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A History of Scottish Whisky

Whisky has long since been a part of our rich Scottish identity and is, of course, our national drink. But have you heard how the story of whisky began? Well, sit back, have a dram and discover the history of Scottish whisky, how each region came into its own unique character and the story of how The Clydeside Distillery came to be established.

A History of Scottish Whisky

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Aptly derived from the Gaelic phrase ‘uisge beatha’ the word ‘whisky’ loosely translates to mean ‘water of life.’ The history of whisky in Scotland goes so far back that it’s hard to trace; it’s thought to date back as far as the 11th century and has ever since been a huge part of our Scottish identity, drank by Kings and clansmen alike. In time, whisky gained the position and prestige that wine and cognac had held after they became less available. This was due to European vines being destroyed by a pesky louse, called Phylloxera.

Throughout history, whisky has consistently been popular in Scotland, but not always fully above board. In 1644 the first official taxes on whisky production were imposed which is said to have led to a rise of illegal whisky distilling in Scotland. By 1780 there were only around 8 legal distilleries in the whole country and approximately 400 illegal ones.

In 1823, Parliament introduced the Excise Act which eased restrictions on licensed distilleries and made it harder for the illegal ones to continue to operate. Over the years whisky distilleries have risen and fallen in popularity - surviving recessions, wars, industrialisation and our ever-changing lifestyles. Its thanks to the determination and passion of distillers and blenders that we find the much-loved whisky we know today.

It’s no secret that making whisky is an art form: the different aromas and flavours of whisky are crafted through countless nuances in distilling, maturation and different little local secrets. No two whiskies are the same, each expression has a heritage and taste that belongs to the distillery that it was created in. Scotland is home to five distinct whisky regions each with their own unique flavour and character.

Scottish Whisky Regions

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The Lowland whisky region can be found beneath an imaginary line that cuts across Scotland from the Clyde Estuary in the West to the Tay Estuary in the East. This region encompasses the distilleries in the Kingdom of Fife, sweeping down to include Dumfries, Galloway and Ayrshire in the South and of course the two major cities of Scotland: Edinburgh and Glasgow. The characteristic taste of Lowland whiskies is light and fresh, they are most famous for their citrus and zesty flavours.


The Highland region makes up Scotland’s largest whisky region. Due to its vast geographical area whiskies from this region are generally more difficult to categorise. Whiskies from this area are often full-bodied single malts with strong characteristics such as floral or sweet aromas, sometimes even giving a hint of smoke. However, they do vary depending on location and distillery.


Despite being a small region, Speyside distilleries make up almost half of the number of whisky distilleries in the whole of Scotland. These whiskies are most well-known for their refined subtle notes of apples, pears, nuts and mature fruits.


Despite being only 25 miles long, Islay is home to an impressive number of whisky distilleries and a fearsome amount of whisky history. Islay whiskies are known for their smoky overtones and hints of salty sea air, notes which are credited to the peat used to dry the barley and the water they are created from.


Campbeltown is Scotland’s smallest whisky-producing region; it is a wee town that sits at the bottom of a long peninsula on the west coast containing just three working distilleries. This is a very historically and culturally significant region as around one hundred years ago its location made it a whisky hub and home to around thirty whisky distilleries. Today, despite its size, Campbeltown has a devoted following due to its cultural significance and the unique whisky characteristics its whisky exhibits, such as complimentary salty and sweetly spiced notes.

A History of Glasgow’s Clydeside Distillery

The Clydeside Distillery is one of Glasgow’s newest distilleries, established in 2017. Yet it is a site steeped in history; long before it hosted a whisky distillery, The Pumphouse building was used to control entry into Glasgow’s Queen’s Dock. In 1863 one John Morrison began building this dock, which was originally named The Stobcross Dock after the local area but became The Queen’s Dock after Queen Victoria granted her royal permission. Teeming with ships and longshoremen, the dock was one of the areas where Customs and Excise kept a close eye on exports, including of course whisky, on ships that were destined to ports all over the world. Little did John Morrison know that one generation on, his family would own that Pumphouse building and be distilling whisky in it.

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Whisky is not only part of Glasgow’s rich heritage, it has been a firm part of the Morrison family legacy. John Morrison’s son, Stanley P. Morrison, was born in 1900 and became one of Glasgow’s most successful whisky brokers. Over the years he purchased several whisky distilleries including Islay’s iconic Bowmore Distillery.

In 1961, Stanley’s son Tim joined the family business after an apprenticeship at Dalmore and other distilleries. Later, in 1984, Tim and his brother Brian purchased Auchentoshan Distillery and their partnership worked so well that more ventures were to follow. Finally, in 2017 John Morrison’s great-grandson Tim Morrison fulfilled his dreams of reviving whisky distilling in Glasgow on the very dock that he built!

Since the Clydeside Distillery opened in 2017 we have been bringing together the best of the old and new to make the finest Single Malt Glasgow whisky.

1.1 External The Clydeside Distillery

You can discover the rich and exciting history of whisky on our distillery tours and guided whisky tasting sessions. Our expert guides will lead you through the fascinating story of our own heritage as well as giving you the opportunity to sample the finest drams that the Clydeside Distillery have to offer. We have three excellent tours to choose from, find out more information and book your distillery tour here.