May 1, 2012 / 9:30 AM / 7 years ago

Spirited Traveller: Scotch not the only game in Glasgow

NEW YORK (Reuters) - You can lead the locals to the whisky bar, but you can’t make them drink.

A worker looks at a bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky at the Diageo owned Shieldhall bottling plant in Glasgow, Scotland March 24, 2011. REUTERS/David Moir

That’s the lesson to be learned in Glasgow. Just minutes outside of the city, Scotch whisky (no “e” in “whisky” here) distilleries dot the landscape. There’s no question that Scotch is the iconic beverage, and visitors flock to this vibrant city to bend elbows in one of the city’s many whisky bars and pubs.

But just try telling that to Glaswegians, who favor wine and “white spirits”, namely vodka and gin, or perhaps a Tennent’s Lager.

“Although white spirits sell in higher volumes in Glasgow (as elsewhere in the world),” says Iain McCallum, master of malts at Auchentoshan-, Bowmore- and Glen Garioch producer Morrison Bowmore Distillers, “There are a high number of whisky bars in Glasgow that people will visit from around the world. This can’t be said of any other drink.”

Further, he notes that the city’s best bartenders are experimenting with whisky in cocktails, helping to boost local interest in darker spirits.

McCallum recommends the grand Blythswood Square Hotel (here) as a first stop for business travelers, especially if meetings are on the agenda.

“It’s steeped in history; the building dates back to the early 19th century, and was the headquarters for the Royal Scottish Automobile Society from 1910 until 2002,” he adds.

Mal Spence, the Blythswood’s head bartender, says that gin-based cocktails lead his top cocktail sellers, while vodka “was and has been the most popular spirit over the years.”

This doesn’t mean that no one is drinking Scotch. For a dram and a taste of “the more traditional Glasgow,” choices abound.

McCallum turns to whisky bars such as Bon Accord (, the eclectic Ben Nevis ( where folk bands often play, or The Whisky Bar at Oran Mor (, which is located within a converted church and boasts over 250 whisky offerings.

Other options include the laid-back Lismore Bar (206 Dumbarton Rd) and The Pot Still (, a Victorian pub dating back to the 1800s.

For an end-of-day drink, McCallum's picks include Blue Dog ( in the city centre, reputed to have the best rum selection in the city, or Booly Mardy's ( in the West End (the bar originally was going to be called Bloody Mary's, but was changed after a trademark dispute).

Both bars offer elaborate cocktails - the lion’s share of which do not include whisky.

RECIPE: GARDEN, GRAIN AND GRAPE Courtesy of Mal Spence, Blythswood Square Hotel This original cocktail is “one of the most popular” at Blythswood Square, barman Spence says. He recommends using a rye-based vodka, such as Belvedere or Ketel One, for a smoother and creamier effect. 4-6 green grapes 50 ml Vodka 25 ml White Wine 50 ml Pressed Apple Juice 25 ml simple syrup Dash of egg white (optional) Squeeze and drop the grapes into the shaker, then add the remaining ingredients. Fill shaker three-quarters full with ice, shake hard for 10 seconds, then use a fine tea strainer to double-strain the drink into a coupe glass, to remove grape pulp. Garnish with the top 3 leaves of a small mint sprig.

(Kara Newman is the author of “The Secret Financial Life of Food”, Columbia University Press; publication date autumn 2012. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato

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