Entries in scotch (2)


Glasgow Dreaming

It is always a thrill and a treat for me when I get a chance to learn more about the history and connections of things that I am passionate about. In Glasgow, at the start of our whisky trip, I was fascinated to learn how important this city is to the story of Scotch. Somehow, I had completely missed the relationship that this city, and its placement on the Clyde, has both with familiar brands and with the export of the Scottish “Water of Life” across the globe.


Fortunately in the brand new Clydeside Distillery I was taught the importance of this place while being treated to a stunning experience. The Clydeside Distillery was only opened in November of 2017 so they are years away from producing any Scotch, but this is a facility that has so much more to offer, especially as they get established. Started by Tim and Andrew Morrison of AD Rattray fame, this quickly-becoming iconic building is housed in an old pump house on the Clyde that used to power a bridge stretching across the waters. Restoring this beautiful old building and creating an impressive new distillery within it is just another piece of Tim and Andrew’s desire to help people connect to the history of this spirit while writing their own new chapter.

The Morrisons have a long history with Scotch itself, having created the Bowmore and Laphraoig brands, as well as others, but the father and son wanted to also show the role Glasgow and the Clyde played in this magical liquid. On the tour, one is treated to a short trip into the past of a city that rose to be the “Second City of the Empire” in the 18th century. The location of Glasgow and the creation of impressive docks and cranes allowed the movement of whisky, tobacco, sugar, and hundreds of other products across the British empire and beyond. Glasgow became the second most important port behind only London itself. It was here that the rise of blenders and the Whisky Barons took place, and the export of Scotch became big business with brands like Dewars.


The tour begins and ends in the gift shop. Rather than a standard gift shop simply stocking branded merchandise and their own products, Clydeside Distillery has created a carefully curated bottle shop with guests having an opportunity to buy from a wide range of whisky. The Morrisons believe in the history and connection of Scotch and want their guests to have a chance to taste various expressions even as they are creating their own. However, this does not mean that you cannot buy anything they are making. In addition to being able to purchase some truly remarkable bottlings, the Clydeside Distillery also boasts a fantastic cafe. In keeping with the mission of tying everything to place, this cafe sells local meats, cheeses, soups, and pastries. They also do whisky flights so guests can try their hands at pairing food and Scotch. I highly recommend the Taste of Scotland platter to anyone lucky enough to visit.

One other interesting item to note with this distillery: a visitor also has the ability to purchase the New Make spirit, or un-aged whisky, that the distillery is currently producing. While this is the sort of thing I generally steer away from I must admit that even with the high proof of the clear spirit there was something spectacular, soft, and fruity present, and I am excited to taste the whisky from this place.

- Andrew Stevens



Scotland Day 4: Dawn in the New Era


My final night in Speyside I met up with some friends who happened to be in the area. The next day was the start of the Speyside Whisky Festival, an annual celebration of this special part of the Highlands. Over ten thousand visitors were expected to attend the various festivities. I’d spent so much of the last few days talking business and examining casks I’d forgotten how fun Scotland really is. 

We headed over to the famous Highlander Whisky Bar in Craigellachie. Even early it was packed with people from all over the place. Loads of Scandinavians, Japanese, Germans, Americans all squished into that little bar examining their exotic selection—it was a site to be hold. They traded stories about their favorite distilleries or just shared a few glasses of some ridiculously rare whisky. Even the Japanese whisky selection at the Highlander is unprecedented by California standards.


Equally magnificent is the food at the Copper Dog Restaurant in the Craigellachie Hotel, which was my final stop of the Speyside portion of the trip. The next morning I said goodbye to my friends in the front yard and headed out for my last full day in Scotland. I swung by the new and, might I add, outrageous distillery at the Macallan, a giant middle finger to traditional Scottish architecture, but certainly an impressive feat of engineering. 


After gawking at the Speyside Spaceship, the cost supposedly about equal to a mid-tier space program, I zoomed back through the Cairngorms to make my final appointments. Today I was visiting Signatory for the first time in a few years. I was excited to see my old friend Des and check on the progress of their new facility. Edradour #2 is fully functional and nearing the final stages.

They’ve been distilling here for a bit and working to achieve a consistent replica to the spirits down the hill. It’s a near copy of its tiny neighbor but with plenty of room to expand. Des explained that the biggest challenge to regulating the spirit was the use of the naturally cooled work tubs, which affect the speed of distillation. That natural movement in the original distillery’s water source has been difficult to replicate, but they seem to have worked out the kinks.  

Next, we dove into the warehouses to see if there was anything new that might be attractive. A lot of the old stock we’d done so well with is so rare and depleted that at this point they’ve become prohibitively expensive, but Des had some new tricks up his sleeve, including some young glorious Highlanders and a few older offerings. Indeed these guys are extremely good at making sure they pull in the best cask and the additional 19K spots in those warehouses bode well for the future.


We’re going to push hard to get the best possible pricing on this new batch of Signatorys. Their new distributors are old friends so hopefully that will help speed the process along. As Driscoll has mentioned here many times before, bottlers are almost dead in the water these days if they’re not already building a distillery at this point. G&M saw the writing on the walls in the 90s. Signatory bought one and they still had to build another! But they can’t all be Bruichladdich, you know?

We’re looking to partner with people who are in it for the long haul. That’s why we’re so excited that our two best suppliers of single malt are each building distilleries, albeit in very different places and styles. Tomorrow we visit the Laing Companies. One family, two companies, and thousands of barrels of great whisky. I’ll have the two Andrews from the NorCal stores along to introduce them to our old friends. From there, they’ll depart on a whirlwind tour of Islay, while I head south to Armagnac to secure new single casks from cult bottler L’Encantada. Expect some exciting commentary from that most mystical isle and, if I can find a WiFi signal, I’ll try to keep you up to date on the brandy hunt.

-David Othenin-Girard