Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters aims to shine a spotlight on how this amazing natural resource has shaped the landscape while forging industries. On World Whisky Day (16 May), while we continue to #StayAtHome during these unprecedented times, we wanted to celebrate the spirit of Scotland’s whisky industry, how it has shaped our culture and why it’s respected around the world.
We spoke to Andrew Morrison, Managing Director of The Clydeside Distillery to find out more about the family business and why the location of the distillery is so special. We also found out what The Clydeside Distillery, and others across Scotland, have been doing to support the local community over the past few months while we look to protect NHS Staff and key workers during the current crisis….
You’re based in the heart of the Queens Dock in Glasgow, what makes that such a special place to distil whisky?
We sit on a site formerly known as the Queen’s Dock – a vast commercial wet dock opened by Queen Victoria in 1877. This location has a historical link to whisky with The Pumphouse controlling the entry gate to the Queen’s Dock – witnessing ships exporting whisky all over the world. Personally, the Morrison family also have a link to the site with my great, great grandfather building the Queen’s Dock.
When visiting the distillery, you really are immersed in the heritage of the site and its links to the proud history of shipbuilding on the River Clyde. The site really does speak for itself. The Clyde played such an important part in Glasgow’s development and the growth of industry. We are very proud to be playing a part in the regeneration of the area and to restore a historically significant building that was in considerable disrepair has been particularly satisfying.
As a family run business, steeped in a strong whisky and maritime heritage, what makes your Clydeside Single Malt Whisky so unique?
Our approach was unique at the time. There were several new distilleries being built around Scotland but none located within a city centre. While we always believed the location would attract a lot of visitors, our absolute priority was to create a high-quality single malt. We are passionate about using traditional methods to produce our whisky and the skills of our distillers ensure we stay true to the techniques which have been employed for hundreds of years. Despite technology moving with the times, the process and techniques used to make our single malt remain true to its roots.
We have a fantastic distillery manager and team who focus entirely on a production method that delivers the best possible quality of spirit.
On a normal day, what is the best part about your job?
I’m lucky to be working with a fantastic group of people. Our distillery team are incredibly passionate about whisky and delivering the best experience for our visitors. It’s a pleasure to work with them on a daily basis and see them develop. To achieve what we have in such a short time is entirely down to our staff from all across the business; from production and visitor centre to finance and marketing, it’s a real team effort.
These are unprecedented times for the industry, country and world, why did you feel it was important to help in the fight against COVID-19 to help protect our key workers?
There was obviously a real challenge in producing and distributing enough hand sanitiser to those in need and, as a distillery, we are in a unique position to help. Once we had carried out the necessary checks, we were able to start producing sanitiser very quickly.
Although there have been some challenges, two things have really motivated our team throughout the production process. The first is simply the courage, compassion and determination of key workers in health and social care sectors – they really are an inspiration to us all. Secondly, just to see the appreciation and gratitude from those who we have delivered sanitiser is a real reminder of just how important it is to work together to achieve a shared goal.
What got you involved with the #ViseUp campaign?
I have been friends with the owner of SWG3, Andrew Fleming Brown (AKA Mutley to his pals), since childhood and our businesses are in really close proximity to each other. I happened to mention to him we were starting the process of producing hand sanitiser at the distillery and we agreed immediately there was a great opportunity for us to support the #ViseUp campaign.
The #ViseUp campaign is a partnership between The Innovation School at Kelvinside Academy, SWG3, and, other local schools and businesses. The campaign has been committed to producing and distributing PPE visors for NHS staff and front line workers across the community. With hand sanitiser in great demand from organisations across the health and social care sector, we are very proud to be playing our part in ViseUp by producing sanitiser at our distillery and donating it around Glasgow. It really is a great thing when local businesses can come together to support the community in a time of need.
Since the lockdown began, how has the business adapted to the ongoing situation?
Since we closed our doors, we have been busy focusing our energy on producing and donating as much hand sanitiser as possible and it has been crucial for us to take the necessary steps and decisions to ensure our business is able to ride out the storm caused by COVID-19.
