The Dummy Railway by Frances Crawford

The Dummy Railway

Sid Vicious is under the table, waiting to see if there’s any dropped food. I wait til Nana isn’t looking and I kick him. Right in the belly.

‘That poor dog must be bursting,’ Nana says. ‘Will you no take him out, Janey?’

She asks this every day but I can’t, not any more. It’s Sid’s fault that I found the dead body.

When I first went back to school, Nana had said nobody would know it was me that found Samantha Watson, and to tell them I was off with diarrhoea. I was just going to say sick. But they’d all heard and everybody crowded round.

‘Was it all blood and guts, Janey?

‘Did you shit yourself?’

‘Was the dead woman a nudie?’

I just stood there looking at the ground. Mrs Henderson came out and made them line up. She took my hand and we went in the teachers’ door and she was all nice and kind. But that made it worse and I wished she would just shout like normal.

Now, in the playground, nobody comes near me. Not even any of the Smelly Kellys. But this morning, Lorraine and Jackie run up to me.

‘Janey, look,’ Lorraine says, opening a packet of cheese and onion. There’s a bottle of nail polish in there, ‘It’s Boots No.7, Jackie nicked it off her sister.’

Lorraine used to be my best friend til I stopped talking. Now she’s hanging about with that Jackie. Don’t care.

‘Want us to do your nails?’ she says.

‘Look at mine,’ Jackie says, wiggling Frosted Pink in my face. Wiggling and wiggling til all I can see is Samantha’s nails, broken and filthy like she’d been scrabbling in the dirt to get away. Suddenly, I feel Samantha’s smashed-up hand in mine, cold and heavy.

‘Just, just get lost,’ I shout and push Jackie. Just a toaty shove, I didn’t mean her to fall.

When I get home, Gibby from the 18th floor is outside fixing a motor. He’s always messing with broken stuff. He wipes his filthy hands and walks me to the lifts. Rain leaks into our block, and Gibby has the top floor damp smell.

‘The polis are in with your granny,’ he says. ‘Don’t you let them hassle you, pal. Yous just give me a shout if they start any of their shite.’

Gibby’s OK, Nana used to think he was a bad devil, but then he fixed her radio and wouldn’t take any money.

Two police are here this time. The woman who tells me to call her Carol, and the baldie man who wears ordinary clothes. They’ve got tea but Nana’s not put it in the nice cups. And there’s no biscuits out.

‘Hey, Jane. Good day at school?’ Carol says, ‘You must be excited about going up to big school soon.’

“Big school” You’d think I was six or something, what a diddy.

‘It’s Janey,’ I tell her. Five weeks and still getting my name wrong. She makes out she’s writing it down on her hand with an invisible pencil. Stupid.

‘Love your wedges,’ she says, as if she’s my friend or something. I look at my feet and think about my old shoes crashing to the ground. It was giving me the shivers to wear them, so I chucked them over the balcony, with all the other clothes I was wearing that day. Even my new Wombles t-shirt. Nana picked them up but she missed the pants and some wee boys are still using them for scabby-touch. She wasn’t angry when I told her why I did it but she had to see Big Davie to borrow money for new stuff. He’s got her Family Allowance book.

‘Take your jacket off, sweetheart. They want another word.’ Nana is still in her work overall, a day’s worth of pie-making right down her front. She puts the big light on. It’s usually just for Christmas and looking for her glasses.

Baldie takes out his notebook. Nobody told me his real name but his head is shiny and huge. He probably thinks he’s Kojak or something.

‘Right, hen. One more time, just in case you’ve remembered something.’

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake. The wean’s told you everything.’ Nana knows I’m not a wean, I’m nearly twelve, but I see what she’s doing.

‘Details can come back, often weeks later. And our Jane, sorry Janey, is a very clever girl,’ Carol says and gives me the smile again.

That day, at the police station, she had taken me to a wee cubicle to clean up cos I’d wet my pants. I heard her outside talking to a man who wanted to know if the witness was any use. “Doubt it,” Carol had said, “she’s from the Possil flats. Bloody lucky if she can write her own name.”

Baldie drinks his tea. I hear Sid scratching at the kitchen door, desperate to see the visitors and maybe bark to show what a good dog he is. I almost go to him.

‘Start at the point where you go to Martin Gallagher’s door.’ He’s clicking his pen, ready to go. On my knee there’s a scab exactly 37 days old. I pick it just enough for the wee drop of blood to come out. Now I’m ready too.

Martin opened his door. He was in his pyjamas, proper Star Wars ones, not fakes from the market. He gets nice clothes cos his ma works in Woolworths.

‘I can’t come, Janey. We’re going to the Botanics.’

I was really raging cos I got up early, ‘Well, you’re going to miss the Spitfire then.’

The firework was a belter, and we were going to let it off down the Dummy Railway. Martin looked pretty sad when we left, but he gave me some gammon for Sid.

You have to be really careful about going over the railings at the Dummy Railway. The jaggy nettles are murder. Sid gets excited off the lead and was going a bit mad, bouncing about in the weeds. There’s always a weird quietness when you get right down the embankment, like the air is too thick or something.

The plan was supposed to be to set the firework off in Blindman’s Hole. The echoes in that tunnel are loud enough to ache your teeth. A bend in the middle takes all the light away and even if you don’t believe the stuff about ghosts and skeleton bones, you still have to watch for glue sniffers and drunks. I was thinking I’d wait for Martin after all. But I had to get Sid. He’d run on ahead, and was making growly noises behind an itchy-coo bush. Maybe I would pick some to shove down stupid Martin’s stupid pyjamas.

But there was a stink.

‘You better not be rolling in keech again, Sid,’ I said out loud.

I wasn’t scared when I saw her, not at first. She was lying face up and her legs were apart but at weird angles. You could see right away that she was dead. There was a droning sound but I think that was just inside me. I knelt down beside her and a wee bit of broken glass went into my knee.

‘Why did you kneel down, Janey?’ The police always ask this.

‘I don’t know. I just thought…’ I thought she maybe wanted somebody with her, I thought she was maybe lonely. But I don’t say this because it makes me sound a bit mental.

‘This is the point that you touch Samantha’s dress.’

My face goes bright red. ‘There was blood all over her tummy. And–and down there. She had no pants on.’ I feel Nana’s hand on my shoulder. She reaches forward and wipes my knee with her hanky. I’ve gone too far with the scab.

‘And you don’t know how long you waited there?’ Baldie asks. I shrug. Long enough to see a big fat bluebottle crawl out of her mouth.

‘Have you remembered seeing anyone walking near the embankment?’

Again I shrug and Carol makes a sighing noise. I really don’t like Carol.

‘Right, that’s it,’ Nana shouts. ‘Yous already know about the taxi driver who called your mob. So there’s nothing more to be said.’ Nana’s wee and a bit fat but when she’s raging she looks proper hard.

‘Mrs Devine, please. About the taxi, Janey. You absolutely sure it was moving? Talk us through that bit again,’ Baldie says.

‘I don’t–I don’t really remember how I got to the main road.’ It’s like one of those dreams where bits are missing. ‘The taxi nearly hit me. That’s how I know it was moving. The driver got out and shouted at me to get off the effin road,’ – Nana doesn’t stand for swearing unless it’s about Orangemen – ‘but then he was staring at me, and he took my hand and sat me on the pavement. He pulled his taxi in and brought me one of those tartan blankets. He said he was Alex, Taxi Alex, and did something bad happen.’

‘Did he mention the body first? Think hard, hen.’

I close my eyes to remember better. Taxi Alex was chewing Juicy Fruit. He had very red hands and his voice was high, not like a man talking.

‘No,’ I say, ‘it was me that told him about, about…’

‘Did Alex leave you alone at all?’

‘Just for a wee minute. Then he came back and gave me a Wham.’

‘He gave you a what?’

‘It’s a sweetie,’ Nana says, and does a look cos taking sweets is not on.

‘It was for shock, Nana.’

‘This Alex character. Yous looking at him?’ Nana asks. I wonder what she’s meaning but guess it’s not good because her lips are that tight way.

‘We can’t discuss that, Mrs Devine.’ Baldie tugs at his trouser knees. ‘Right, hen, last question. We need to know if you did anything apart from touch the dress. Did you do anything else to Samantha’s body?’

He’s looking right into my face now.

‘No,’ I lie.

Later, Gibby comes to take Sid Vicious for a walk. Nana’s dead grateful and goes to get him a coffee. She hardly ever gives anybody her coffee.

I notice Gibby’s rubbishy tattoo, blue and smudged, near his wrist and I wonder if might be Rangers. He sees me looking.

‘Army,’ he says, holding his big arm out. ‘I seen bodies too, you know. Northern Ireland.’

