Penderyn : Stephen Davies, CEO

Pendryn Distillery with Stephen Davies,

Distillery CEO

‘From Wales to the world…’

The Home of Welsh Whisky.

Wales’ first whisky distillery in over 100 years, and pioneers in World Whisky.

Can you tell us about the history and background of Penderyn Distilleries, including when it was founded and what sets it apart from other distilleries?

Distilling in Wales was a lost art, but in the late 1990s, in a Hirwaun pub in the Welsh valleys, a group of friends chatted about establishing the first whisky distillery in Wales in over a century. They dreamt of creating a whisky as pure and precious as Welsh gold, represented today by Penderyn’s ‘gold seam’.

A unique copper single-pot still designed by Dr David Faraday, a relative of the great 19th-century scientist Michael Faraday, was installed in 2000, which produces a spirit at an industry high draw of 92%, meaning Penderyn’s whiskies are light, fruity, elegant and flavoursome. We now have two of these stills, as well as Faraday Stills in Llandudno (opened May 2021) and Swansea (opened Jun 2023) distilleries.

The business seemed a curiosity – a Welsh whisky? – but when the Scottish whisky expert, Dr Jim Swan, became our Master Distiller, things got serious. Dr Swan got involved because he said the still created a world class spirit. He said we should finish in Madeira casks, so this became our house style. On St David’s Day 2004, Penderyn whisky was launched.

What is the story behind the name and branding of your distillery, and how does it connect to your overall identity and vision of your distillery?

The village of Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons National Park, which was a couple of miles from Hirwaun, was chosen as it had a site available and a natural supply of spring water. Penderyn means ‘bird’s head’ in Welsh, and so it became the name of the distillery. We have Gold Range and Dragon Range bottles. We use the ‘gold seam’, as medieval Welsh princes used Welsh gold, and of course we use the Welsh dragon.

Can you share any interesting anecdotes or stories related to the history, production, or characters associated with your distillery or brand?

When we went to the Scottish Highland games, north of San Francisco, we were in a large barn with around 30 Scottish distilleries. We were the last table and after drinking heavily peated Scotch, the visitors loved our lighter whiskies, and we were the top seller on the day!

Our whisky creator Dr Jim Swan is a much-celebrated figure in the industry.  He started working with us in 2002 and continued as our whisky creator and non-executive director until his passing in 2017.  Following on from his successful work at Penderyn he then proceeded to work with several other distilleries including Kavalan in Taiwan, Kilchoman in Scotland. and Cotswolds and Spirit of Yorkshire in England.

How do you approach cask selection and maturation for your whisky, and what impact do different types of casks have on the final product?

We have three women distillers (plus a male distiller), and Aista Phillips is our Master Blender. She has a remarkable nose and when one of our US importing team visited, he said watching Aista work was like, ‘watching Jimi Hendrix play guitar.’ Our house-style is a Madeira finish, but we also use a wide variety of casks for finishing – port, sherry, ex-peated, STR (scraped, toasted and re-charred), as well as rum, Muscatel and other casks. Our whiskies generally mature in around 6-8 years, as the high-quality spirit works exceptionally well with the wood. We use Buffalo Trace casks, and Aista has detailed notes on around 15,000 casks, but we also mature in other casks, such as port and sherry.

Do you have any sustainability or environmental practices in place at your distillery, such as water conservation, waste reduction, or renewable energy initiatives?

We are committed to a sustainability agenda with a range of initiatives at our distilleries.  We have sustainable natural water sources that contribute to the making of our product including a natural spring in the Brecon Beacons and at the Great Orme in Llandudno as well as from the Welsh National Show Caves. We recycle as much heat as possible via heat exchangers through the process. We also recycle the non-alcoholic waste streams back to agriculture, as far as possible.  We have a programme of reducing packaging / secondary packaging as far as possible with lighter glass bottles and reduced use of gift boxes where we can.  Employees are also encouraged to drive electric cars as part of a company-wide scheme

We have solar panels on employed on most of our buildings and we are exploring other renewable energy sources for distillery production going forward

What trends do you see affecting the spirits industry at the moment, and how is your distillery positioned to take advantage of them?

The Penderyn brand has been established over the last 20 years and has gained a great reputation for consistency and quality.  We have a good presence in the UK and Europe and we see a lot of growth coming from the North America and Asia over the next three to five years. With three distilleries now fully open to the general public we also see a great opportunity to growth and strengthen our brand story through UK and international tourism.