The part that many don’t see though, the physical whisky distilling, is still going on – albeit with close adherence to government regulations and social distancing – so we are still on our journey to produce a high-quality Single Malt Scotch Whisky. We have also been using this time to make updates and improvements to our website for example. Our goal remains to offer our visitors the very best experience and we are looking forward to being able to reopen our doors when the time is right.
Celebrating World Whisky Day, as part of the Scottish whisky industry, what do you think makes it so well respected all over the world?
I believe certain products just suit the environment in which they are created, and consumers can relate to that. Certainly Scotland has a long established tradition of producing whisky, which is a great start but heritage only lasts if the quality continues to be exceptional.
The investment within the industry to better understand the science behind production and maturation is staggering, as are the results which continue to strengthen the reputation of Scotch whisky around the world. Likewise, the emergence of great whiskies from around the world will continue to put pressure on the quality of spirit being released by Scottish distillers, which is a good thing!
Apart from your own, do you have a favourite Scotch whisky?
I don’t really have a particular single malt that I favor but certainly depending on the weather, my mood, what I am doing or eating hugely influences the whisky I choose. I also like to vary the way in which I drink whisky. For example, an Islay whisky or a cask strength independent bottler with just a little water, Bourbon with a large block of ice or Japanese blends mixed with soda – they are all different and have a unique impact on the palette. I really don’t take it too seriously; I firmly believe whisky preferences are deeply personal and I just like to play around with different options.
Do you have a favourite place or memory connected to Scotland’s coasts or waters?
Islay has always been a very special place to me. Every summer since as far back as I can remember, our family would visit for two weeks. The island has had a profound influence on me, particularly in regards to whisky while the Morrison family were owners of Bowmore Distillery. It’s hard to describe the sense of arrival, to immediately feel at ease and relaxed is hard to find these days.
What else to try...
Many whisky distilleries from across Scotland have halted or diversified production, using centuries’ old traditions and techniques for a new, shared goal: the production of hand sanitiser. In light of hand sanitiser shortages, many of Scotland’s distilleries have stepped up to produce much-needed sanitiser for key workers and vulnerable residents to protect and help the local communities they call home.
The wonders of technology are also ensuring whisky fans can indulge responsibly in a virtual whisky tasting or tour and let the taste of a good dram transport them from their homes to Scotland.
Isle of Harris Distillery, a newbie to the whisky scene with its forthcoming 'The Hearach' single malt , is producing hand sanitiser to help support local businesses. It has also released a second online album on Spotify, The Harris Ceilidh #02, and the first in a series of short films, Harris Pause #01, to help future visitors find a moment of mindful connection with the Outer Hebrides.
Borders Distillery is producing hand sanitiser for local care homes, sorting offices and funeral parlours, as well as handing it out in the local community in Hawick and Selkirk.
Old Pulteney, which calls itself the ‘maritime malt’, has launched ‘From Couch to Coast’, a bespoke video soundscape which will virtually transport listeners from the confines of their home to the whisky’s quiet coastal hometown of Wick, where they produce the whisky.
Annandale Distillery in Dumfries & Galloway is offering virtual tour & tastings on YouTube. In addition, whisky fans can join a live and private ‘Dram-A-Long’ for a minimum of 10 friends (upon request) to enjoy the tale of one of Scotland’s most adventurous and historic distillery rebirths whilst enjoying a stunning selection from their portfolio of whisky.
Away from the Ordinary is helping to keep potential travellers safe and entertained at home, by offering individualised digital whisky tastings. The next session is scheduled for 28 May. To find out more, or arrange a tasting, all contact details are on its website.
The Virtual Feis Ile, the world-famous whisky festival usually hosted on the Isle of Islay, is going online from Friday 22 May to Sunday 31 May and will take the iconic festival to all corners of the world via online distillery days, music, dancing, and virtual tours and tastings.
These are just a few of the businesses providing supplies of hand sanitiser or bulk ethanol to organisations where it is needed. For a wider list visit the Scotch Whisky Association website.