I wish Nana would hurry up, I don’t want to be talking about this.

‘Do you see her in your dreams? The dead lassie?’ he asks.

I nod, ‘Every night.’

‘Aye, it’s rough right enough. Like having worms living in your belly. Bloody shame it had to be you that found her. All sliced up, that filthy word scrawled on her face.’

‘Take two, son,’ Nana says, passing a plate of biscuits over Sid’s head.

My mouth is filled with sick and I run to the toilet.

I wasn’t scared when I found Samantha, not at first.

‘You’re freezing, so you are,’ I said, patting her hand, ‘but I’m here now, you’ll be ok now.’

Then I saw a word on her forehead. I’d thought it was blood but it was the really bad swear written in red lipstick. I did a wee bit of spit on my hanky, like Nana used to do for sticky cheeks.

‘There, there, wee lamb,’ I said, rubbing and rubbing till only a bit of the C was left.

But then the bluebottle was on her teeth and I screamed. I was running and I was screaming, and I was in the tunnel with the skeleton bones and ghosts.

The police were raging when I said I’d touched her dress, so I never told them about cleaning the word on Samantha’s face. I never told anybody. Only the person who wrote it would know about it.

Only the murderer who is with my Nana, eating custard creams.


— Frances Crawford


The Last Tram to Gorbals Cross by Allan Gaw

Glasgow 1928

A bluebottle thuds against the pane. Reeling on the rebound, it staggers through the air searching for another exit. It exhausts the dull corners of the room, senses the light and tries the window again. Over and over, I watch it flying here and there and back again.

The buzz suddenly stops. It lands on the table inches from my hand, standing on the arc of an old tea stain. Its tiny body pulses and flexes, and black spiked legs turn it left and momentarily right.  I sit frozen, watching it, imagining its thoughts. I do that with people too, like that first one.

In a blur, I jerk my hand and swat it, clipping its side.  The mess of the insect glistens.  I lean in. One broken leg is still reaching, trying to get some purchase.  I breathe smoke over it and nudge the lit fag-end towards its one good eye, so I can listen to the sear.  It can’t escape. It’s stuck to the table with its own guts. Done, I flick it. It hits the wall and falls into the shadows. No one’s ever cleaned back there.

In fact, the whole room is dirty.  It’s deliberate — squalor helps un-nerve anyone who’s used to better. Not me, though. I quite like it.

Used to be white, but lots of fags have been smoked in here since.  Now it looks like old men’s teeth.  Smells too. Quiet though. Thick walls and there’s only that high window to let the street in.  That’s the clattering of trams, rolling along Saltmarket.  I like trams. Know them all. That’s the thirteen.  Stops right outside the station.  And there’s its bell. Goes over the Clyde and down towards Gorbals Cross.

No clock in here.  They don’t want you knowing how long it’s been. They like to leave folk stewing.  The longer the better. The not-knowing gets to them. But not me. I know their game. You just need to settle in.  It’s a seat. Got my fags. And there was that fly.


At the far end of the duty room, D.S. Fyfe was fixing a large photograph to the pinboard. He knew he was being watched and probably pitied.  However, he had no choice but to go along with what Chapman wanted.

It was only his fourth week working with the new senior officer. It was a recent promotion and before his time, some said. Chapman was certainly young. But worse than that, he was English.

On their first day, the new D.C.I. had made it clear how he worked. Now, as Fyfe stood at the board that Chapman had put up, he finished assembling all the evidence.  Only the D.C.I. used this approach. It was an attempt to consolidate everything, and red strings were used to join apparently disparate pieces of the story.

Most of Chapman’s colleagues thought it was an affectation. It had certainly been new to Fyfe. However, he was already seeing its value because it helped see the bigger picture.

Fyfe secured the latest crime scene photograph — the third murder in a month.  Three victims, all women, had each been attacked upstairs on a tram late at night. This photograph, like the others, showed a woman slumped and bloodied, her throat cut.

Unannounced, Chapman appeared at Fyfe’s side.

“Good, Sarge. Let’s go over this again.”

Chapman sat but expected Fyfe to stand, using the board to present the case clearly and logically.  All the while, Chapman’s eyes would be darting from photograph to note, following the connections and formulating new ones.

“Sir, the first was Elsie O’Grady, twenty-five, waitress going home after work.  Recently separated from her husband, she lived with relatives.  Conductor found her on the upper deck just after midnight.  The body position and blood splatter suggest she was attacked from behind while seated.  Her throat cut in a single slash. No witnesses and, although there was plenty of blood, no footprints.”

Chapman nodded, urging Fyfe on.

“With the others, it’s the same story.  Betty Devine, twenty-two, housemaid returning after a day off.  And the most recent one, Millie Pollok, twenty.  All killed upstairs on a late-night tram, throat cut from behind. The only difference with Pollok is there’s evidence of a struggle — skin under her fingernails. So, she must have managed a swipe at him.”


I’ll tell you one thing, this table’s seen better days. I don’t mind though.  Gives you time to think.

The thing that surprised me when I got started was how many young women travel alone at night. Wouldn’t do that if I was a woman.

But it was quick. Wasn’t trying to make them suffer. And it was easy — just had to wait.  I’d sit upstairs and when they came up, I’d crouch down.  Most women are too busy fussing with their purses to notice.  At night, the conductor usually takes their fares downstairs.  That helped.

After they settled, I just had to pull their heads back with one hand and take the razor hard across their throats with the other.  Their blood would splash the electric bulbs above them. They would be in a pool of pink light while they died. Lovely.  Couldn’t stay, though. I had to climb over seats to get out.

The first one felt nothing.  The next was harder. She scratched like a cat.   I won’t lie — I was nervous but excited. Like at the carnival when you want to go on the big ride.

Been in the papers too.  Well, not me, my work.  My night work, that is.  Nobody’s interested in what I do during the day. No pictures, though. Pity. But whatever way you look at it, it was their own fault for travelling alone at night.


Fyfe continued, while pointing at the board.

“In each case, the killer used a razor, slicing from right to left, so he was likely left-handed.”

“And the conductors saw nothing?”

“No, sir, no help there — can’t recall who went upstairs or down.”

Chapman rose and studied the three crime scenes in turn.  All showed young women slumped against the windows, their heads back and hanging awkwardly to one side, with a dark, gaping grin across their white necks. He took three pins and pierced one in each photograph. He then wound string around the first pin, stretched it across to the second and tied it off around the third.

“That’s what we need — the connection. That’ll give us a motive.”

Fyfe had been working on just that but, thus far, had drawn a blank. And without a motive it was nearly impossible to identify a suspect.  Any man had the means — everyone had a razor — so all that was left to work with was opportunity.  Suspicion had naturally fallen on the conductors but, again, there was no link.  Three murders and three different conductors.  Their photographs were on the board too and connected to the respective scenes.  Fyfe studied them, all wearing their uniforms, and was struck by how alike they were.


My job’s boring.  Like that even from the start. Always on the move, here and there. Up and down stairs all day long.

Taken for granted. Just a nobody doing his job day in, day out.  And for what?  A single end in Govan, a gas ring and a shared toilet.  Not much to show for a life. One moment you have your dreams, and the next they’re gone. Just like those women, I suppose.


When the pattern emerged, they started looking for a lone ripper. But now the D.C.I. was questioning that assumption.

“Could there be more than one?”

“A copy-cat killing, sir?”

“Surely a possibility.  The first is topped. For argument’s sake, let’s say by the ex-husband. A week later, once it’s been in the papers, some lunatic comes along and tries his hand. Perhaps another week later he kills again, or maybe someone else takes over.  Might explain things.”

Fyfe thought carefully before answering. Whatever he said had to be sensible, especially if it was a rebuttal.

“If so, the second killer must have known exactly what happened at the first scene.  These crimes are nigh on identical. None of the details were released.  No one could have known except the killer.”

“What about the first conductor? He must have seen it all when he found O’Grady. Maybe he talked.  What if he told other conductors?  What do we know about the other two?”

Fyfe checked his notes and shook his head.

“Nothing special, sir. Duncan McColl was on the night Devine was killed, and Eric Warder found Pollok. McColl’s a family man from Shettleston, and Warder lives in Govan. Not married — bit of a loner.  Seemed like ordinary blokes.”

Chapman was studying the conductors’ photographs, and, like Fyfe, he saw the similarity — except, that is, for one thing.

“When were these taken? After the murders?”

“When I interviewed them, sir. This week.”

“Why’s this one wearing a woolly scarf?  It’s August.  Was Warder wearing it when you interviewed him?”

Fyfe strained to recall but couldn’t be certain.

