Bottling a legend

Discover the incredible story of Thomas Blake Glover and meet the whiskies that so proudly bear his name.

When Thomas Blake Glover left Aberdeen for the Far East in the mid-19th century, never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that 160 years later people all over the world would be drinking a whisky made in his honour.

Like the whisky that bears his name, Glover’s story is complex and compelling. It weaves in gun-running, people-smuggling and international trade deals; and stitches in diplomacy, a military coup and a fair whack of luck. It’s a story that links Nagasaki, Shanghai and Glover’s home town of Fraserburgh, forming a rich tale of adventure with Imperial Japan as its heart.

“Glover was the perfect character for a whisky company seeking to celebrate the unsung heroes of Scotland,” explains Jim Millar of Fusion Whisky, the Edinburgh-based business behind The Glover whiskies. “Rogue, pioneer, statesman and smuggler, he was an extraordinary character who had an extraordinary influence upon his adopted home of Japan.”

First released in 2015, The Glover whisky is an acclaimed blend of Scotch and Japanese whisky that honours the incredible legacy Glover had upon modern Japan. Made with ultra-rare whisky from Japan’s legendary Hanyu distillery and mature Scotch from Glen Garioch and Longmorn distilleries in Speyside, The Glover is a pioneering fusion of international whisky; the product of an innovative concept that is now driving exciting partnerships between craft distilleries and creating whiskies unlike any others.

It’s a concept that has been generating excitement among whisky connoisseurs for the past two years, and last month won national recognition when the Fusion Whisky team won the Success Through Partnership prize at the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards in Edinburgh.

“We wanted to do something different,” recalls Jim, an expert adviser on Japanese affairs and visiting lecturer at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. “We were offered the opportunity to buy a cask of Hanyu whisky, and while simply bottling it all was certainly an attractive proposition, we wanted to create something special, something with a bit of longevity and impact.”

Opting not to bottle the Hanyu was a bold move. The distillery closed in 1983, its whisky now becoming near legendary and highly sought-after. Bottles of Hanyu regularly retail for more than £1,000 – that’s about £35 a dram. Instead, Jim and his fellow directors David Moore, chief executive of Flavourly, and financier Graham Langley approached Alex Bruce, managing director and master blender at Adelphi Distillery.

“We looked at a number of options and decided to create a fusion whisky of Scotch and Hanyu, with Adelphi as partners, and use it to tell the story of Thomas Glover, and celebrate the influence he had upon Japan, his adopted homeland,” says Jim.

“Glover’s effect upon Japan was profound. His first appointment was in Shanghai with the firm of Jardine Matheson & Co, but he soon moved to Nagasaki where he traded green tea, before graduating into armaments, shipping and shipbroking. He and his brothers sold 20 ships to Japan, including the imperial navy’s first modern warship, the Jo Sho Maru.

“During a particularly turbulent period of unrest,” says Jim, “Glover helped to smuggle out of the country five senior members of the Choshu Clan, then later 15 members of the powerful Satsuma Clan. These men helped to overthrow the ruling shogunate and restore Emperor Meiji in 1868. As a result they became powerful members of Japan’s new pro-Western government, giving Glover direct access to Japan’s rulers.

“Glover’s deals and influence stretched far and wide. He helped found the ship-builder that went on to become the Mitsubishi Corporation and backed the establishment of the Japan’s first large-scale brewery, becoming head of the Japan Brewery Company in 1894,” says Jim. “A few years later he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, the first non-Japanese to do so, a phenomenal achievement. His story is incredible.”

If Glover the man achieved greatness, Glover the whisky looks likely to follow in his footsteps.

“The whisky did phenomenally well; far greater than we expected,” explains Adelphi’s Alex Bruce. “We initially created two blends, an ultra-premium 22-year-old which we used the bulk of the Hanyu for along with a mix of Glen Garioch and Longmorn, and a premium 14-yearold. These sold out within a matter of days.”

Such has been The Glover’s success that although originally conceived as a one-off project, Fusion Whisky has released two more Glover expressions, with the fourth variation only going on sale in the past month or so; its renown no doubt boosted by the company’s recent partnership award for its collaboration with Adelphi.

The company also released an Indian fusion late last year. A unique blend of whisky from Amrut Distillery in Bangalore and Scotch from Glen Elgin Distillery, The Kincardine fusion celebrates the life and times of Victor Alexander Bruce, the 13th Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, who served as Viceroy of India in the latter years of Queen Victoria’s reign.

“Victor Bruce was an accomplished politician who had already distinguished himself at Westminster when he took up the position of Viceroy in 1894,” says Alex. “He’s also my great-grandfather, so it was a pretty fantastic opportunity to be able to honour him in this way with a unique whisky!”

As Viceroy, Bruce was Queen Victoria’s personal representative in India, yet he brought him with his Scottish liberal politics, rather than the grandeur of British imperialism. Bruce pursued progressive policies and sought to improve education, public health and free trade. He drove technological advancements and expanded India’s railways, increasing the network to more than 20,000 miles and connecting most of India’s great cities, dramatically improving communications and trade across the subcontinent.

Bruce is also credited with driving through relief efforts during a dreadful famine in 1896 that threatened millions of families with despair and destitution. As crops failed across India, his government launched a public welfare programme, a humanitarian act that was described as “one of the most remarkable achievements of British rule in India”.

“When you start to unravel the stories of these historical characters you get a measure of the person beyond the great deeds, you get an understanding of who they were, of what they were like as a human being,” says Alex.

“Bruce was an understated, unassuming man; he preferred a tweed suit and pair of brogues to the pomp of the viceroyship. He’d nip off sometimes on these walks, accompanied by a single bodyguard and get to know the local area and the people. He was nicknamed the ‘Walking Viceroy’, which I think says a lot.”

Like the first three Glovers, The Kincardine has sold out, but the company is planning more releases, with company director Graham Langley confirming they’re in discussions with other distilleries.

“One of the wonderful things about this project is the stunning whisky we are able to produce. Because of the different maturing climates, you can get some very exciting and intense flavours, very different to Scotch. When you combine these world whiskies with high quality, mature Scotch, whisky that’s aged much more patiently, then the blends you can create are magical.

“I think combining this innovative approach to blending with a focus on history and story-telling is pioneering and unique. The Scotland Food and Drink award was a brilliant achievement for us in such a short space of time. I’m deeply excited about what’s still to come.

“If Glover and Bruce have taught us anything it’s that opportunities in other countries should be encouraged, that international partnerships produce great things. Nothing in whisky happens overnight, by the product’s very nature things move slow, but we’re hoping to have another couple of brands launched this year. We’re fortunate, with the huge global influence Scots have had worldwide, there’s no shortage of great characters to choose from.”

Originally published in Issue 4 of Flavourly magazine. Written by Colin Campbell

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