The Glasgow Distillery Company will start distilling gin and single malt whisky in the city for the first time in 100 years next week, and CEO Liam Hughes aims to put Glasgow back on the spirits map.
Prior to setting up GDC Hughes held a number of high-profile corporate role in the beer world, and was Bulmers Scottish sales director until 2002; he then set up his own business Grow Sales – supplying brand ambassadors, mixologists, sales people to the likes of Heineken and Pernod Ricard.
Given single malt whisky’s aging requirements (‘Scotch whisky’ requires at least three years), GDC plans to launch Makar Glasgow Gin in Scotland this October and Hughes said the brand was keen to “create an affinity with the Glasgow people” for the premium gin.
Speaking to BeverageDaily.com, Hughes said: “It’s taken five years to get to where we are now – where we’re distilling from next week. We’re just in the end game in terms of finalizing everything so far as the distilling is concerned, so it’s exciting.
“We could have done our gin earlier, have a contract distiller make it down South. But we always felt that the right thing to do for us was to not make any products until we had the ability to distil them ourselves in Glasgow.”
Asked why it took five years to get started, Hughes said the biggest hurdle was finding the right site, since Glasgow Distillery Company wanted to establish a metropolitan distillery.
“There are enough distilleries in Scotland to satisfy the marketplace in terms of hills and glens – there are plenty of distilleries doing that and doing it incredibly well,” he said.
But GDC’s management – Hughes (right of photo) and business partner Ian McDougall – take their inspiration from city setups such as Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company, London’s Sipsmith and London Distillery Company, Hughes explained.
“It was very much about us finding a site that would allow us to do something more metropolitan, and to start bringing back to life some of the distilleries that were lost in Glasgow over the last couple of hundred years,” he said.
Hughes said there used to be dozens of distilleries around Glasgow but there are now none – with distillers hit by the depression and two world wars – in 1943/44 he says there were no working distilleries in Scotland at all because all the raw materials had been diverted to the war effort.
“At the beginning of the 20th century there was mass consolidation going on, and a lot of people were struggling or going bust – the big corporations were taking over distilleries, closing them down, mothballing other ones,” he said of Glasgow’s once great distilling past.
Despite admiration for gin brands like London’s Sipsmith, Hughes said: “We want to do our own thing – we’re a Glasgow gin, the first Glasgow gin. We’re producing a bespoke bottle that we hope reflects the engineering and past of Glasgow.
“In our own way we’re trying to inspire other businesses and enterprises, to try and bring Glasgow back into the world of distilling where it’s been quiet for far too long.”
Turning to the question of aging and flavor profiles for GDC’s single malts, Hughes said: “It’s a little bit early to box us in, in terms of what we’re going to do.
“But we’re going to experiment by using small casks to age products faster, and a proportion of our production will be aged in bourbon casks – but we’ll allow the distillers a degree of flexibility.
“We’ll work within the bounds of Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules, but we’re not trying to produce a The Macallan or a Glenmorangie. We’re not trying to make the same product all the time,” he said.
“We’re comfortable producing lots of different products aged in different casks – really good quality whisky."