“Get him in.  Let’s see if he’s hiding anything under that muffler. Like scratches.”


I light another fag. It’s not a comfortable chair.  Hard.  But when you’re on your feet all day, any seat’s a godsend.

There’s the thirteen again outside. Like clockwork.  Good to have something reliable. Expect they’ll ask me why I did it. Thought I knew, but I’ll need to get that straight.  Need a good answer because it’ll probably end up in the papers.  Maybe they’ll print my picture too.


“Right, I need you in there with me, Sarge.  I’ll take the lead, but you can offer him a fag, maybe a kind word. I want Warder thinking you’re on his side. Right, you go down, and I’ll be close behind.”


Footsteps outside. Handle turns. Door opens. Wasn’t sure who to expect. It’s Fyfe who looks in and smiles. Good that it’s the Sergeant.  Dealt with him before and he’s much easier to talk to than that English one.


“What’s this? Sitting down on the job, Charlie?  What you doing in here?”

“Just taking five minutes, Sarge.  Didn’t think you needed it.  Warder’s in the other room.”

Fyfe nodded and told the cleaner to mind Chapman didn’t catch him taking a break.


I wait before I collect my bucket.  I linger in the corridor, listening, my ear pressed to the old wood.  Chapman’s shouting.  Likes the sound of his own voice, but he’s got it wrong.  They think they’re that clever.

Upstairs there’s a floor needs doing. The stairs aren’t getting any easier.  Never thought I’d still be here, mopping floors, swilling out lavatories. But there are perks. Pick up a mop here, and you’re invisible.

In the duty room, they don’t even look up. I start by the window and work my way over to that board.  I slow so I can study the pictures.

Never got to see them like that.  She wasn’t one of mine, though, that first one. But when I saw her on the board, it looked so thrilling. And it was all there, every detail.  Almost an instruction manual. So, I thought, Charlie, why not get your own handiwork on Chapman’s famous board?

But as I’m looking, it occurs to me — there’s still space for one more. I’m working late, and the stop’s just outside. That last tram to Gorbals Cross is always quiet, except for one or two upstairs.

Then I hear it. Another heavy blue bottle flies past and lands on the board. It crawls across Elsie’s face and meets the taut red string.  Forced along, it finds its way onto Betty’s corpse where it pauses, preening its bulbous eyes with its front legs.  It turns, tasting the glossy surface, before carrying on to the end of the line where Millie is half-lying, half-sitting ripped open at the neck.

It scents her blood, but I decide to let this one go.

— Allan Gaw


Auld Bride by Judith O'Reilly

Kirsty Nicholson

I never wanted to come back. Deep down, I knew I shouldn’t and yet, I came here anyway.


The quayside was colder than I’d imagined possible as I clambered off the boat. A wind sweeping in from across from the North Atlantic with one intent, to blow the marrow from my bones and leave them hollow. Even in my thermals and goose down jacket, I shivered.

Everything was arranged. They’d told me a chap called Fergus would be waiting for me. And sure enough, as I looked to the end of the quay, the headlights of a black SUV flashed on and off. I raised my hand in greeting. By rights, I should have started walking towards the car, and yet I stayed rooted to the spot, staring at the cliffs and the churning sea flecked with white foam. The stone houses some way up the road. And I thought about every time my father had warned me that this island was not for me. That nothing good ever came out of this place. Except you, my darling, he’d say. And whatever happened I was never to go back. There’s nothing there for youAre you clear about that, Elodie? Crystal clear, Daddy, I’d say.

I knew the story of course. My mother had died when I was six months old. A fever, he said. Bereft, my father swaddled me up, packed a suitcase, and left on a supply boat one dawn. His own parents were long since dead and he told no other soul he was leaving.

And throughout my childhood, even into my early twenties, I never wanted to go back to the island. I was never curious. Until my father died, and I saw the job advertised: Marketing manager, Auld Bride Whisky Distillery: £60,000, six weeks holiday, accommodation provided. Only suitable for someone happy at the idea of remote island living, it warned. I liked the outdoors and the occasional whisky, and the job would be a step up from being a marketing assistant. But it wasn’t the money, so much as the idea that took hold. Because my father shouldn’t have done what he did. He shouldn’t have got ill, and he shouldn’t have died, and he certainly shouldn’t have left me. And this right here was his punishment, because now I was standing where he said I shouldn’t ever go. The recklessness of it thrilled me.

Then again, he’d only ever wanted the best for me.

And there was still time to change my mind. As the engine of the boat roared into life again, as the captain’s mate unwound the rope from the metal cleat embedded in the concrete, and tossed it down into the well of the boat, I considered retreat – calling for the captain to take me back with him.

But then, as if he suspected as much, Fergus was right there in front of me. His calloused hand over mine, taking the case from me with a grunt, swinging my rucksack onto his own back, and it was too late. There was no going back anymore. Instead, I watched as the boat pulled away, picking up speed as it cut through the choppy water, lifting and falling, sea birds wheeling in the air above as it headed back to the mainland.

I cursed as I hurried to catch up. Shona was waiting to meet me, he said. Everyone was waiting to meet me.


Her arms were wide as I pushed open the door of the distillery. It made me hesitate. Did she mean to hug me? My father was not a tactile man, so Shona’s warmth made me panic. I stumbled, almost falling at the threshold and Fergus’s strong fingers gripped my arm to keep me upright. She lowered her arms.

We had never met. Only talked on Zoom during the interview when I had shyly confessed that I’d been born on the island. But now she smiled as if she had known me a lifetime. “Elodie McKenzie, come home to us.”  A cheer went up from the workers.

I couldn’t help myself then. I grinned. Who doesn’t have that reaction when they’re cheered? But then, I didn’t know what it was they were cheering.

I lost track of how many hands I shook, how many tearful hugs the women gave me. Malcolm’s child, I heard more than once.  I felt a flush of pleasure that my father was remembered here. And sadness that he couldn’t see he’d been wrong not to come back. And, if I’m honest – and why wouldn’t I be now – there was anger there, too. That he’d kept me away so long.

I should have run then, of course. But I  had no idea what was to come.

Later, in her office, a peat fire blazing in the hearth, Shona sat me down in a leather armchair, and placed a whisky glass in front of me. With some ceremony, she reached for a bottle and poured both of us a drink. Her eyes narrowed as she watched me take my first sip. They were amber I realised, the same colour as the whisky she’d poured, and the flames from the fire flickered in them.

“What do you think, Elodie McKenzie, child of Malcolm McKenzie, grandchild of Fraser Mckenzie?”

That was new, my father never discussed his family. The people here would know more about my own heritage than I did. A moment of disquiet before the taste of the whisky hit me.

Over the years, I had tasted various whiskies. A Laphroaig after a country walk, a Talisker on a date. A whisky cocktail in a nightclub. And each and every time, it was as if voices whispered to me but I couldn’t make out the words. But this whisky was the truth. I heard all of it, and understood what it had to say to me. That it was the rain that fell from the sky. And the barley that grew through me and around me. I’d yet to swallow it but I knew the heat that had passed over it, because I was that heat. And I was the peat and the smoke, and the oak cask around it. The noise and the silence of the years of waiting. Knew that the whisky was me and I was the whisky.

Swallowing down the fire of it, I struggled to catch my breath and the whole time Shona talked, and I thought it was to give me time to come back to myself.

The Auld Bride distillery was a ghost distillery, she told me. There’d been ‘aquavite’ brewed in a monastery on the island as early as the 16th century, with a distillery opened by the laird in 1701. Business was good, but tastes change and the distillery closed in 1994.  That was the year my father left the island. Was that the reason for his bitterness? That the island first took his wife and then his living when the distillery closed its doors? Shona  was still talking as I zoned back in. Three years ago, a bottle of the 1912 Auld Bride came up at auction and fetched £56,000. I blinked then. For one bottle, I queried. Shona nodded. My eyes went to the bottle we’d been drinking. I could have sworn it too was a 1912.

“We’re going to do it again, Elodie,” she said, turning the bottle away from me an inch. “With your help.” She pulled out a smaller flask from a drawer. But when she poured this and lifted the glass to the light, the liquid in it was crystal-clear. “In the oak barrels, it turns to Auld Bride. It’s a different creature without the ageing.” I went to take the glass from her, but her hand stayed mine. “Tomorrow,” she said.


I never did get to the accommodation I’d been promised with its stove and its views over the sea. Apparently, the roof was leaking. Instead, Shona took me home with her. It could have been awkward, but she made it seem like the most natural thing in the world.

I dragged myself into the bed and slept for 12 straight hours. The next day I came down to porridge and a pot of tea you could stand a spoon up in. And then Shona drove me back to the distillery. It was raining, but even so people lined the road. Each man, woman and child straining to see into the car.

