While the newly founded incarnation of the company is a relatively recent affair, the original Glasgow Distillery Company has a long heritage. Back in the second half of the 1700’s, the first Glasgow distillery was built at Dundashill. The Glasgow Distillery Company can be traced all the way back to 1825, where it took over the operation of the Dundashill site. By the turn of the century, a Column Still was installed to increase production but soon after, in 1903, the business closed in the face of fierce competition.
In the years that followed a combination of the Great Depression, Prohibition and two World Wars lead to the complete obliteration of Glasgow’s remaining distilleries (in a wider context, Scotland’s operational distilleries dropped to only 15 in 1933).
Following the end of the Second World War, the UK Government incentivised the re-opening of mothballed distilleries and used Scotch Whisky to generate hard currency in a stagnant economy. The world’s love affair with Scotch rekindled and the country’s stellar reputation for distilling started anew. Despite this, no distillery was established in the city of Glasgow with distillers favouring more remote locations since the cost of land was cheaper and access to clean water was readily available.
Thankfully, the wait is now over. In 2013, 110 years after it was closed, The Glasgow Distillery Company was reborn with new premises in the city. Now owned by drinks industry veteran Liam Hughes and accountant Ian McDougall, their first product Makar Glasgow Gin was launched in late 2014.
Makar Glasgow Gin, named after the Scots word for poet or bard, proudly proclaims that it is “juniper-led” on the label (it certainly is) but also contains coriander, angelica, lemon, liquorice, black peppercorns and rosemary.
The gin is made in a £100,000, 450-litre copper still imported from Carl Distilleries in Germany, affectionately nicknamed Annie. Given the distillery’s aim is to produce 10,000 bottles in the first 12 months, it will take a while before the still is at capacity, with each run producing about 300 bottles. Nevertheless, they are future proofed for when demand ramps up and that can only be a good thing.
At the helm of the distillery’s whisky operation is David Robertson, the former master distiller of The Macallan who has been brought on board as a consultant master distiller. However, Annie is manned by Head Distiller Jack Mayo who has been working with the gin’s creator, Mike Hayward to get the first few batches on shelves. Mayo is also a graduate of Heriot-Watt University’s infamous brewing and distilling course. Incidentally, not that it changes anything to the taste of gin, but it’s worth noting that Jack just so happens to have a Masters degree and a PhD in Astrophysics as well. Yep, not the kind of place you want to have a competitive game of Sudoku…
To taste, Makar Glasgow Gin is juniper led all the way from nose to finish. It has robust and bold sappy juniper notes aplenty. Coriander flavours follow before a teasingly fragrant rosemary accent to finish. The gin has medicinal, piney qualities that linger long after the final sip with angelica and juniper combining to create a vegetal earthiness.
It’s one of the most juniper forward gins we’ve tried in the past few years and if that sounds like your kind of gin, Makar’s unapologetic “ginny” profile will be sure to appeal. Bottled at 43% ABV, the gin is smooth but also has a surprisingly heavy mouthfeel – great for a Martini.
The distillery’s whisky production will begin in 2015, with the team having just taken delivery of two whisky pot stills at the time of writing. They deliberately phased it so they could have the gin operation up and running before the whisky still arrived. While a completely unsubstantiated forecast, surely a barrel-aged gin will also follow soon as the distillery begins to experiment with casks… we certainly hope so anyway.
Having teamed up with heavyweight investors from Asia to set up the Glasgow Distillery Company at the Hillington Business Park, the Distillery was also backed by a £130,000 Regional Selective Assistance (RSA) grant, secured through Scottish Enterprise. While NY Distilling Company are cited by the Glasgow Distillery owners as a major influence on their vision to build a “metropolitan” distillery in the city’s industrial heartland, the way they themselves have secured funding has been a remarkable feat and no doubt one that many will look at closely for inspiration in the future.
With talk of bringing in a brand ambassador tasked with developing the Makar brand in Glasgow expected to be among high on the list of early recruits, and a company ethos to celebrate Glasgow’s engineering heritage – the gin is set to soar locally in the next few years.
Combine this with fiercely loyal local support and healthy funding secured for the first few years and Makar Gin has the makings of a staple gin for the Scottish market. As with all new craft distilleries however, they have their work cut out to establish themselves further afield.
That said, with a tasty gin and eye-catching bottle, we have no doubt they will manage to do just that. The bottle says “juniper-led” on the label and we agree. Makar is an outstanding choice for anyone who finds the wave of “modern” gins far too soft on the juniper. Its flavours are bold and that will resonate with many. It may well also provide the perfect counterpoint for an American audience who enjoy a Martini or two and are saturated by gins that often lack the kind of resinous punch and fuller mouthfeel that Makar Glasgow Gin provides.
Only time will tell and we look forward to following their progress.
For more information about Glasgow Distillery, visit their website: www.glasgowdistillery.com
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