WITH its gleaming copper stills, glass facade and sleek interior design, The Clydeside Distillery offers a contemporary, urban slant on an industry steeped in tradition.

Yet it is also a business with roots in the past – one which connects Glasgow’s industrial heyday with a family which, over generations, became synonymous with making whisky in Scotland.

Clydeside is the latest Scotch whisky venture from the Morrison family, who built up Morrison Bowmore Distillers before selling it to Suntory of Japan in 1994.

The distillery, which includes a tasteful café and visitor centre, is located in the one-time pumphouse which controlled entry to the Queen’s Dock - a gateway through which ships laden with whisky would pass on their journey to markets around the world.

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The Morrison family opened the distillery, which is located between the Scottish Event Campus and Riverside Museum, in November 2017, and to date has invested around £15 million in the project. At its helm is operations director Andrew Morrison, who has returned to Scotland after an 18-year spell living and working in San Francisco, initially for retailer Williams-Sonoma and then for the US importer of AD Rattray, the family’s drinks business.

Mr Morrison, who oversees a staff of 30 at Clydeside, said a key driver behind the project was to provide high-quality spirits for AD Rattray, an independent bottling company which sells whisky around the world.

“It was becoming increasingly evident that replenishment of stock was [getting] harder and harder each year,” Mr Morrison said. “So our sales were increasing as the growth of whisky was picking up in the US and other markets, but trying to replace the stock was becoming harder and more expensive.

“We eventually felt that we really needed to be in distilling if we wanted to control our destiny in the long term.”

The Clydeside project had its ups and downs in the early days. The family initially looked at a site in Fife, where the Kingsbarns Distillery now stands. When that potential avenue was closed, attention turned to Glasgow and ultimately to Queen’s Dock which, as chance would have it, had been built by family ancestor John Morrison in 1863.

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Mr Morrison, who is the son of Clydeside chairman Tim Morrison, said: “We looked at a few sites in Glasgow, but the Pumphouse became the obvious choice. Then it was about approaching Peel [Ports] and trying to present what we wanted to do, and how we felt we could add value to what was happening along the river front.

“Thankfully they bought into the vision of what we are trying to do.”

Having struck a deal to buy the land, it was then a matter of gaining planning permission. The way things panned out, the distiller had to acquire its stills before consent was secured, such was the volume of orders Forsyths, the stills manufacturer, had on its books.

“We were quite heavily committed before we even had planning permission,” Mr Morrison said.

“It was a really complicated process of bringing investors along on this journey, because obviously no one was going to commit until we had the land and planning secured. We, as a family, kept getting into it deeper and deeper, without the full support. But we weren’t going get the full support without taking these steps. It was a nerve-wracking process.”

Added into the mix was a trademark dispute with a Hillington-based rival over the right to name the business The Glasgow Distillery. Hillington’s Glasgow Distillery Company saw its opposition to the Morrison family using the name upheld by the UK Intellectual Property Office in August 2017, but by then the Morrisons had already decided to adopt the Clydeside name.

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Mr Morrison, whose firm has trademarked the Clydeside name, said it was the right outcome for the family business, given its association with the famous river.

“At least now we have something we can protect, and we can grow the brand equity,” he said.

“The key thing for us is we are very supportive of everyone who can do distillation in Glasgow. We just want to avoid confusion, because I don’t think that serves anyone.”

The Clydeside project is backed by a small group of private investors, with the Morrison family owning the bulk of the shares. Scottish Enterprise has also been a key investor.

So far, it has been down to the café and visitor centre (with tours comprehensively covering the history of whisky in Glasgow) to generate revenue, while the spirit which will bear its name continues to mature. This year the firm expects to see 70,000 tourists walk through the door, which Mr Morrison said underlines the “potential we always believed” the site had.

“We wanted to offer something that wasn’t just purely about visiting a distillery,” he said.

“When people come here, the first part of the tour is all about the site and what happened in Glasgow. People have really connected with that part of the journey."

As for the whisky Clydeside is quietly distilling under the watchful eye of Alistair McDonald, who began his career with Morrison Bowmore on Islay, it will be late 2020 before the first single malt is released. Collectors can expect a dram in the classic lowland style.

While Mr Morrison enjoys building Clydeside’s reputation as a visitor attraction, he emphasised that its spirit is the “future of the business”.

He said: “There’s lots of steps we take that are not the most cost effective, but are steps that he (Alistair) believes allow us to make the best possible spirit. We invest very heavily in our wood policy.

“It is hugely important to us that the product that is going out into the marketplace is the best possible product.”

Six Questions:

What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

For business, Japan. The culture is so entirely different, the business etiquette I find fascinating and I particularly enjoyed how polite, considerate and respectful everyone is to each other. 
For pleasure, Croatia. A stunning destination with beautiful beaches, sea and national parks.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?
As I child I never really had any thoughts towards an ideal job. I was entirely focused on sports and only as I became aware that I didn’t have the talent to make a living in any of my chosen sports did I start to consider what might be a suitable job.

What was your biggest break in business?
The opportunity to move to the USA and participate in the graduate training programme for Williams-Sonoma Inc. The programme gave me a great exposure to many of the key functions of a successful NYSE-listed company. Relatively quickly I became aware of my strengths and weaknesses in a large business environment

What was your worst moment in business?
Fortunately I have not really had any worst moments but certainly some the delays we faced during the early stages of the distillery project were very frustrating. There were so many moving parts to the project that if one particular aspect of the planning or build slipped the knock on effects were significant.

Who do you most admire and why?
Tragically before turning 40 I had already lost two very close friends to cancer. The courage, strength and determination they both showed during their battle is something that influences me daily.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to?
Book, Don Winslow, The Border. Music, anything with the exception of country music.