I panicked then, I admit. But Shona patted my knee. Said not to worry. The islanders were pleased to see me.

And what could I do but trust her.

The morning passed slowly. They told me the landline and internet connection had gone down, so I had little to do as I waited in my dusty office for the tour of the distillery which I’d been promised at twelve. I hoped it would inspire me, and truth to tell, I hoped it would reassure me. Fergus had bolted the huge distillery gates behind us as we drove in and now islanders stood six deep outside them. I could catch the low thrum of their murmurs even through the leaded window.

I called to Fiona, the elderly secretary outside my office. What was happening?

But she waved a hand. Shona was sorting things. She’d said the same about the lack of signal on my phone. But I must need another cup of tea? I’d shrugged okay and went back to the files.

That was when I found the History of Whisky. It was at the back of the lowest shelf in the darkest corner. I sneezed as I pulled it out and carried it across to my desk. Something told me not to let Fiona see it, so I met her  at the doorway when she brought me tea in a bone china cup, a triangle of shortbread balanced on the saucer. So kind, I said.

I closed the door and went back to the book on my desk. I turned the pages with care, the tea forgotten.

Auld Bride Whisky.

It was a short enough entry and much as Shona had told it. The monks. The distillery and laird. The geography and geology of the island that helped lend the whisky its distinct flavour. Then I turned the page. An addendum on the superstition of the Auld Bride.

“Originally, this author understands the whisky was known as ‘Auld One’s Bride’. According to legend, no fisherman could catch so much as a sprat in his nets, and the crops had failed year after year. The islanders were starving when the local laird summoned the Devil. They made a pact. The Devil would help them brew unforgettable whisky they could trade for gold. In return for which, every generation of islanders must drown a girl of the Devil’s choosing in an oak barrel full of crystal-clear spirit. The girl to become his bride in Hell. Witnessed by each and every islander, the laird signed his name in blood. The first bride the devil chose was his youngest daughter.”

My mouth dried and I stood up from the desk. My father had left this place for a reason. Because he knew the evil here. And the islanders had laid the perfect snare. There’d never been a job for me. No cottage with a stove and windows overlooking the sea. If anyone ever enquired, they’d say I’d never arrived, and that I must have thought better of it.

I was chosen.

I hear the scrape of the gates over the cobbles now, and the islanders streaming through. Fergus already stands outside the door. When I finish writing this, I’ll leave these pages pressed between the pages of the history, and hide the book again as best as I’m able. As they pull me to the open barrel, I’ll fight them harder than they expect me to fight them. Fight against the drowning and the Devil.

I expect to lose.


Teardrops by Jennifer Harvey

Kirsty Nicholson

He takes a seat opposite me and for a full four minutes he says nothing. I know it’s four minutes because I count every second while I wait for him to get the measure of me.

“I’m DI Spencer,” he says. His voice is devoid of emotion, the words so carefully enunciated I get the impression he has spent years honing this apparent unshakability.

So I smile at him politely and say, “Good evening,” my tone a little too friendly which seems to disconcert him.

He tries to remain impassive, but the small tilt of his head, the slight arch of his brow, the thoughtful pursing of his lips, all give him away. He doesn’t know quite what to make of me. No doubt he was expecting someone different. Someone stronger, perhaps even a little menacing.

“Listen,” I say. “Whatever you want to know, just ask me. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

He looks at me and his eyes narrow and the corners of his mouth twitch almost imperceptibly. Not so much a smile, as borderline cynicism.

“What?” I ask him. “Do you not believe me?”

“I’m just not used to such refreshing honesty,” he says. “Most people try to deny any wrongdoing.”

I can’t stop myself from laughing a little at that. “Wrongdoing?” I say. “I think three dead men is a little more than wrongdoing, don’t you?”

“Fair enough,” he smiles. “Then let’s call it what it is: murder.”

I nod in reply, and he leans back in his chair and clasps his hands across the soft paunch of his stomach as if my silent agreement is some sort of small triumph. And I notice how soft his hands are, his nails buffed and manicured, almost feminine, as if they have never seen rough work. His pallor too, has a pale, doughy quality to it. The kind you acquire when you spend too much time indoors, sedentary and immersed in paperwork. But it would be foolish to underestimate him. His gaze is alert and unflinching, and it’s that steely glint in his eyes that helps me understand him. He is the type that needs to know why. The how, the what, the when, the where. None of that matters to him as much as the why.

And that’s good, because that’s all I really want— for people to understand why those three men had to die. For them to accept, even, that killing them was the right thing to do. The just thing to do.

“The thing that bothers me most, even now,” I tell him, “is that they never showed any remorse. Nothing. Not a single tear. It’s why I had to cry on their behalf, so to speak.”

He shifts his weight, unclasps his hands, and leans forward setting his arms on the table, his expression suddenly intense letting me see he means business.

“Care to explain that?” he asks.

The bulk of his body throws a shadow across the table, the dimming of the light, intended as a threat. If it wasn’t for the softness of his hands, I would feel intimidated.

“You ever see that photo?” I ask him. “You know, the one by Man Ray? The woman with the glass tears?”

“Can’t say I have,” he says. There’s an impatience to his voice now that I don’t much like and when he leans forward a few more inches, I feel the warmth of his breath as he speaks and catch a nauseating whiff of coffee and cigarettes. “Why? Is it significant in some way?”

“I found it inspiring,” I tell him. “The teardrops. What he did— Man Ray I mean— is he placed these crystal-clear globes on the model’s cheeks, so it looked as though they were shedding these perfect tears. I don’t know why, but that image has always stayed with me. What do you think he was trying to say?”

“I don’t know. Art appreciation isn’t really my thing. “Spencer says. “But what about you, what were you trying to say?”

I think of those boys with those crystal tears cascading down their cheeks. Their fake remorse, too pure really for the reality of who they were and what they’d done.

‘Those tears were too good for them,” I say.

“Them?” Spencer asks.

“Jake Harris. Callum Walsh. Paul Downey,” I say. “You know. Them.”

“It’s a strange thing to do, don’t you think?” he asks. “Placing crystal ‘tears’ on dead men’s faces.”

“I suppose you want to know why?” I ask.

He nods and I pause for a couple of minutes, not because I want to provoke or annoy him, but simply to find the right words. Because he’s right, in a way. It is a strange thing to do.

“I wanted to know what they would look like when they were crying,” I tell him.

Spencer looks at me as if what I have told him is the most disconcerting thing he has ever heard. And it takes him a few seconds to compose himself, before he speaks.

“I’m still not sure I understand,” he says.

“Okay,” I reply. “Then, how about we start at the beginning?”

He nods and purses his lips, his brow a mixture of anticipation and confusion as if he’s not sure whether he wants to know the truth. Then he pulls himself together, that determined glint returning to his eyes.

“Sure,” he says. “Sounds good.”

Okay then, the beginning. How about a pulsating, nightclub? The sweat-soaked air saturated with pheromones. It’s one a.m. and things are just getting started. Bodies on the dancefloor moving as one, and in the last hour, limbs have become looser, laughter louder, inhibitions freer.

Though not everyone.

The girls take turns. One group on the dancefloor while the other guards the table. It pays to be vigilant, to watch over the drinks. They all know the score. These days, one slip of powder or pill in your drink and the evening is obliterated. You wake, not knowing where you are or who the guy lying next to you is. And what has he done to you? And what did you do to him? And this is the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario? Well, better watch those drinks.

But the boys are good-looking, and their talk is smooth, and they move in close and touch bare arms and shoulders, seeking eye contact. Confident, but not too much. Works like a charm. But behind some smiles lurk monsters.

And so this is how it goes. She’s swaying on the dancefloor, eyes closed and lost in the music. He brushes her arm and when she opens her eyes, he is staring at her, smiling. Beautiful eyes, she thinks. And they dance a while, getting closer and closer, moving together. And she likes him. Let’s him squeeze against her. Takes him back to the table where her friends say hello. And he’s so good-looking they let their guard down. They laugh and they drink, and they talk, and they dance some more. No-one catching it. The pill in the bottle. The girl looser now, stumbling. “Take me home,” she begs him. “Please, take me home.”

And he does. He takes her. Such a good-looking guy. But they’re the ones you have to watch. And in the morning, she wakes and remembers nothing. In the morning, she looks round the room and does not recognize it. She sees clothes scattered on the floor, the bedsheets stained, and her phone is nowhere to be seen.

This isn’t home, she thinks. Then the pounding of her head reminds her of the music. And the nightclub. And her friends. And the table. And the drinks. The fucking drinks.

