A nail in whisky regions’ coffin

on 15 January, 2016

Light, floral, sweet and fruity aren’t the first words that spring to mind when it comes to describing the city of Glasgow.

And you’d struggle to find too many similarities between Edinburgh to the east and Glasgow to the west. They are the proverbial chalk and strongly flavoured cheese, the former all kilt and castles, the latter more folk and footie.

So when it comes to Glasgow producing its own malt whisky, you would hardly expect it to conform to the standard description of a Lowland malt and get into bed with the likes of Glenkinchie – even though, geographically, a Lowland whisky it should be.

Unsurprisingly, then, the Glasgow Distillery, still some years away from bottling its first single malt, is experimenting with all sorts of malt spirit and putting it in to all sorts of casks. It puts emphasis on robust, rich and even oily malts. It even plans to do a heavily peated whisky. What it won’t be doing is wimpy.

As chief executive officer Liam Hughes puts it: “There is no point in doing a lightly peated whisky because that’s not what Glasgow is like. I never describe our spirit as a Lowland malt, I call it Glasgow metropolitan.”

Hughes says that when the new distillery released its Makar Glasgow Gin – the name means poet – one of its lead flavours was orange. That received a mixed response in Scotland’s second city.

“It wasn’t that Glasgow’s barmen didn’t like it,” he says. “They just wanted something a bit weightier. So they have taken to serving it with a chilli in it. That’s why our whisky needs to be full flavoured.”

And, sure enough, the new make and young spirit I tasted was not only of exceptional quality, but it had more in common with what would traditionally be associated with a Speyside or even Highland taste profile.

All of which bangs another nail in the coffin of traditional whisky regions. The idea that descriptors such as Lowland, Highland or Speyside can adequately describe a whole region’s taste profile has looked shaky for about a decade now, but increasingly no business in its right mind would limit itself to one whisky style when consumers expect diversity and choice.

There is a lot to be excited about from the Glasgow Distillery, but when it comes to the whisky side of the business don’t expect some gimmicky new-make bottling or ‘works in progress’ in the coming months. The distillery’s management team has decided against jumping on to the under-age spirit bandwagon.

A good thing, too. Is anyone else getting fed up with the trend to inflict under-cooked spirit at ridiculous prices? My favourite is ‘premium’ moonshine made to an original recipe retrieved from some original good ol’ boy moonshiners living in the heart of the Appalachian mountains. What a load of old tosh. Gutrot is gutrot.

As anyone from Glasgow would be only too willing to tell you.   

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