Urban distilling could be the future

19 October, 2018

Over the past 12 months I have had the pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time in three of my favourite cities – Glasgow, Dublin, and Louisville.

All are the principal cities in three of the world’s most important whisky(e)y producing destinations – Scotland, Ireland and Kentucky. But amazingly, until not long ago, they had something else in common – none of them produced whisk(e)y spirit within their city’s walls. Oh, you could put up an argument for Auchentoshan in Glasgow but, despite the spread of the city, the distillery remains a rural one, even if its advertising suggests something else.

In the past year it has become clear they have another thing in common, too. All three have brought distilling back in to the heart of the city, and they are producing quality spirit in establishments that are far removed from the rural idylls normally associated with whisky production.

In Dublin, a new wave of distilleries are helping to bring the run-down and struggling The Liberties area of the city back to life.

In Louisville, Kentucky, whiskey never went away entirely – Heaven Hill and Brown Forman have city distilleries. But a new wave of distilleries are operating on or close to Whiskey Row, where the old bourbon giants used to trade. Evan Williams, Angel’s Envy, Kentucky Peerless and Michter’s are producing a range of American whiskey in various quantities, but each has an exciting story to tell.

What Dublin and Louisville both share is a focus on the industrial heritage of whiskey – the trading, enchanting side of the industry. But when it comes to that aspect of spirit production, both are trumped by Glasgow.

Indeed, The Glasgow Distillery is as far removed as it could be from the pagodas and pretty streams of Speyside, occupying a warehouse on a lorry park for a logistics and distribution company which sends whisky from the city to the rest of the world.

But it’s at the Clydeside Distillery where the marriage between industry and whisky is best expressed.

The distillery is built into the stylish building which housed the Pumphouse which once powered the bridge at Queen’s Dock on the Clyde, and picks up where the wonderful Clydebuilt Museum leaves off, using interactive audio-visual and old black and white film and photos to show how immense the Clyde shipbuilding industry was, and how scotch whisky was part of its story.

It brings an exciting, vibrant and urban dimension to whisky, which will appeal to a younger generation who do not relate to the countryside but can identify with an austere, hard-working and proud industrial past.

Clydeside sits prominently on the banks of the river, and will play a key role in pumping fresh life into what is a crucial heritage site.

The distilleries of Glasgow, Louisville and Dublin have another thing in common. Tourist-friendly they may be, but make no mistake, they’re very serious about making malt, world-class whiskey.

Having tasted new-make and young spirit at distilleries in all three destinations, I can confirm they’re well and truly on track.

These are three cities on fire, with whisk(e)y spirit flowing through their veins.

Urban whisk(e)y? It might just be the future.

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