Is there anything along the way that you wish you knew sooner? What would you tell your future self?

We’ve enjoyed good quality brand and business growth over the years but we are always wishing we started our expansion projects a couple of years earlier that we have actually done – but this is part of the problem of working with a long-matured product like single malt whisky.

Finally, can you discuss any exciting projects or releases that you have planned for the near future?

People around the world know about the Scots and Irish, but we call Wales, ‘the secret Celtic nation’. This means that whenever we travel, we have to tell the story of Wales, to give Penderyn a root. For example, it’s not, ‘an island off Scotland’ and some New Yorker said it was! We have many young people, and people who don’t naturally like whisky, who become converts to our lighter, elegant whiskies. We export around 20% of our whiskies, and so there is a major market to expand.

To find out more about Penderyn Distillery and their range of Welsh whisky please visit here.

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Kingsbarns Distillery : Peter Holroyd, Distillery Manager

Kingsbarns Distillery with Peter Holroyd, Distillery Manager

A Family With A Dream

The Scottish Wemyss family have had a longstanding passion for malt whisky and their connections with the industry date back to the turn of the 19th century when John Haig (founder of Haig’s built his first distillery on Wemyss land).

Can you tell us about the history and background of Kingsbarns Distillery, including when it was founded, and what sets it apart from other distilleries?

“Kingsbarns was established in 2014 but it wasn’t until March 2015 that we filled our first cask. We are an independently owned, Family run distillery. Owned and operated by the Wemyss family. What sets us apart? Well it’s a few different aspects in my opinion, but the liquid comes first and foremost. We have some unique production techniques including producing clear wort, using 2 separate strains of yeast in long fermentations and running the stills extremely slowly to ensure lots of copper contact. All of these things contribute to achieving an elegant and intensely fruity new make spirit.

Our Production Director, Isabella Wemyss then has the job of pairing the Kingsbarns spirit with the right cask type! We predominantly use first fill casks that are the perfect fit for our spirit from a few select suppliers. What is fantastic about the fact the family are so involved in directing the whisky style is that the right strategic decisions are made to get the best possible end product. We don’t have an accountant buying the wood and skimping on it. Money is spent where it matters, on great quality raw materials! We are also striving to anchor the dram to the place its made, so we only use locally grown barley and we mature all our whisky in Fife warehouses.”

What is the story behind the name and branding of your whisky, and how does it connect to your overall identity and vision of Kingsbarns Distillery?

“The distillery is named after the neighbouring village, Kingsbarns. The location was used in ancient times to store grain in the barns before being transported to the Falkland Palace so it’s a great wee link to its previous use. The building itself is a beautiful old farm steading and we have worked hard to ensure that the architectural features such as the Doocot have been conserved and celebrated. We always take pride in the area we reside. In fact all our releases are named after local landmarks or Fife themes.”

Can you share any interesting anecdotes or stories related to the history, production, or characters associated with your distillery or whisky brand?

“We certainly have a few characters working here! In all honesty we have a brilliant team of folk that are extremely passionate about the product and experience we provide. And there are so many stories of funny things that have occurred here. But you always learn from mistakes, that’s the important thing. I recall in the very early days of cask filling when we were still working out how to operate the cask filler we accidentally overfilled a cask when the spirit was being delivered to a barrel at full blast. We all ended up covered in new make spirit! Thankfully we only lost 2 or 3 litres of precious distillate, and it never happened again but at the time it was quite an experience.”

Why did you decide to partner with Glencairn Crystal as your preferred glassware supplier for whisky tastings, and what benefits have you seen from using The Glencairn glasses at your distillery?

“The Glencairn name is synonymous with quality. Using the correct glassware is incredibly important if you want to get the most out of a dram. Ideally a glass that funnels smell to the nose should be used. Its amazing how much more aroma you pick up when the whisky is presented this way compared to a standard tumbler glass in my opinion. But each to their own, you should drink your whisky however you like!”

There has been a lot of buzz around sustainable and eco-friendly practices in the spirits industry. Has your distillery incorporated these practices, or is there a long-term plan you are working towards?

