On the Trail

Glaswegian Gusto

David Driscoll

There's something wonderfully authentic about Glasgow; it's the perfect urban counterweight to Edinburgh's more prim and proper appearance. The unpolished red sandstone walls of the 19th century architecture juxtaposed with more modern, up-and-coming bars and restaurants lend it quite a modern vibe. Walking down the streets at night you feel as if you're experiencing a city in flux—an awakening of a new era for the once dour metropolitan center. We were in town this week to visit our old friends at Hunter Laing, the independent Scotch company that bottles our Hepburn's Choice and Sovereign whisky selections. With the early March weather still nipping at our heels, we moved briskly through the crisp evening air.

While we've visited the Glasgow offices of Stewart and Andrew Laing's workplace a number of times previously, this time around we were greeted by the company's whisky blender Tom Aitken, a man whose previous positions included master blender for Dewar's with Bacardi. I told Tom with enthusiasm that I must have drunk a few cases of Dewar's myself back when I hit the legal drinking age. "That's right about the time I was in charge," Tom replied with a smile. It turned out I was quite familiar with his work. Andrew came in shortly after, so we sat down with the boys and chatted a bit about the group's new distillery project: Ardnahoe, the first new facility on Islay since Kilchoman. Andrew said they hope to be distilling before the end of 2017, but for the moment they're still working out the bureaucratic details. Next year we're hoping to visit the site near Caol Ila on the island's northern east coast and check in on the progress. I'm not sure who's more excited about the distillery: us or the Laings themselves!

Traveling with me this year is Jeff Jones, who some of you may recognize from the San Francisco store. Jeff's been one of our whisky experts for more than a decade, but this is his first trip over to Scotland. We didn't waste any time putting his experienced palate to work. Andrew quickly revealed the cask samples we had requested and we got right down to business. While I hadn't mentioned to the him my desire for both lightly peated and more restrained styles of whisky this time around, it was as if Andrew had read my mind. Whereas highly-smoky and heavily-sherried expressions have ruled the market for the last few years, we were hoping to change things up a bit with this season's selections. Right off the bat we tasted an older Royal Brackla expression from the distillery's Diageo era. Having worked with the whisky during his Bacardi days, Tom mentioned the inconsistency of the distillery's style, but also its potential for greatness. While straw-colored and light in appearance, the palate was deceptively rich, malty, and full of texture. "This is exactly what I was hoping to find—this very type of whisky!" I exclaimed. The fun didn't end there as more delicious and similar options were presented to us, all in the vein of that first Royal Brackla cask. We were thrilled.

After tasting through a few dozen candidates we decided to hit the town for a few cold drinks and a warm, hearty dinner. Glasgow's Finnieston district along the north bank of the River Clyde is one of the city's hotspots, almost reminiscent of Portland with its hip cocktail bars and local food scene.  We popped into Porter & Rye, one of our favorite places on Argyle Street for a martini and a couple of pints.

With its house-aged selection of prime cuts, we didn't hold back. Porterhouse and Chateaubriand cuts were ordered for the table, wine was served, and good conversation was had. Both of us being avid walkers, Jeff and I decided to book it back to the hotel by foot after dinner. We were both about frozen when we walked through the lobby doors at 10 PM, but there's no better way to see Glasgow. A stomach full of steak, a head full of booze, and a heart full of warmth for the city's fine hospitality.

-David Driscoll