situation that ended with the closure of Diageo's Port Dundas facility in 2010.

There are also plans for a third distillery - rather confusingly to be named The Glasgow Distillery - as the independent bottlers AD Rattray Scotch Whisky Company intend to spend £10 million transforming the old Pump House on the banks of the River Clyde close to the Hydro Arena into a distillery and visitor centre.

This is all good news for fervent Glaswegians, who can claim that their great rival city of Edinburgh has only one working distillery - the North British - and no malt whisky production at all!

Getting Technical

Eden Mill

Malt: unpeated - mixed barley varieties

Mashing: full lauter mashtun - one tonne mash

Fermentation: 4 x stainless steel washbacks - 5,400 litres each. Minimum 72 hours fermentations

Distillation: 1 wash still, 2,400 litres charge, 1 spirit still, 1,400 litres charge

Annual capacity: 100,000 litres

Sampling the Spirit

Glasgow Distillery New-make Spirit, 63.4% ABV

Nose: Sweet, floral and fruity, with melon and a hint of toffee.

Palate: Biscuity, with sweet orchard fruits and ginger.

Finish: Lengthy, with more ginger and lingering caramel.

Prometheus 26 Years Old Speyside Single Malt, 47% ABV

Nose: Musky sherry, Turkish Delight, caramel and a hint of smoke.

Palate: Full-bodied, lively spices, Christmas cake and dried fruits.

Finish: Relatively long, softly spiced, with subtle oak and smoky dark chocolate.