Hunter Laing & Co’s MD discusses plans for his new Islay dream distillery, Ardnahoe.
It's a slight exaggeration to say that Glasgow was built on whisky. It was built on steel and shipbuilding, tobacco and sugar, but whisky played a significant part in its Victorian prosperity. That legacy has been forgotten in recent years. Scotland’s whisky city? Elgin? Dufftown? Not Glasgow, surely.
Weegie whisky didn’t disappear, it just seemed to go underground. The fact that there has been an operational distillery in the Gorbals since 1927 has been pretty much forgotten. (It’s called Strathclyde, by the way.) The district’s previous plant, Adelphi, closed in 1907 and is now the site of Glasgow’s central mosque.
Strathclyde was the last. The smell of Sugar Puffs emanating from the Port Dundas grain distillery ceased in 2011 and a site which had once had contained three distilleries, including Dundashill, at one time the largest pot-still distillery in the world, closed forever.
The centre of the city was quieter too. From the mid-19th century, the brokers and blenders were located here. Firms such as Robertson & Baxter in West Nile Street, Greenlees Bros and Teacher’s in St Enoch Square, Wm Whitely, Ainslie & Heilbron and, largest of them all, the seven-acre Washington Street complex founded by W P Lowrie and subsequently taken over by James Buchanan. At its height it contained a cooperage, bonded warehouse (itself the largest in the world), blending labs, offices and bottling halls.
Return of the native: malt stocks mature in Glasgow again (Pic: Gavin D Smith)
I’m old enough to remember the Black & White dray horses which were stabled there and to have experienced the end of an era when I was drammed and lunched in the blenders’ fine wood-panelled offices, an era when little work tended to be done in the afternoon.
There are a few scattered remains in the city centre. Whyte & Mackay still clings on, the Laing brothers run their two operations, while Bowmore still has its bond in Springburn (though the days of being generously lunched there have now ended).
Whisky is still blended and bottled here, though. Dewar’s lies close to Parkhead, while Edrington dismantled and then reassembled the old R&B blending lab in its new blending and bottling hall in Great Western Road. Diageo bottles in Shieldhall, Chivas Bros further out in Kilmalid. For malt distilling, however, Auchentoshan was the closest thing to a Weegie distillery.
No longer. Now The Glasgow Distillery Co has opened in Hillington, close to the airport. In classic 21st century style, it kicked off by launching a gin, Makar, while stocks of malt are already being laid down and, in another modern practice, casks are being sold through a membership scheme.
It’s not alone – or won’t be for long. Dewar Rattray has plans for a distillery (somewhat confusingly called Glasgow Distillery) next to the river in Queen’s Dock, and I suspect it won’t be the last. Glaswegian whisky-making is back overground once more.
- Does ice ruin or improve single malt Scotch?
- Masters of Whisky reinstated by Diageo
- New bottler targets Scotch whisky collectors
- How do Sherry casks flavour whisky?
- New whisky tasting notes: Batch 67
- Arran releases second Smugglers’ Series malt
- Million-pound whisky leak prompts probe
- Cannabis: a threat to Scotch?
- An autumn harvest of whisky
- Booker’s resists Scotch Whisky Bible revival
Latest news 20 January 2016
The independent bottler has revealed plans to build an £8 million malt whisky distillery on Islay.
Latest news 22 September 2016
Building work is now due to start at Islay’s ninth distillery in November.
Festivals and events 03 May 2016
Whisky and chocolate; whisky and music; whisky and dancing. The SoSWF concluded at a frenetic pace.
Whisky heroes 23 August 2016
The ‘Whisky Baron’ overcame ill-health to create some of Scotch’s most successful blends.