Yeah, she thinks, the good-looking ones are always the ones you need to watch. And the pit of her stomach is heavy with remorse and self-loathing, while he turns over in the bed to sleep away the day.

“Son of a bitch”, her parting words.

I’ve worked the bar and seen it happen every weekend. The Sophies, the Hannahs, the Lauras and the Rachaels. Seen them dance and laugh and then fall, one by one, into the arms of men like them. The boys back every weekend for another round. The girls though, you never see them again.

And something had to be done to protect them. Don’t you think?

I don’t want his sympathy, but I can see from the way he looks at me that he can’t quite decide if I’m victim or perpetrator.

“You could have reported it,” he says. “You could have come to us for help.”

I look him dead in the eye, my jaw clenched with anger and my fingernails digging into my palms as I try to suppress my emotions.

“Oh, and do many women do that then?” I ask him. “I mean, a night on the town, too much to drink, some drugs involved and all the judgements that go with it. How many women are going to come to you looking for help? ‘She was asking for it. She was dancing with him. She was kissing him. Her skirt was halfway up her arse.’ Come on. You know the score as well as I do.”

“I’m sorry you think that,” he says.

“Think? Oh, I know it for a fact.”

And, for some reason, it’s this that makes him lose his cool. He slams the palms of his hands on the table and the sound reverberates around the room and makes me jump.

“Okay, enough of this nonsense!” he says. And then he coughs a little as if he is only now aware of what he has just done. His own response a confirmation of everything I have just said. I wait for an apology, hoping he’ll have the grace to acknowledge his mistake, but none comes.

“You mentioned remorse,” he says, his voice quieter as if he knows he needs to watch his temper now. “But it seems to me this is more about revenge.”

“Why can’t it be both?” I ask him.

He shrugs, as if the distinction is unimportant.

“Dead men can’t express remorse, you realise that don’t you?” he says.

“They’re not much good at it when they’re living either,” I tell him.

“And killing them is the answer?”

And I think of their faces when they realised what was happening. Their heads spinning, their legs like jelly, their speech slurred. “What did you do, bitch? What did you give me?” Too late. And when they see me move closer, when they see me smile, the flash of fear in their eyes is a validation. ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry’. All three of them said that at the end.

“Yeah, it was,” I tell Spencer.

“Three men are dead,” he says. “But if you think things have changed because of what you’ve done, then I have to disappoint you. You’ve changed nothing. You’ve helped no-one. Every weekend we get reports. Every weekend it’s the same. And yes, they do come to us, as it happens.”

“Why did the papers never mention it?” I ask him.

“Sorry, what?”

“The tears. I noticed that detail never appeared in the papers. What was it you were worried about? A copycat?”

“Yeah, maybe,” he says. Then he smiles, as if he has just caught me out. “Is that what you hoped would happen then? Is that what you were after? An army of vigilantes, prowling nightclubs the length and breadth of the country?”

I smile back at him. “Now, wouldn’t that be something?”

I give him a few minutes to let it sink in. And when it does, his face turns pale, and my smile unsettles him. And I think of all those crystal tears, slipped into purses across the country. Glinting and shimmering and ready.

Crime Short Story Competition - The Dark Side of Scotland

Halmeoni’s Wisdom by Brid Cummings

Kirsty Nicholson

She feels she’s being watched tonight. Nothing unusual about that. And yet, as Arty hisses at her to wade deeper into the rushing waters, she senses eyes peering at her from within the murk of the pine forest. The thought sends a cold shiver through her spine; colder than the river that pushes at her knees, trying to send her sprawling into its swift, raucous flow.

‘Get on with it, will you,’ Arty snarls, sweeping the torchlight across the rocks which line the river like blunt white teeth. ‘You want the neighbour to see us?’

She doesn’t. The new neighbour is a weasel man, with a smirk that never quite graduates to a smile. She knows his type: quick to snitch—or else wants something in return.

Arty hisses again, and she inches forward. The water is becoming deeper, more insistent, grabbing at her thighs like white man’s hands.

‘Okay, you can reach it from there.’ He gives the order as if he’s doing her a favour. But she knows better. Arty wouldn’t manage half this distance. Too chicken shit. Once, in the honeymoon months, he’d confessed he couldn’t swim. Never got taught, he’d said, his voice slurred with booze and self-pity. As if she’d been taught. As if she could swim.

She plants her left palm onto a flattened rock, trying to anchor herself there before reaching out with her right hand and grasping for the upright stake lodged between two boulders. The force of the river vibrates through the shaft, and she tightens her grip, trying to absorb the power, channelling it into her arms, her shoulders, her torso, down to her feet, knowing once she releases the stake, the river will fight her for the net, and for the precious crystalline babies inside.

A soft blush breaks above the trees as they finally finish their work and ascend the riverbank, following the muddy track that winds past the farmhouse and towards the large iron shed. Still, she feels the cool gaze from the forest, but her focus is on the buckets she carries, ensuring the water does not slosh too high as she adjusts the metal handles that bite like blades into the creases of her fingers.

‘Get a move on,’ Arty snaps, although he’s only a few metres ahead. No heavy buckets for him. Only the stakes and an empty net—and the weight of his bulky stomach, which has expanded over the past two years in contrast to his hairline.

Or perhaps he’s always looked like this. Halmeoni used to say people see only what they want to see. She also said no good would come from running overseas. A wise woman. It had been foolish not to listen.

Drawing back the shed door, the smell of rotten seaweed hits her like a punch to the guts. Arty drops the stakes and netting and ambles down the slope without another word. She watches him disappear, then lowers the buckets, and wedges the door open wide with a loose rock. After a deep lungful of outside air, she retrieves the pails, heads past the huge concrete pool inside the shed, and locates the narrow door concealed behind cluttered shelving.

Within the hidden tank room, the air is fresher, although still tainted with the briny scent of the ocean. She flicks off the silent alarm and heads to the row of fish tanks lining the wall. The water in each tank bubbles softly, as a swarm of tiny, translucent babies writhe within. She watches them, transfixed. Glass eels. Soft and supple and clear as glass. Except one. She frowns. How did that get there? If Arty had seen ….

She grabs a small net and fishes out the darker looking elver. Must be a leftover from the last batch. Still young, but if it gets hungry, she knows it will devour its younger siblings. She lowers the wriggling creature into the large bucket beside the door. Other stray eels slither in the waters, all dark skinned, and all to be dispatched when Arty decides its fried eel for tea. The thought knots her stomach. Eel babies swim all the way from the Sargasso Sea; she’d learned that. A long journey. Almost as long as the one she’d made herself, hidden in the lower deck of a cargo ship.

She turns away from the bucket. No one wants these darker eels. Only the prized glass eels, which will be sent out in crates with a bribe to the customs officers, or else hidden in suitcases packed with ice blocks and transported by mules too greedy or too fearful to say no to the smuggler gangs. Not too long ago, she’d been one of the greedy and fearful ones. Not a mule, but keen to work in the trade nevertheless and send her meagre wage straight to her mother’s bank account. Until Arty decided he didn’t need to pay her anymore. That she should just be grateful he gave her food and lodgings and didn’t report her to the authorities.

Diligently, she checks the last tank before pouring in the freshly caught baby eels. They will all be shipped out soon. Sent to holding pens in China or the Philippines where they will be allowed to darken and fatten before being sliced and diced for the expensive restaurants. Arty says a thousand pounds worth of eels here is worth ten times that over there. He doesn’t say one pound here is worth ten times that to her mother—although he knows this too.

Her throat tightens as she returns to the stench of seaweed. Reluctantly, she climbs the pool ladder to peer down at the lumps of kelp festering inside the deep concrete basin. It’s a decoy, Arty had explained. If the police ever come, we’ll tell them we’re trying to commercialise Laver bread—seaweed bread. Arty thinks he’s clever, yet he never thinks to re-fill the tank. Just sits and drinks all day while she does all the work. Suppose that makes him smarter than her.

After a short pause, she climbs onto the narrow edge of the pool and with slow tightrope steps travels along its rim. She’s not worried about getting trapped inside the container—there’s a ladder inside too—it’s the rock-solid base that will greet her skull if she falls. She stops at the inlet tap. It’s stiff, but with a grunt, she turns it clockwise, releasing a gurgling stream of water into the pool. The seaweed sucks and pops in gratitude. But she does not keep the tap open for long.

A shadow? By the door?

No, just her imagination, as usual. Paranoia her constant companion. Still, she shouldn’t leave the shed door open. Arty has warned her about that.


She scuttles down the ladder on hearing his voice. His balding head comes into view just as she kicks away the stone and shuts the door.

‘Been calling you for ages,’ he says, his brow lowered in irritation.