“Sustainable practices are such an important issue these days and its crucial that we do all we can to strive for continuous improvement in that regard. we minimise our carbon footprint by using local barely within 6 miles of the distillery and draw water from beneath the distillery itself. We also recycle our draff and send it off to a local farmer to be used as cattle feed. Waste water is processed before going to a reed-bed and pond onsite which is great for biodiversity. We have recently started keeping bees too at hives behind the empty cask storage area, important pollinators for plants of course! Going forward, we have plans to put in a 100Kw solar scheme at the distillery which should provide about 60% of power requirements for the site.”

What trends do you see affecting the whisky industry at the moment, and how is your distillery positioned to take advantage of them?

“It’s a very interesting time to be in the industry. We are seeing a boom right now alongside a new generation of whisky drinkers, its recognised as a drink for everyone nowadays and its fantastic to see so many people excited about it! There is a trend towards premiumisation, but I think that in order to reach a wide audience its important to make your malt accessible price-wise. This helps build a brand which is crucial for a relatively fresh-faced distillery like Kingsbarns. That’s certainly a balance to strike. We also feel that a sense of place is important in differentiating us from other brands so we keep things as local as possible from locally grown barley to the spent grain that feeds the cattle the next field along.

Over the last few years I’ve noticed some trends in the industry of using all sorts of weird and wonderful casks, which is great, but to be honest at Kingsbarns we really focus on making a classically “Lowland” style of malt, so we want a light wood touch in terms of maturation. You get the most fantastic sweet and fruity note on the new make spirit so we don’t want too much of that to be lost through dominant cask influence.”

What do you see as being the future of whisky in the short term, and how do you plan to respond to it?

“I think nowadays there is an increased emphasis on flavour. Folk probably drink slightly less but drink better and are willing to try younger malts too which is fantastic. The adage of “older is better” doesn’t apply quite as much as it did in the past. Moreover if you are a small producer of malt whisky like ourselves, you need to focus on quality of product first and foremost. At the end of the day what is important is smell, taste and the experience of the drinker. We are never going to be able to compete in price with some of the big brands so for us, we have concentrated on doing our level best to make an interesting and characterful malt. Get the dram under folks noses and if its decent whisky, you can let the liquid do the talking!”

Throughout your experience in the spirits industry, what has been the most unexpected and significant surprise you have encountered?

“Following on from what I mentioned earlier, I’m completely astonished by the rate of growth the industry has seen over the last 10 years. In 2022 the export value surpassed 6 Billion pounds. It’s extremely positive for the country in job creation and investment. We are now seeing large, established brands expanding alongside many new, smaller distilleries opening their doors for the first time. Blended whisky still commands greatest global sales, but the malt category where there is rapid growth. Its going to be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.”

Finally, can you discuss any exciting projects or releases that you have planned for the near future?

“We wouldn’t want to give anything away especially before we have publicly announced anything, but we do have a few very exciting releases due the end of this year and as always you can expect some exceedingly high quality single cask expressions coming from Kingsbarns in the near future too.”


To find out more about Kingsbarn Distillery and their range of whisky please visit here.

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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.

Heavenhill Distillery

Heavenhill Distillery: Bernie Lubbers

Kirsty Nicholson

I got to work and travel with Parker Beam, who was our distiller for 56 years. Being able to pick his brain, and have him as a mentor can not be measured.

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

I entered the industry Jan of 2005 doing events and promotions in the state of Kentucky for Jim Beam. 18 months later I was recruited by the brand team in charge of the Small Batch Collection as one of the first non-Beam family members to act as Ambassador for the Small Batch Bourbons, since Fred Noe’s picture was added to the Jim Beam label, and he was going on a world-wide promotional tour, and they wanted Knob Creek and the other small batch bourbons to be promoted alongside.

I was then hired away to Heaven Hill Distillery in September of 2012 and have been the Whiskey Ambassador here since then representing Evan WilliamsElijah CraigLarceny, and all the other whiskeys Heaven Hill Distillery produces.

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

First of all, and arguably most important, is that Heaven Hill Distillery is 100% family owned and family operated by the Shapira family who started the distillery in 1935.

After that, I believe that it is Heaven Hill’s House Style that sets us a part.  Since Heaven Hill owns more barrels of whiskeys six years and older, across our portfolio, Heaven Hill whiskeys are typically aged longer, and bottled at a higher ABV than our competitors.

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

Since our whiskeys are highly regulated by the U.S. government standards, that can be hard to pin point, but I believe that the secrets we have is just the knowledge that our past distillers like Earl Beam and Parker Beam handed down, and worked with our sensory panel to create some of the most award winning small batch and single barrel whiskeys in the world.

