Updated: Dec 27, 2020
Do you know what Irn Bru is? It is three cheers to weirdness; it is looking out the window to find a zebra eating your flowerbeds for breakfast. It is a tartan rigged Weegie with a mouth full of pennies whispering nonsense poems into a bagpipe. It is holy sacrament and industrial lubricant. Like placing your sensory organs into a nuclear-powered microwave on high. Modern art on your eyelids. It is wet sunshine. Hammer on steel, liquified lug nuts, a bioluminescent flavour paradox more reminiscent of the floor of a metal foundry than of a carbonated refreshment. A drink that defies any definition; the steampunk techno-mages that engineer it had to disembowel language to even name the stuff. Most of all though it is a product of a specific place. It is as Scottish as red hair, referendums, Rabbie Burns, Tennent's, smoked salmon, alcoholism, kilts, pakora, peat, claymores, Nessy and shortbread.
Stashed away in Glasgow’s theatre district; behind the hallowed walls of 154 Hope Street sits quite possibly the greatest pub to orbit the sun. Now, everyone with a heartbeat and a haircut has a constitutional right to free speech and to the comfort of their favourite pub. So before you jump down my throat I’m not saying you are wrong to think some other boozer is best. I’m just saying you clearly haven’t been to the Potstill yet. This place is viewing egalitarianism through the bottom of a glass. They have curated a whisky collection that explores the breadth and depth of human possibility. There is a scene from the first Harry Potter film that always springs to mind when I visit. In the cack-handed care of a half-giant groundskeeper with a predilection for hooch and the black market import and export of endangered animals, Harry is taken to visits Ollivander’s Wand Shop. Inside, Harry stands amongst the cobwebs and shadows of the teaming jumble of boxed wands. Ollivander, played rather convincingly by a hexed piece of deli meat shaped like John Hurt, knows his inventory in microscopic detail. He croaks Harry through the specifics until ultimately the wand chooses its new owner. The story follows on from here; there’s a snake in the toilet, a fair few children die, OFSTED are never called and Dumbledore is posthumously outed by a billionaire who can’t leave well enough alone.
The Potstill brings that scene to mind because of the offhand brilliance of the staff. They have an otherworldly capability to pluck whisky esoterica from vast libraries of knowledge they have amassed on the subject of pottables. Passion is as abundant as the bottles; they’ll gesture to the small fortune behind them and launch into an oral history of Scotland, malt men, coopers, distillers, blender and the distilleries. They can look a couple in the eye and divine the first dram they should have on becoming parents; they can interpret the weather lines of a hand and pour a liquid symphony. Their knowledge is not just impressive, it is important. To the Scots, Whisky is liquid identity. I will never tire of the awe that a conversation with these men and women brings. If it is worth having; they’ve got it. There are particular bottles that were put into the barrel during a time when the United Kingdom was frantically trying to gain access to the European Union, imagine that! The shelves creek under sippable history. Across the room, happy customers harmonise in conviviality and liquor. The last time I was fortunate enough to be tucked into a corner table of the Potstill, dram in hand with jolly splashes of pink creeping across my cheeks, a friend of mine pointed to at the bar. “Di ye see tha?”, and right there, in its rightful place amongst the Highlands, the Lowlands, the Speys and the Islays was a single can of IRN BRU. “Original recipe; all the sugar. Properly Scottish.” Properly.