‘Sorting out the fish,’ she replies, hurrying down to greet him.

‘Bloody Asians on the phone again.’ He thrusts the mobile into her hand. ‘Tell them we want the money deposited before shipment this time.’

She nods, following him down the slope as a buyer speaks in broken English through the line.

She tries Korean first, then Mandarin, where the caller responds tersely that he cannot deposit the money in advance.

Arty repeats his demand again. She relays it, then repeats the buyer’s position. Soon both sides are hissing and cursing, and she tries not to flinch as she absorbs each one of the verbal blows.

Finally, the buyer cuts the call abruptly.

Arty grins, grabs the phone and slots it into his shirt pocket. He taps it knowingly. ‘They’ll call back. Guaranteed. With the raids up north, supplies are tight. Should get a higher price too.’

And then, it’s like the honeymoon period again, as they eat lunch, watch TV, and he puts the subtitles on like he used to when she was improving her English. She doesn’t tell him she can speak English better than him nowadays.


The alarm goes off two hours later. A small high pitch whine that tells them both the tank room door is open.

He swings round. ‘You shut it properly?’

She nods, unable to speak, fear suddenly snatching away all her English words.

Arty launches himself from the settee like a wasp-stung dog and rushes to the gun cabinet. She follows him, but only to the front door; her feet do not take her up the steep track, but around the side of the house and to a row of bushes snaking gently uphill. As she reaches the top, she crouches low, staring at the open door of the shed. She scans the area around the building too. Is it a raid? Police? Authorities? But where are the flashing blue lights? Sirens? Men with handcuffs come to send her back?

She jolts at a sudden noise from inside the shed. A surprised yell. A splash. Then a shot. And another. The sound repeats as an echo between the iron panels. She covers her ears. Watches birds rise from the forest and pepper the skies.

Silence descends. She remains static for minutes, that seem like hours, until cramp in her calf forces her to unlock her limbs.

Still quiet.

The door of the shed holds still. The air grows tight. She takes a step forward, then another, stopping after several paces like a deer sniffing the air. But she doesn’t sense predatory eyes from the forest. It seems empty. No witnesses. Only her.

She edges forward again and peers around the shed door. The light is on, but inside is bare, nothing but the cluttered shelving, the cement pool, the ladder.

And a dropped phone.


A small groan follows in reply.

Tentatively, she climbs the ladder, her fingers trembling as she grasps for each rung. But it is not Arty she sees first as she peeks over the rim. It’s weasel man, face down upon a seaweed mattress, with a dark cavity where his right ear should be.

‘Yung.’ Arty’s voice is hoarse as he calls to her. He sits waist-deep in the oily water, slumped against the wall like a discarded soft toy.

She says nothing. Only stares, watching as a serpentine ribbon wends its way from his left flank towards a greasy raft of kelp. Like an eel, she thinks, but not an eel. Not a glass eel with its tiny transparent form slipping through the water. Nor an elver, dark and sleek, twisting towards the seaweed. No, this creature is crimson, long and lithe, gliding sinuously like a red rat snake, or Eopsin as Halmeoni would name it—goddess of wealth.

‘Bring that over.’ Arty winces as he points to the other ladder propped inside the pool.

With her heart thudding, she clambers onto the rim of the pool and advances towards the metal ladder. The frame feels cool beneath her fingers, and surprisingly light as she hauls it upwards.

‘Good girl.’

But she doesn’t turn towards him. Instead, very gently, she twists and settles the ladder against the outside wall. Then she takes a few more steps, and with only a momentary pause, extends her hand towards the inlet tap.

Later, above the sound of rushing water and gargled curses, she hears the ring of Arty’s phone.

The buyer speaks to her in Mandarin. The money will be deposited in advance, he says, but the price must remain the same. No negotiation. She agrees, insisting on only one change—then reels off the bank numbers that she knows by heart. As the digits are repeated back to her, she turns, looking past the cluttered shelving and smiles softly, sensing a future for herself and her mother as clear and bright as the glass eels swimming in their tanks.

Sonoma Distillery

Sonoma Distillery: Adam Spiegel

Kirsty Nicholson

While working with great Master Distillers and Blenders over the years, I’ve honed my skills to continually raise the bar with each new product and batch. There are no ‘Masters’ here per se; we’re just talented people striving every day to better ourselves and our craft. I like to say that we’re making whiskeys in a small way, for a big world.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

Sure, so my story is somewhat similar to many other distillers. I was working in the finance field in 2008, and then when the crash came, I found myself looking for an industry that was a bit more recession proof.

I had started brewing beers, which lead to making wine, which lead to grappa, which lead to whiskey, all of which was as a hobby. By 2009-10, I was working with my old business partner, and we thought the whiskey we were producing was good enough to make professionally. I started going to ADI events, taking distilling courses that they offered and learning more about the business itself.

We started working with a liquor lawyer in California about starting our own distillery, and next thing you know, we were one of the first 200 distilleries in the U.S. by February 2010. The first 3 years were really more or less a R&D process for me, and then I parted ways with my business partner. It was then that I went to study with Hubert Germain-Robin. He still comes in to advise on the spirits. I have also been lucky enough to work with industry nose Nancy Frayley, who has always been a great contributor to my business.

We started with 784 sqf and have grown it now to over 21,000 sqf! We moved next door to a bigger facility & have recently built a new barrel room.

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

A couple things make us unique – we are in Northern California; we are in the heart of wine country and we only make whiskey.

The type of equipment we use is the Scottish pot stills from Forsyths and the alembic cognac stills give our whiskey a very different flavor from others.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

Not to be a pretentious A-Hole, and to accept critiques & praise & education equally whenever possible.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful in the United States and around the planet, why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

Whiskey for a long time has been straddled with the tag of “what your father or grandfather used to drink”.

But now, due to shows like like “Boardwalk Empire” & “Madmen” plus the rise of the new cocktail culture has made whiskey a cool thing again.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

That the quality of the juice has little to no effect to the viability of the product in the marketplace. So much goes into marketing a brand that you have to do so much more – marketing, messaging, etc.

There are people who just got it. There are people I speak to that I really respect in the industry who are, when they speak, do so in a coded language, that I still don’t quite understand it. To some, this part just comes naturally.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

Sure, I tell the story a bit more now than I used to. There is a gentleman named Mr. Robin Robinson who handed me the biggest slice of humble pie that I ever had. We were in Chicago at the Indie Spirits Expo when I told him that I didn’t like blended Scotches. He asked, “Why?”, and I said that they weren’t all that.

He then proceeded to take a number of single malts, taste me out on each one, and explained just how difficult it is to bring those flavors together and make them gel together. It really opened my mind and from then on, I kept an open mind. It was an area where I thought I knew it all, but I learned I was wrong.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

From the supply side – age statements & price point availability are some of the trends that I see may pay dividends in the future.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

I think a lot of it has to do with barrel finishing. That I think is exciting! I also like the idea of bringing back bottled-in-Bond as well. Also, sourcing ingredients locally, since I realize the positive economic impact it can have on the local farmers. I think that is really important! It is why we are a 100% California sourced spirit!

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

I see new household brands emerging, that taste unique & different.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

So, this is not bullshit at all – the glass itself is built really, really well! This from a guy who breaks a lot of glasses! I like the nose on it, as someone who blends whisky. I can really move the Glencairn glass as I swirl it. The knuckle of my thumb fits perfectly on the base of the glass, so it is a perfect fit.

My only qualm is if the base was only a little taller so that my hands were further from my nose when nosing a spirit. That way any aroma of my hand wouldn’t interfere with the aroma of the spirit.

Visit the Sonoma website here

Limestone Branch Distillery

Limestone Branch Distillery: Stephen Beam

Kirsty Nicholson

I had already been in the restaurant business with my brother Paul for 10 years, then we decided to open our own distillery. We started the whole process in 2009, in 2010 we incorporated & by 2011 we opened the doors.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

I like to say that I grew up around the industry as opposed to in the industry. My father got out of the business back in the 40s. He was actually a baseball player, in the Bourbon League, back when each distillery had a team. and he & his brother’s main job was playing on the distillery team, but you had to work for the distillery, so they got the job just to get on that team.

My aunts & uncles & cousins were all in the business. And even my mom peaked my interest when at an early age she would take my brother Paul & me to the Dant Distillery since she was proud of her family heritage. When I graduated from school the whiskey industry was heading down so I pursued a degree in landscape architecture for the first 20 years of my career. But I always kept coming back to distilling, though regulations were still not friendly for starting up a distillery of my own.

