Despite the fact that Glasgow is Scotland’s biggest city, it has always been overshadowed by neighbouring rival Edinburgh. Its image has long been that of an ugly industrial town ridden by crime and populated mainly by uneducated working class people.
But yet I like being in Glasgow, perhaps even because its glamour appeal is close to zero. There are no tourist traps and “see and be seen” is not much of an issue in the city’s streets. It’s just a normal town where normal people live and work. And actually the centre of Glasgow is far from ugly, but some things require a closer look, like the many traces of Art Nouvau architecture inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh that can still be found. There are a lot of beautiful old commercial buildings in and around Buchanan Street.
Argyle Street is one of Glasgow’s main arteries. Starting in the city center as a shopping road haunted by crying sea gulls, it leads on through the grim business district towards the residential areas of the outskirts. As luck would have it, not only my hotel happened to be located there, but also one of Glasgow’s latest whisky attractions: A small shop called Tam’s Drams. As a mere 1000 numbers separate the two, I decided to walk back home, having arrived by a ride on the Clockwork Orange and a walk through beautiful Kelvingrove Park.
As it was Easter Bank Holiday, I feared the shop might be closed, but luckily Tam was in. You won’t find a huge selection of hundreds of whiskies here, but the ones that are there comprise a high quality selection including quite a few independent bottlings. There is always a selection of Tam’s drams open to try, a service that any decent whisky shop should offer. The shop also serves as an outlet for the newly founded Scotch Whisky Auctions company. After a nice chat supported by a few drams, I left the shop with a fine bottle of Caol Ila by Single Malts of Scotland. [Tasting notes to follow soon].
No journey to Glasgow is complete without a having paid a visit to Macsorley’s, one of the city’s favourite watering holes. I refrained from having a dram from the small Abhainn Dearg cask on the counter, as I had already tried the spirit before. After a pint and two basic drams I called it an early night, as I hadn’t slept very well after my arrival in Scotland.
The next day began with a trip to Glengoyne distillery with Mark Connelly of Good Spirits Co., followed by a sneak peak of their new shop currently being installed. Before the much anticipated evening event I managed to squeeze in a pit stop at the Pot Still, another legendary Glasgow whisky pub. There were fears of an uncertain future after the death of owner Ken Storrie last year, but it seems the pub has not lost too much of its original appeal.
Round The Barrel We Dram
For the evening of my second day in Glasgow I was invited by Glasgow’s Whisky Club to their regular Round the Barrel Night at the Bon Accord. These events are informal tastings of a number of whiskies usually provided by the club chairman Bill Mackintosh. The bottles are then placed on a whisky barrel for everybody’s enjoyment, and other bottles may be added as well.
After a very good steak pie – the signature dish of the Bon Accord as it seems – six drams in two flights were tasted, all being very interesting head to head comparisions. The colloquial nature of the event made me leave my notepad in my bag, though.
Two H2Hs were dedicated to the comparison of supermarket bottlings with regular distillery bottlings – the Glengoyne 12 yo in two versions and the Deanston 12 yo. Especially the Deanston drams were very revealing. The 40% coloured and chill-filtered supermarket dram absolutely paled in comparison to the new 46.3% release. The difference was striking indeed, but of course nobody can be sure if it is only caused by the increase in strength and the non-use of caramel and chill-filtration. It is not unlikely at all that sub-par quality casks were used for the cheap bottling. The third flight consisted of the Glasgow’s Whisky Festival 2010 bottling of Highland Park and a 12 yo HP bottled by the Bladnoch Forum.
The dramming then continued freely and also included deviant drams like Austrian rum Stroh 80 and a German Topinambur (Jerusalem artichoke) spirit.
The night was also a great opportunity to meet several club members in person that I had got to know via Facebook or Twitter. The atmosphere at the Bon Accord was so fantastic that I had the feeling as if I had been a member for years. I have to admit that I am not much of a club person, but if I lived in Glasgow, I’d join immediately.