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

Bourbon and American Whiskey was over looked for so long due to several events and consumer preferences, but the quality was always there, even during whiskeys decline.

When different Whiskey tastings like Whiskey Fest, Whiskey Live!, Whiskeys Of the World, and others sprung up, folks were so interested in Scotch Malts, and over time, those same folks started to include American whiskeys as one of their regular drams.

Then with the rise of Social Media, more and more Whiskey and Bourbon Society’s sprung up, and that along with many more building blocks has led to this success, but the quality was always there.

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

I believe that what surprises me the most is that in an industry that is SO tightly regulated, just how much creativity and innovation takes place each and every year.

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

Bourbon Tourism
International Market expansion
Home Delivery
Internet Commerce

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

What could be more interesting than working directly with the giants that helped shape the industry.  I got to work and travel with Parker Beam, who was our distiller for 56 years.  Being able to pick his brain, and have him as a mentor can not be measured. 

Then along with that, our owner and President; Max Shapira, is a true icon in the industry from the business side, and being able to watch him work, and having access to him is truly amazing.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

Bourbon Tourism. Seeing hundreds of thousands of bourbon enthusiasts from all over the world traveling to and visiting all of our visitors centers on the Bourbon Trail is very exciting.

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

As I write this, we are in the middle of the COVID19 Pandemic, so seeing how the industry navigates this challenging.

In the short term, watching how we get Bourbon Tourism back up and functioning again will be one of the biggest challenges.

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

I do believe the Glencairn Glass has been SO embraced by the industry, AND the consumer, that people ask for it by name, or just use the name Glencairn Glass as they do “Xerox copy”.

Vist Heaven Hill Distillery website here

Copperworks Distillery

Copperworks Distillery: Jason Parker

Kirsty Nicholson

Here at Copperworks, we try to be as transparent as possible. We publish every recipe for every batch on our website. We feel that if folks want to copy us, they best do it right.

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

I was a craft brewer starting back in 1989, and opened a number of breweries (Pike Brewing, Fishtail Ales, and Pyramid). After brewing for many years, then 10 years in IT, I wanted to start making real high-quality spirits with the best ingredients.

We incorporated in 2011, and developed the recipes to open to the public in 2013. I had been a homebrewer in Kentucky for many years before heading out to Washington. I studied in England to learn how to make craft ale beer. I got out of brewing because the brewing industry was consolidating. In 2000, the industry wasn’t healthy, so I moved into IT.

In 2008, it became legal to distill in Washington State, so I thought that is really interesting and I dove into that. We did not want to open with a tiny scrappy place, so we went full throttle into this place, but may still have to build another in the future.

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

One of the most important things when a distillery opens is what makes it different. We wanted to make whiskey, but not the whiskey everyone else was making. We weren’t going to make Bourbon, because that has already been done. The Scots make traditional product, the Irish make traditional product, the Japanese make traditional product and that is all great. We, however, wanted to make something different, so we started off making a high-quality beer and distill that into a really different whiskey.

Two big decisions that we made were to not make a brewery, but to partner with good breweries and have them make the mash. We make our beer at three different breweries and use brewer’s yeast, not distillery yeast. Secondly, we rejected the idea of buying a single artisan still that is more versatile, but not specifically designed for each product. Instead, We had our four stills made at Forsythe.

One other thing we try to do here is to be mentors to other prospective distillers trying to make their way into the business. We will take someone who is really serious about distilling and have them work with us at the distillery for a week to learn the ins & outs and the mechanics of what it takes to run a company like this and to make spirits.

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

Here at Copperworks, we try to be as transparent as possible. We publish every recipe for every batch on our website. We feel that if folks want to copy us, they best do it right.

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

It is a temporary phenomenon, so there will be a dip again. It has 30-40 year cycles. Bourbon is being over-produced so that in 5 or 6 years, it will be difficult to give it away.

American whiskey will have its moment in the sun, but that too will die, and then it just may be Brandy that becomes the next big thing. Bourbon is pricing itself out to most consumers, but brandy is very affordable. It has a deep, sexy romantic past that consumers will be attracted to. That said, we have no intention to produce brandy, Just to drink it!

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

Here is one of the biggest surprises for me personally, I was very surprised how creative ownership could be. I was also surprised how the industry was blindsided over the years making legislation that actually left things wide open for new distillers to create so many new categories or so many new spirits, that it is a new renaissance in distilling.