Then the internet came around and I did more research, and discovered Dry Fly Distillery in Washington State and Fritz Maytag with Anchor Distilling in San Francisco. These were more on the scale that was available to me. I also went to an ADI Conference in Louisville where Bill Owens really helped me out a lot, and I was just bitten by the bug. I had already been in the restaurant business with my brother Paul for 10 years, then we decided to open our own distillery. We started the whole process in 2009, in 2010 we incorporated & by 2011 we opened the doors.

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

We started out as a small artisan distillery, and we are still a very tactile one, doing everything by taste & smell. We were using heirloom corn before most other distilleries, and were putting out just a few barrels a month and are now up to about 40 barrels a month.

Once we teamed with LUXCO in 2015, this allowed us to focus more on just producing Bourbon instead of things such as Moonshine to pay the bills. We are also ready to expand and increase our production in 2021.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

We use pot stills, instead of column stills which many other Bourbon producers prefer, and are using an old fashion worm-tub instead of condensers. It is my belief that pot stills provide a richer quality spirit before they even hit the barrels.

I, personally, believe that Fall & Winter productions produce a better whiskey here in Kentucky. Low humidity, cooler temperatures- the yeast loves it! Happy yeast makes great whiskey! We also use a proprietary yeast which we were able to revive from residue from our grandfather’s dona jug (an old copper jug to store distilling yeast) some 50 years after the last time he used it!

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful in the United States and around the planet, why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

I think, particularly whiskey, that people started embracing the food culture and started appreciating the handcrafted whiskeys out there. There’s such a devotion to the craft and the history and the heritage.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

For me, it was the explosion for the demand of Bourbon. We didn’t get into the business because of that…it just happened around us.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

The expansion of demographics – women, young people, minorities, etc. It’s great! It used to be an old man’s drink, something your father or grandfather would drink but now everyone is getting into it.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

Several of the large distilleries in Kentucky in the 1970s went into the fish industry. Business was in the doldrums and the big producers were looking for another revenue stream (so to speak).

It just seems like everyone from that era has a story about that time, and how all the fish died. It was just the biggest cluster you could imagine! Though I was at a dinner for the KDA when the subject came up, but then a wife of one of the participants turned to tell us, “We don’t talk about the fish!”

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

The development of all the small distilleries having aged whiskeys. There is such a large breadth of profiles & tastes. It’s just amazing! I think it is very exciting!

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

Barrel picks from different liquor stores & bars, which give you a curated variety to choose from.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

It’s obviously a great glass for whiskey, because it channels the aroma up to the nose and the clarity of the glass lets you see the quality of the whiskey. We use the Wee Glencairn Glasses on our tours!

Visit limestone Branch distillery website here

Copper Fox Distillery: Rick Wasmund

Copper Fox Distillery: Rick Wasmund

Kirsty Nicholson

I was always a fan of whiskey as well as very attuned to the fruit aromas of various wood.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

Born in Rochester, NY but moved to Virginia after school. After school I worked as a Certified financial planner. I was always a fan of whiskey as well as very attuned to the fruit aromas of various wood. Inspired by a Johnnie Walker tasting in NY where they were waxing on about the alluring smell of peated malt, it got me think that I wanted to check out grain smoked with fruit wood. This was 1999, when I was 40 years old.

I was living in Virgina at the time, where there were a lot of old apple orchards, so naturally I thought an old apple factory would make for an ideal location for my first distillery. We incorporated in 2002, with a number of fits & starts, but finally moved into the Sperryville location in November 2004, then started distilling in 2005.

In 2010, I married, started a family and we all lived above the distillery. In 2015, we started a second distillery at an old motel complex in Williamsburg, VA that has 10 different buildings!

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

The Sperryville distillery is an old apple factory where we still malt our own barley by hand using fruit wood smoke, plus mature our whiskey using applewood, peachwood & oak wood chips that dangle in the spirits through a hole in the top of the barrels (this may account for an Angels’ Share of up to 20%, but a beautiful whiskey).

Our Williamsburg distillery is an old motel that we converted, and now has a malting floor, a speakeasy, a tasting room, a built-in swimming pool, and an insulated barrelhouse (much like the warmer barrelhouses of India), and a string of old motel rooms that may be used for hospitality spaces in the future. We are within a mile of the famed William & Mary University.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

There are no “secrets”. (wink-wink). If I told you they wouldn’t be a secret, now would they? Other than start with great clean grain. We used to work with a local farmer, but he passed away. Now we work with his family to source our grain.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful in the United States and around the planet, why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

Ummm, because it’s delicious?

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

The number of people who don’t know by now how whiskey is made or do not understand the difference between Bourbon, Scotch and other styles of whiskey.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

Ready-to-drinks seemed hot last year, and should be this year as well.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

Love to give a shout out to way back in 2000, when I went to Scotland to learn how to malt some barley, and where I ran into the legendary distiller Jim McEwan. Jim encouraged me to follow my mission saying, “You got to do it”. Speaking with him made distilling a calling! I knew then that I just had to embrace my destiny.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

I like seeing all these little distilleries making it, plus what the big guys are coming up with. It’s just great being part of the larger distilling community.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

The future seems bright enough. It is delicious!

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

Glencairn is the epitome of whisky glasses! We want to be associated with the best, so why not use the best glassware. Of course, it enhances the whole experience and customers appreciate that we use them.

Journeyman Distillery

Journeyman Distillery: Bill Welter

Kirsty Nicholson

When the family business was sold in 2006, I decide to pursue my own business, which eventually resulted in Journeyman Distillery in 2010.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

As you know, I grew up working in the family business of banking, which started with my Grandfather in the early 1970s, so entrepreneurship ran in the family, which prompting me to want to start a business of my own.

In 2012, Johanna and I had a daughter that we named Islay. Our hope is that she will work in the family business when she grows up and started off with a name associated with whisky, plus to show the influence of the time I spent living in Scotland. When the family business was sold in 2006, I decide to pursue my own business, which eventually resulted in Journeyman Distillery in 2010. We started making whiskey at the Koval Distillery in Chicago first while renovating our current location in Three Oaks, Michigan.

I lived in Scotland from 2000-01, and my experience with whiskey before that was more like any other kid with little thought of what actually went into making it. I had just graduated from college where I played for Missouri State a Division 1 golf program, so going to Scotland seemed like a natural progression, so it was off to St. Andrew’s. I call it my PhD in golf! I was waiting tables in St. Andrews, to learn more about the game, when I met a guy by the name of Greg Ramsey, who was the barman and a real whisky aficionado. This is where I received a real appreciation of whisky. It dawned on me that, being in Scotland, I was smack dab in the middle of the home of 150 great whisky distilleries! I was on an island the same size as Indiana, but had so many great distilleries and a people that had such a love for their native spirit.

I gained a great understanding for the reverence the Scots had for whisky, which turned my head around from what I had learned from the college drinking culture. After coming home to the U.S., I started working at the family banking business, and would later on work in the Chicago restaurant industry with the idea of opening a restaurant of my own. After deciding that the restaurant business was not for me, I circled back with my old friend Greg, who was now starting a distillery of his own in Tasmania, so I went down there for a while to help him get up & running. I spent 8 weeks learning from distilleries on that island, and then came back to Chicago to a kind of paid internship (in that I paid them to be an intern) at Koval trying to learn how to make whiskey, along with reading as much as I could, plus visiting as many other local distilleries as possible.

I had put all my eggs in one basket. I wanted to be part of the family business, so the distillery’s name has a lot to do with life being a journey, with the ups & downs, life is what you make of it, as well as my own actual travels learning the distilling business. With all of this, and local tradesmen, the name Journeyman really has a number of meanings.

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

I went to Buffalo Trace, where I saw some of their old bottles from the 1800s, which inspired the look of our bottles today. The future home of Journeyman distillery was discovered driving down the street of Three Oaks one day looking for an old factory building. Though I lived in Indiana the laws did not allow for craft distilling, I was very close to the Michigan state line, and visited Three Oaks and the rest is history. I wanted an old factory building to give the feel of an old whiskey brand.

The building is an old buggy whip & corset factory that was owned by the local Temperance Movement leader EK Warren, which gave it a great back story. With annexing the attached buildings, we have over 40,000 square feet including a restaurant, production facility, bar, and 2 3 event spaces. Behind the distillery, we have a replica of the St. Andrew’s putting green that we call Welter’s Folly (scaled down 3x) in honor of my time spent there and to encourage kids and families to get out and play.

We also have 4 rental properties that we use to host bartenders, members of the trade, and visitors. We do great business hosting weddings, corporate events & retreats, plus seasonal artist markets. In October, we will put on a Barrel Aged Beer Festival Called Islay’s barrel out front of the distillery working with local breweries that use our whiskey barrels to age their beer. The barrel aged beer fest raises money for charity. This gets a great attendance!

