Sure thing: For any new distillery and their fans, the release of the first single cask bottling is a special happening. At Glasgow Distillery, the folks making the whisky on site – and the ones drinking it at home – experienced this recently. Just a few weeks back, the urban production site in the west of Glasgow launched its first 1770 Whisky expression drawn from no more but one carefully chosen vessel. The whisky in question is a Vintage 2015 from a sherry butt, co-selected and distributed by Kirsch Import – the company that has brought Glasgow Distillery to the German market. For me, this was love at first sip! So I wrote a raving review for it. I bought a second bottle of it. And I reached out to the distillery’s Co-Founder and CEO Liam Hughes with a number of further questions on how this special release came to be. The latter resulted in this interview. I hope you enjoy reading just as much as I enjoyed putting it together!
BarleyMania: In October 2020, Glasgow Distillery released its first-ever single cask bottling: a Vintage 2015 from a sherry butt – exclusively sold in Germany via Kirsch Import. All 708 bottles sold out in just a few days. How did this feel to you? Did you expect such a reaction or did the huge buzz around the whisky surprise you a bit?
Liam Hughes: To be honest, we weren’t surprised it sold out. But we were very surprised at the speed – that was astonishing! Yet, we know we have a strong following in Germany. And we also have a fantastic partner in Kirsch Import, with whom we chose the cask together. We are very happy for those that got a bottle as we absolutely love the whisky! At 62 per cent, however, it is a tad strong for me personally. So I add a small drop of water to just take it down a bit, but that’s an individual choice – many of our friends from Kirsch Import prefer it at the bottled strength.
BM: I am pretty sure that you did not pick the cask for this occasion randomly. So what was it that made you think “That’s the one”?
LH: We are tasting casks all the time. Yet, when we filled the batch of casks this came from in 2015, we were pretty sure one of these would be a single cask release in the future. Back then, we just didn’t know when this would happen. When we had the samples from these and other casks that were selected, we were – to be honest – spoiled for choice: After getting the distillers and our sales team involved, it had become a very long short list. (I know it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!) Eventually, we narrowed it down and agreed with Kirsch Import which one to bottle.
BM: The whisky in question was launched exclusively in Germany via your local distributor Kirsch Import. What’s the reasoning or story behind that decision? And will the rest of the world soon also have the chance to try a single cask expression from 1770 Whisky?
LH: There was no grand plan, to be honest. We have a great relationship with Christoph and his team, so we had been talking to them constantly about multiple things. During our conversations, it came up that we weren’t ready to launch in the UK – that’s next year – and we know we have a solid and growing following in Germany. So why not!? This being said, 2021 will see single cask releases in a number of markets (including Germany with Kirsch Import); and Distillery Only releases as well.
BM: Your first single cask release is an original distillery bottling, one peculiarity of which is the custom-made 0.5 liter bottle. That is a rather unusual size for a Scotch whisky. Why have you opted for half a liter bottles rather than the standard 0.7 liter bottles?
LH: When we launched our first release in 2018, we had so little whisky at hand that we decided we would start with 50cl bottles. In the early years, this would allow us to spread our whisky further. As our volumes increased, we would move to 70cl bottles. I think that this will happen over the next couple of years, so watch this space – we have now got a few million bottles maturing in casks. This gives us bit more flexibility.
BM: Will all your upcoming single cask releases be original distillery bottlings? Or can we also expect see 1770 Whisky in the outturns of our favorite indie bottlers in the future?
LH: We have worked with a very small number of selected indie bottlers. When they will release, I do not know. But it is really quite limited, so 99 per cent of single casks will come from the distillery.
BM: The last question is a bit out of the line: With the pandemic still neither fenced nor controlled, I could imagine this to be a pretty rough time for an urban distillery that can no longer welcome visitors and offer tours. How are you guys keeping up in that regard? And what is the best way to support you in these agitated times?
LH: We do not operate a visitor centre at the moment, so COVID-19 has had zero impact on us in that way. But obviously it has had a negative impact on many distilleries and we hope they can all bounce back strongly in 2021, which I am confident they will. As for Glasgow Distillery, we have seen all our export markets bounce back very strongly and surprisingly quickly. Germany in particular has been a special highlight for us. And although there have been obvious downsides with the UK on-trade basically shut since March, our own online sales have shown tremendous growth. Here, it certainly helped that we had launched a new website in October 2019 and recruited people to focus on e-commerce. So bizarrely we were inadvertently ready for what came in March 2020.
What we have all missed greatly are the festivals across the globe, and getting to see our friends at the numerous events we attend. We can’t wait to start those back up again – last weekend would have been the Glasgow Whisky Festival at Hampden. What an event that would have been with us as headline sponsors and having won “Scottish Whisky Distillery of the Year” award two days before! But now we focus on next year and we look forward to putting these dreadful times behind us and only looking forward. Slainte!
Glasgow Distillery @ Web: https://www.glasgowdistillery.com/
Glasgow Distillery @ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/glasgowdistillery
Glasgow Distillery @ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/glasgowdistillery/
Kirsch Import @ Web: https://kirschwhisky.de/
Kirsch Import @Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kirschwhisky
Kirsch Import @Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kirsch_whisky/