A drinking guide to Glasgow, Scotland
The Constant Traveller: Glasgow explained in 5 drinks
Words— Jeremy Freed
One way to understand Glasgow is to think of it like the Detroit of Great Britain. Instead of muscle cars, it made ships and trains, and instead of reaching its peak in the mid-20th century, it boomed in the 1800s. Substitute early ‘80s indie bands and Billy Connelly for Motown and Eminem and you kind of get the picture. The best way to understand Glasgow, however, is to go there, roam its Victorian-era streets, wander its free museums and eat in its top-rated restaurants, while immersing yourself in its fascinating history and culture. All of this, of course, is thirsty work. Here are five essential spots to have a drink while you’re at it.
The Place: Eden Mill Blendworks
The Drink: A gin gimlet
Scotland is currently in the throes of a massive gin boom, with new distilleries popping up like thistles on a heathered moor. Gin first became popular in these parts in the 1700s and 1800s, when Glasgow boomed as a shipping hub and industrial centre, making places like Eden Mill part of a centuries-old tradition. The distillery takes this iconic bit of heritage and updates it for the 21st century with its wide range of unusual gins using regional botanicals like seaweed and gorse flowers. “We took inspiration from blended whisky, which can have up to 40 whisky elements all combined to create the flavour profile,” says Matthew Simpson, one of Eden Mill’s in-house mixology instructors. While Eden Mill is an excellent place to buy a bottle of pink, oaked or hopped gin to take home, their daily Gin School classes offer the chance to create your own. After carefully selecting and blending your own mix of botanical distillates, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labours in a gimlet, a refreshing mix of gin and lime cordial shaken over ice.
The Place: Mackintosh at the Willow
The Drink: Congou Tea
If Charles Rennie Mackintosh had been born in America, it has been said, he would have been Frank Lloyd Wright. Such is the legacy of Glasgow’s greatest architect, whose pioneering genius went mostly unappreciated in his lifetime. While Mackintosh’s greatest building, The Glasgow School of Art, undergoes a massive restoration, Mackintosh at the Willow offers an introduction to the architect’s creative vision and a glimpse at life in the Victorian era. In the late 1800s, tea houses were the indie coffee shops of their day, a place for ladies and gentlemen to socialize and conduct business over cups of tea and tiny sandwiches. Here, in collaboration with Victorian tea house tycoon Kate Cranston, the architect designed everything from the facade to the furniture and light fixtures inside. Miss Cranston’s Willow Tea Rooms (its original name) opened in 1903 and reopened after extensive restoration in 2018. Now it’s the perfect spot to relax and refresh in the height of Victorian fashion.
The Place: The Clydeside Distillery
The Drink: Three drams of single-malt
Opened in 2017 in a historic dockside building, Clydeside is both a working distillery and a museum dedicated to “Scotland’s gift to the world.” Through a brisk hour-long guided tour, you’ll learn about Glasgow's days as the second city of the British Empire (and the world's leading scotch exporter) while gaining an appreciation for the intricacies of a fine single-malt. The tour concludes with a tasting of three whiskies, one from each of Scotland’s signature regions. Your palate thus whetted, you’ll be ready to choose from the over 200 varieties of Scotch in the Clydeside gift shop.
The Place: Drygate Bar + Kitchen
The Drink: A pint of Bearface Lager
Scotland may have invented whisky, but the Scots are pretty serious about their beer, too. While the Tennent’s brewery next door has been making Scotland’s most popular lager on the same site since the 1700s, this modern craft brewery reveals the locals have a healthy thirst for hoppy IPAs and weird sours, too. Follow your guided tour of Tennent’s, a tutorial in both modern industrial beer making and the Tennent Brothers’ 18th-century marketing savvy, with a stop at the adjoining gastropub for lunch and a pint. Drygate’s menu features a healthy variety of modern pub staples like fish and chips and steak sandwiches, all of which are designed to pair nicely with creations like their Outta Space Apple Ale and Spice Belgian Arrakis Quad.
The Place: Alchemilla
The Drink: A glass of biodynamic wine
When it comes to establishing itself as a culinary destination, Glasgow more than has its work cut out for it. Without much in the way of traditional cuisine to lean on, and a reputation for chip shops, takeaways and the infamous “Munchy Box,” it’s only in recent years that Glasgow’s restaurant scene has fully come into its own. Nowhere is this more obvious than the Finnieston strip, a bustling high street of formerly derelict storefronts that’s now home to some of the best restaurants in the city. Smack in the middle is Alchemilla, a nouveau Mediterranean eatery with serious credentials and even better food. Chef Rosie Healey comes by way of Ottolenghi in London, and her simple dishes boasting fresh, seasonal ingredients, artfully prepared, shows she understands innately what makes her former boss’s food so good. In addition to an austere menu of sharing plates like squid and parsley root, and roast cauliflower with tahini yogurt, pomegranate and hazelnuts, Alchemilla’s wine list leans heavily on sustainable, biodynamic and natural bottles. It’s about as far from a deep-fried Mars bar as you can get.