Port Dundas

Port Dundas was a grain distillery in Glasgow owned by Diageo, which closed the distillery in 2010. 

Founded at the side of Glasgow’s Forth & Clyde canal in 1810 or 1811 by the Macfarlane family, Port Dundas began...

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Port Dundas was a grain distillery in Glasgow owned by Diageo, which closed the distillery in 2010. 

Founded at the side of Glasgow’s Forth & Clyde canal in 1810 or 1811 by the Macfarlane family, Port Dundas began life as a malt distillery and soon began expanding, absorbing the nearby Cowlairs and Dundashill distilleries in 1860 and 1902 respectively. Grain distillation was begun around 1845 and Port Dundas quickly became one of the most important producers of grain whisky for blending.

The Port Dundas distillery was the one of the original members of the grain whisky cartel formed in 1877 as Distillers Company Limited.  DCL was taken over by Guinness in 1986 to create United Distillers, which was then merged with International Distillers and Vintners in 1998 to create United Distillers and Vintners, the spirits arm of Diageo.

Port Dundas was the very first distillery visited by Alfred Barnard in 1886 for his epic tour researching The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. By this time, the distillery was making both malt and grain whisky, with three 70-foot Coffey stills in one stillhouse and five pot stills in another. The distillery’s capacity at the time was over 2.5 million gallons (11.6m litres).

Port Dundas was ruined by a fire in 1903, the year after the Dundashill acquisition, and was silent for over a decade. Production resumed around the start of the Great War only for another fire to badly damage the distillery again in 1916. Such was Port Dundas’s importance that rebuilding work commenced immediately once again. 

Port Dundas was modernised and refitted after a silent period during WWII, and a further extensive modernisation and expansion occurred in the 1970s. In 2009, however, the distillery was condemned to closure after Diageo decided to expand grain whisky production at its Cameronbridge facility rather than modernise Port Dundas again.  Port Dundas was shuttered in its bicentenary year, 2010, and the site was demolished in 2011.

During its lifetime, Port Dundas’s single grain whisky contributed to dozens of blended Scotch whiskies, particularly Haig, White Horse, Black and White, J&B, Johnnie Walker and Bell’s whisky. The distillery was producing 39 million litres of grain spirit per year by the time of its closure, so there is reason to expect that stocks will be available for some time yet.

As with other grain distilleries, official bottlings of Port Dundas single grain whisky are extremely rare.  Diageo made the bizarre decision to release an official commemorative bottling celebrating the Port Dundas bicentenary in 2010, the same year the distillery was closing and already scheduled for demolition. This was probably only the second ever official bottling of Port Dundas after a short-lived United Distillers no-age-statement edition in the 1980s.

Subsequent official bottlings of Port Dundas have appeared in Diageo’s Special Releases in 2011 and 2017, the latter a hefty 52-year-old from the 1964 vintage. In 2015, official bottlings of 12-year-old and 18-year-old Port Dundas were released for the US market ‘in strictly limited quantities’ but met with general indifference and are still available in American retailers at the time of writing in 2021.

Thankfully, as ever the independent bottlers do a better job with grain whisky than the distillery owners. High quality cask strength Port Dundas of various ages can be found relatively easily and cheaply from the usual suspects Signatory Vintage, Douglas Laing, Hunter Laing and Duncan Taylor.

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