Scotland: Day 3 - Glasgow Pride
Another glorious morning in Glasgow. We awoke (after another night of Finnieston's finest at Ox and Finch) and headed over to the offices of Hunter Laing where we met our old friend Andrew and sat down for coffee and croissants. His father Stewart was in the U.S. on a promotional tour, so we would begin our negotiations for this year's Hepburn's Choice and Sovereign selections with the most-recent generation of Laing whisky suppliers. Right off the bat we noticed the new packaging for Sovereign, a very welcome surprise! I quickly informed Andrew of my new obsession with Glasgow as a city—its vibrant food and drink scene especially—and told him we needed to get the "Glasgow Pride" movement started with him: Glasgow's finest whisky bottler. The problem, however, is that there's little whisky actually made in Glasgow anymore. Even nearby Auchentoshan and Glengoyne are at least a twenty minute drive outside of the city limits. He suggested a cask of 30 year old Dumbarton under the new Sovereign label—from the now-defunct grain distillery once located just down the River Clyde—of which he had an open bottle right there on the table. Loaded with soft vanilla and creamy caramel, I told him that sounded just splendid. Book it.
Andrew and his dad Stewart have been incredible partners for us over the last four years, even letting us take ultra-rare whiskies like Port Ellen and Ardbeg from their vast collection. Along with another solid sampling of Hepburn's Choice and Sovereign samples, both David and I were taken by a number of super mature whiskies that simply knocked our socks off. There was another ancient Port Ellen on the table, and a 47 year old sherry butt of Glenfarclas, but the real winner—and easily the best whisky I've tasted on this trip so far—was a 41 year old sherry-matured Teaninich. It was just epic. Unreal. Sublime. Soft and creamy with a profile very much like the Ladyburn and Glenlochy whiskies we've bottled from Signatory in the past. It's coming home with us no matter what I have to do to get it.
After leaving Hunter Laing, we hiked on over to the riverfront where modern Glasgow is currently expanding into groundbreaking new territory. There's the eye-popping new SSE Hydro Arena, a 13,000 seat venue that will host renowned hip-hop diva Nicki Minaj tomorrow night. The glistening metallic majesty of the futuristic-looking Riverside Museum; a fortress containing relics of Glasgow's storied history. You've also got the head office of the BBC just across the water, as well as the main SSE Conference Center, hosting thousands of international business attendees annually. To me, it would seem that any company looking making a splash (pardon the pun) in Glasgow would definitely want to build along the Clyde; the sparkling spectacle of Glasgow's vibrant future. I think I know of one such company actually. Maybe they should invest in some land.
This overhead photo taken during the 1950s shows the location of how previous photo once looked, back when the Queen's Dock (that U-shaped outlet on the left) was once home to Scotland's largest export center for outgoing whisky. Built in 1877, the pump house (just where that little canal allows access into the U-shaped port) once controlled a barrier gate that would open the channel for incoming ships looking to load up on Scotland's greatest national product.
Today the U-shaped dock has been filled in, paved over, and turned into a parking lot, but the pump house still remains; most recently serving as an Indian restaurant and nightclub. All that is about to change, however. The building has since been purchased and plans have been filed to renovate and restore the Queen's Dock to its proper whisky heritage. Guess what whisky fans? Downtown Glasgow is about to get a proper, urban single malt distillery right in the center of town. And guess who's going to help run it? A proper Glasgow family with proper whisky-making roots. My close friend Andrew Morrison and his dad, Tim Morrison, both of Morrison-Bowmore heritage, will be operating partners in what will soon become The Glasgow Distillery—a proper homage to the whisky legacy of Glasgow, built to celebrate the spirit itself, and host the many tourists who come to the city each year (sadly, only find that all the famed Scottish distilleries are not anywhere nearby).
It was at the pump house that we met with Glen Moore, one of the project managers who is helping lead the remodel and designing of the new distillery. A former mill man himself, Glen worked his way up through the Morrison-Bowmore hierarchy years ago and was at one point the assistant manager at Auchentoshan. We spotted him nearby, shook hands, and went in to check out the new digs. While the pump house still needs a major amount of renovating, the distillery itself will be built in the parking lot next door; part of a separate building that will be connected to the old ediface. At full speed, it will produce around 450,000 liters annually and distill only for its own private single malt label (nothing sold off for blending). The house itself will be part of a huge visitors center that will not only function as an educational component to Glasgow's whisky history, but as a museum to all of Scotch whisky's history in its entirety. I won't go into too much detail now, but I was simply speechless after hearing the overview and seeing the plan so far. If Glen and the Morrison's can pull this off, the center is going to be the new mecca of Scotch whisky for the nation. A modern distillery juxtaposed with a historic building on an iconic site with real whisky heritage, all just a short walk away from the most heavily-visited touristic section of the city. I haven't seen anything this cool since the Giants built AT&T Stadium right on the Embarcadero. It's an epic proposal.
The location couldn't be more ideal. It's close to other attractions, close to hotels, close to public transportation, and it's only a short walk over the pedestrian footbridge to Finnieston: the neighborhood of Glasgow where David and I have spent every waking moment thus far. There are so many new restaurants and bars opening just near the new distillery site, to the point that it seems Glasgow is experiencing an entirely new renaissance of food and drink-related culture. I've yet to visit anywhere else in the UK that's on the level Finnieston is currently operating on. The fact that this neighborhood might soon get its own urban whisky distillery is simply exhilerating.
We had to eat once more, of course, at another new restaurant—this time a place called Porter & Rye, where (as you might have guessed from the name) they have in-house, dry-aged porterhouse steaks and an amazing selection of American rye whiskies. We had lunch here with Glen over pints and small plates of various meats, before heading across the street to the Ben Nevis whisky bar for a few drams of A.D. Rattray's Cask Islay (and I haven't even said anything yet about the amazing craft beer movement going on here). Then it was time to head for Edinburgh and the airport hotel, where David and I will soon begin evaluating this year's prospective crop.
We've got a lot of work ahead of us. Tomorrow we're off to Cognac. We need one more gigantic tasting before we can say we left Scotland thoroughly scavenged. One thing I'm very happy about is how much time we got to spend in Glasgow this year. We've always enjoyed the one night a year we stay downtown, but this year we got to experience so much more of what's really happening on the ground, and—more importantly—what we can expect in the future. Make sure you add Glasgow to your list of international cities to visit!