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

I went to Buffalo Trace, where I saw some of their old bottles from the 1800s, which inspired the look of our bottles today. The future home of Journeyman distillery was discovered driving down the street of Three Oaks one day looking for an old factory building. Though I lived in Indiana the laws did not allow for craft distilling, I was very close to the Michigan state line, and visited Three Oaks and the rest is history. I wanted an old factory building to give the feel of an old whiskey brand.

The building is an old buggy whip & corset factory that was owned by the local Temperance Movement leader EK Warren, which gave it a great back story. With annexing the attached buildings, we have over 40,000 square feet including a restaurant, production facility, bar, and 2 3 event spaces. Behind the distillery, we have a replica of the St. Andrew’s putting green that we call Welter’s Folly (scaled down 3x) in honor of my time spent there and to encourage kids and families to get out and play.

We also have 4 rental properties that we use to host bartenders, members of the trade, and visitors. We do great business hosting weddings, corporate events & retreats, plus seasonal artist markets. In October, we will put on a Barrel Aged Beer Festival Called Islay’s barrel out front of the distillery working with local breweries that use our whiskey barrels to age their beer. The barrel aged beer fest raises money for charity. This gets a great attendance!

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

If I told you I would have to kill you. Joking. Actually, we are one of the few certified organic & kosher distilleries in the world. We have never sourced a drop of whiskey and are grain to glass, which can’t be understated. We wanted the whiskey to be unique to where we are, so not sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, or Tennessee distilleries. That is what Journeyman is.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful in the United States and around the planet, why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

It’s just better. It’s more complicated, more depth, more complexity. You love the nuances to it and there is a sense of place. You open up a bottle and enjoy the aroma & taste. You just don’t get that from vodka. Plus, there are better stories behind whiskey brands, like Jack Daniels. I am not a rep for Jack Daniels, but I think everyone should visit that distillery, which is like a historic landmark.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

That the whole craft distilling industry took off like it did. That was a surprise. When we opened Journeyman in 2010 there weren’t more than 250 distilleries in the U.S., but now there is somewhere between 2000-3000 distilleries. Just surprised that it took off like it did.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

I see that competition has dramatically increased, much like what I see in craft brewing.

You see more distilleries/breweries concerned with just selling out the front door instead of getting distribution more than state-wide, making your place a destination. Less worry of haggling with distributors & accounts.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

I like to tell the story of visiting George Grant at the Glenfarclas Distillery. I wanted to reward my staff so we went to Scotland with our distilling team. George welcomed our distilling team and the guys at that distillery were just above and beyond friendly and welcoming.

George took us to one of his warehouses to look at casks from the 1950s & 60s. He blew our minds when he took a whisky thief and shared whiskies straight from casks of 60-year old single malt. George Grant and their family distillery is a model or ours in that they have created a multigenerational family owned and operated business of which we hope to replicate. George pointed out that the whisky in the 1950-60’s casks were at one time worth next to nothing, but at other times had significant value which reinforced with me the significant risks associated with the whisky business.

Our time with George was great, and his advice that this business can be very good to you but can have major pitfalls, still rings true to me, especially during these times.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

We really love the hospitality side of the industry, and feel that it’s one of our greatest strengths and that we have taking the distillery hospitality model further then many distilleries ever have.

We are going to try to do something similar to what we’ve done in Three Oaks in my hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana with a new brewery/distillery/hospitality restaurant and event spaces there. Having lived in Scotland, we even have a homage to a Scottish single malt, so the American single malt category is something we look forward to.

Our family has a farm in Indiana that we have had since the 1930s where we have grain that we started planting in 2015, so we are planning on releasing a 10-year old Farm Whiskey Single Malt using the grain grown on the farm to release in 2025.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

I think craft distilling will retreat in the sense that it becomes what the Aussies call “a cellar door” experience, meaning making the distillery more of a destination place with less of a focus on distribution. I also think that the major brands will become even more dominate in the short term, and with the declining economy and forced closure of many small distilleries around the united states, consumers will be looking for more economical spirits during this time.

Though I think the brands that do make it thru this pandemic will be stronger for it at the other end. They will have withstood a tremendous downturn, but learn some very important lessons in doing so that will benefit that in the long term.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

Like a lot of things, when you are looking to have the best whiskey experience possible, you want to use the best glass available. Glencairn has been around for 20 years and has not only survived but grown during all those years, so you know it’s great.

We want our visitors drinking from the Glencairn Glass, and it being a family business, we respect that. The Davidson Family is great, and we support family businesses. We feel that it has been a mutually beneficial relationship and Marty Duffy is the BOMB!

Balcones Distillery

Balcones Distillery: Jared Himstedt

Kirsty Nicholson

Everyone in this industry needs to remember that we are doing way more than whisky, and other people are incorporating what we make into some of the most important moments of their lives.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

I was homebrewing beer for about 10 years before becoming interested in whiskey. Home brewing is very DIY, and we applied the same approach to distilling, so we were always asking what do we do next, but the next thing you know we had a distillery!

I previously did studio ceramics and was in social work and even opened a bar for a while, planning on brewing beer there (at the bar), but realized we didn’t really have the space to pull it off. We read as much as we could to learn about distilling, we talked to as many others within the industry as we could as far as learning distilling.

We kind of pride ourselves on the fact that we learned as we went. I think people that are paying attention, and diligent with their experimentation can learn a lot with direct experience.

Can you tell us about your distillery, and what makes it unique?

The use of Scottish (Forsyths) pot stills, even for our American Whiskey styles, was pretty unique when we started. Also, again, something probably more common now that wasn’t when we started was that we made single malts in the U.S.

When we started there was no Texas whiskey being made, so maturing in this area was a huge question mark. It’s a very different maturation climate than the traditional whiskey regions of the world. But now with whisky from Taiwan and India, with similar climate to ours, the conversation about whiskey from more extreme climates is more fleshed out.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful in the United States and around the planet, why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

I am no booze historian, yet the easy answer is whisky is delicious. I can’t understand why it wasn’t as big in past decades with people.

But more seriously, Whiskey has somehow been able to be both mysterious and yet pedestrian. You can throw some Bourbon or Scotch on the rocks, or with Coke, or you can purchase some exotic bottle that you only drink neat. It just has such a broad appeal.

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

Some of the biggest things I didn’t see coming, were how many distilleries have popped up since we started.

Also, how the bigger the industry got; the more difficult things became. You start making the whiskey and seeing the business grow, which means hiring people who know marketing and get feet out on the street to get your brand on store shelves and backbars.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

The ones I am most involved with these days, and most aware of, are the proliferation of single malts globally. American Single Malt is really having a powerful moment and gaining both recognition and momentum.

Closer to home is the birth & growth of Texas whiskey. It is truly exciting that in my lifetime I am getting the chance to participate in the beginnings of two brand new and flourishing whisky styles.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

I was pouring whiskey at an event for an American gent who had married a Scottish girl, and whose Scottish father-in-law was residing in Texas, but was very ill in hospital. The father had heard of a single malt whiskey being made in Texas, so he sent his son-in-law out to find this Balcones single malt and bring it back to him. He found it, brought it back to his father-in-law in the hospital, and they would share little nips in the evenings every night.

Since the father-in-law was Scottish, he was deemed the whiskey expert of the two men, and he really liked it. When the older man passed away, they found that the bottle still had some whiskey left in it, so the family would share it in memory of him from time to time.

It shows that we are making more than just whiskey, but are affecting moments in people’s lives. I think everyone in this industry needs to remember that we are doing way more than whiskey, and other people are incorporating what we make into some of the most important moments of their lives. We get to be the stewards of something that is very meaningful to people.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

I don’t like getting hoarse from all the talking that I do, but I do enjoy the whiskey events around the world and trying all the other whiskey to see what others have been doing. We get very excited about this since we get to try all that whiskey, all in one place, all at one time. It is also interesting to see what folks are doing with new strains of grain as well.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

Well, obviously, the Covid-19 stuff is throwing everyone’s expectations out the window. I do see continued growth, but with some hiccups because of recent events. There should still be growth, though perhaps slowed down more than we thought.

There will also be a big loss among distilleries, especially with those that never had a good stronghold in the marketplace to begin with.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

It may not be true, but Andy Davidson told us that we were one of his first American distilleries to carry the glass. Many people think of The Glencairn Glass as just a nosing glass, while others think it is just to drink from, but for me it is the most well-rounded glass there is on the market.

We have them all over the distillery – in the tasting room, in the still room, the nosing room. In fact, they are the glasses that we use for any sensory evaluation, be it in the bar, at the stills to make cuts, or in blending.

Visit the Balcones Distillery website here