We have so many new opportunities in front of us.

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

In Japan, the trend is to drink it in Highballs as opposed to neat like is frequently done here in America. I see the trend going away from using small barrels (thankfully) and towards using a variety of barrels for finishing.

The other factors that contribute to flavour, and that we are actively pursuing are local malts, and using different yeast strains.

The rapid maturation processes are interesting, but I would caution against putting anything out on the market before it is ready. We’re not interested in trying any rapid maturation processes.

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

One thing that I have really enjoyed in that the whiskey industry is super collaborative and have an attitude of “we are all in this together”.

It was great to find that there is room in this for all of us. They all feel that equal to their own success is the success of the industry on the whole.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

The concept of terroir. Selecting ingredients based on farm, variety, and vintage , and essentially treating grain like grapes, will give us endless ways to express variation in whiskey.

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

Skyrocketing opportunities for anyone making something different and of quality. Whiskey has lots of opportunity for exploration.

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

I bought my first glasses for my own personal collection back in 2008.

I recognized that I couldn’t get the aromas & flavors from any other glass. So when we opened our tasting room, we needed a glass that would really showcase our spirits. In fact, our first order of Glencairn glasses came over from Scotland on the same barge as our stills!

The Blaum Brothers inside their distillery

Blaum Brothers

Kirsty Nicholson

It all started when Mike got home–leave and we met in Florida with our families where we split and finished a bottle of subpar craft whiskey. Before taking the family to Animal Kingdom, we announced to our wives that we were going start our own distillery.

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

Mike: We grew up as not only brothers but best friends.  As we grew older and moved to different places, we still stayed very close.  Our career paths were very different – Matt owned a nuclear pharmacy in Chicago, selling radioactive medicine to hospitals, while I worked overseas & in Washington DC for the NSA (The National Security Agency). It was during this time that I began to discover Scotch whisky and it became near & dear to me. I started to really get into it, Matt followed suit and we began to share our love of the spirit and became nerdy on the subject.

Matt: It all started when Mike got home-leave and we met in Florida with our families where we split and finished a bottle of subpar craft whiskey. Before taking the family to Animal Kingdom, we announced to our wives that we were going start our own distillery. This was April 2012; 4 months later Matt was looking at property in the beautiful Galena territory!

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

Mike: The distillery is built inside a former Mormon Church, but what really makes the distillery unique is that we do not rely on any marketing story. We are coming from a place of two brothers who really enjoy working with each other and love making whiskey.

Plus, we enjoy the independence & honesty of doing things our way with no one else calling the shots. We are actually at the distillery all the time, and people get a kick out that.

Oh yeah, we still use a Flux Capacitor!

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

Matt: No bullshit. It is an art & a science that is constantly being tweaked, but we are quite transparent with everything.

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

Mike: American heritage, classic Americana – at least how Bourbon & American whiskeys go. It has made a resurgence, but it is as American as baseball.

It is also a younger generation who really care about the ingredients and authenticity of what they buy now, and that has overflowed into spirits.

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

Mike: One would be the cohesiveness of the craft industry and willingness of industry people to work together. Many share the data & recipes. The community is amazing & unique. We have made a lot of good friends in this industry over the past 8 years or so.

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

Matt: It appears that people have gotten away from the stigma of sourced whiskey as long as there is honesty behind it. Also, we are big fans of the American single malt movement, because it is relevant to what single malt means globally. 

Not sure where the future will take it, but I hope it comes to fruition.

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

Mike: In the town Galena, the former #1 tourist attraction used to be the post-Civil War home of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, soon to be U.S. President, but since the founding of the Blaum Bros Distillery, the distillery has usurped the former General’s home for that top spot.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

Matt: We both appreciate how the whiskey community is getting nerdier & smarter, which is meshing well with how we do things. Innovation and industry folks taking the hard way is pretty cool.

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

Matt: There are the uncertainties & the unknowns that make this difficult to answer.  There will be a fair share of casualties this year so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out after this is all over.

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

Mike: We started using it because we used to drink Scotch whisky, we visited the distilleries in Scotland and it was the glass they used.

We became fanboys of the glass, collecting them at every distillery we visited, before we ever started our own distillery. We would seek them out whenever we visited a tasting room as a badge of honor.

We had the glass in our tasting rooms even before we had our whiskey in bottles.