Glenturret Distillery: The Awakening of a Sleeping Beauty
In our exclusive interview with Glenturret Distillery, find out:
- Why this is a distillery you seriously need to know about
- Why you’ve never heard of the oldest distillery in Scotland
- How Glenturret became the producer of the world’s top single malt
- How it won many coveted awards
- The secret that makes Glenturret unique
- The story of how renowned Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno came to join Glenturret
- Who was possibly the first woman to work in a Scottish distillery and her legacy
It is no exaggeration to say that under the cover of darkness, whilst the world slept during the covid pandemic, Glenturret, the oldest distillery in Scotland, carried out a revolution. Don’t believe it?
You will know them by their fruits because at the 2023 International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC) – the largest and most prestigious spirit competition in the world – the distillery won Double Gold for their Glenturret Triple Wood 2022 Release as the world’s top single malt. This was not by chance.
Glenturret had already won 31 industry awards, and the path to victory was carefully planned and plotted. Its seed was laid just three years previously, and as we’ll show in this article, expect further remarkable whiskies to emerge from Glenturret. You’ve been warned because their winners have been highly affordable and rapidly disappear.
We sat down for an in-depth interview with Jamie Morrison, the Glenturret Brand Ambassador, to find out what’s been going on. We were particularly eager to discover what makes Glenturret unique beyond marketing soundbites. I think you’ll find that we put our finger on it.
First a little background history, and it involves a very famous bird:
Glenturret Distillery: Living under a Shadow
Glenturret’s previous owner, Edrington, owned The Famous Grouse and Glenturret’s whiskies made up a large part of the blend.
As a creator of whiskies that were chiefly used in blends, the Glenturret brand was effectively out of sight and mind.
In 2019, Edrington sold the distillery to a joint venture between Lalique group, the famed luxury crystal designer, and Swiss billionaire and co-owner of Chelsea Football Club, Hansjorg Wyss.
The new owners properly recognised the uniqueness of their new distillery and invested heavily in it during the pandemic.
They brought in one of the renowned Whisky Makers of our time, Bob Dalgarno who’d retired after 30 years in Macallan. They have brought in some of the most respected artists and artisans working with light and space – amongst them James Turrell – and created stunning decanters to hold what is truly some of the best whisky in the world.
In 2020, Glenturret started the release of a completely new range of maiden whiskies crafted by Bob Dalgarno to universal acclaim. We’ll just say now that the whiskies are luxurious and delicious.
An interesting point, the new owners had experience with acquiring and working with unique vineyards and restoring heritage properties. One of the interesting things they did was to send historians to find out Glenturret Distillery’s actual age.
1763 and All That
One of the researchers went as far back as the local clan’s papers and discovered a document waiving the rent for the distillery in 1763 because it had not produced whisky that year. This is the earliest document. It is likely that distillation occurred as far back as 1717.
That’s all history; let’s get on with the interview.
Glenturret Distillery: A Conversation about Uniqueness
Whisky Kingdom had the pleasure to sit down and speak to Jamie Morrison, the Glenturret Brand Ambassador. We wanted to speak to someone with a deep understanding of both the brand and production. With Jamie, we were really lucky because he’d been fortunate enough to work with Bob Dalgarno throughout the crafting of many of their award-winning new whiskies.
Jamie was warm and generous with us and his time. His deep passion for whisky making, Glenturret Distillery, its history and its people shone through. During the period of the interview, we felt as if we were privileged to stand with him, Bob Dalgarno and his fellow craftsmen on the floor of the distillery and in the bonded warehouses where the new make spirit is carefully curated and studied.
We covered many topics. We want to concentrate here on the uniqueness of the whisky and the distillery – the things that ensure we receive again and again a moment of magic, ‘moments to treasure’. There is real knowledge and information here, information that gives us an insight into some of the mystery that makes up the magic drams of Scotland.
It’s easy to dismiss ideas and concepts as marketing exercises. You will notice on slight reflection that there is deep consideration and thought in everything Jamie says. This brings us to an important point regarding the Glenturret Trinity of
Provenance, Prowess and Passion
We went into the interview mainly interested in the uniqueness of production – Glenturret’s ‘prowess’, and it’s true we discovered that the wonder and uniqueness of Glenturret is to be found in their close study of the new make spirit and their resolute commitment to small-batch production and traditional methods. We wanted to tell a story just about this ‘prowess’. It was a mistake.
What came through in Jamie’s stories about life in the distillery was the warmth, mutual respect and heart that the life of the distillery engenders. The real story of Glenturret is a story of ‘by hand and heart since 1763’.
The story about Bob Dalgarno joining Glenturret reveals the deep humility and seriousness of the craftsmen and women of Glenturret and their dedication and ‘passion’ in their endeavour to give us ‘moments to treasure’.
The moving story of Grace Gow, one of the first women to work in a Scottish distillery, is about the distillery looking back and honouring its ‘provenance’, the men and women who dedicated themselves to their craft and using that knowledge to map out the distillery’s future.
Whisky Kingdom is proud to honour this remarkable distillery and its luxurious and delicious whiskies by sharing with you some of that story. We end the article with some good news and bad.
We hope you will enjoy some of the wonderful knowledge, ideas and stories which Jamie generously shared with us.
The Interview with Glenturret Distillery
What are the features in the production of the whisky in Glenturret Distillery which stand out as features which are interesting and unusual? What makes Glenturret unique?
I think a lot of what we do is quite traditional. That’s one of our main values. We sort of tongue-in-cheek say that we’re not button pushers here.
There’s no witchcraft and wizardry, if you like, involved in the process. It’s about highly skilled artisanal small-batch distillation, and that is genuine. We produce small amounts of liquid. In the grand scale of things, it’s somewhere around 230,000 litres – nothing at all.
How does small-batch production make Glenturret unique?
Because we’re a nimble small distillery, producing small batches, we can make decisions quite quickly. So, we can change barley varieties, we can change fermentation times and cut points. We can analyse the results to find out what difference it makes, and a larger facility isn’t always able to do that.
The promotional material for Glenturret speaks of unusually long fermentation and distillation time. How does that contribute to the uniqueness of Glenturret?
The slow fermentation is quite interesting: you get a real fruity sort of estery note coming through. And because we want to keep that flavour profile in the glass, we, therefore, balance the distillation very carefully.
We have distillation or a wash that runs something between 7 and 9 litres per minute, which is pretty slow, and because the still’s got a large sort of bulbous base with this sort of long tall neck, you get lots and lots of contact with copper.
It’s a slow, gentle distillation. It’s not the slowest by any means, but it is very, very slow and gentle, and therefore you get lots of that kind of light, estery sort of fruity character coming through.
We’re very particular in trying to accentuate the character of the new make spirit. I’m not saying that other distilleries don’t do this, but with many distilleries, there’s a lot of focus on X type of cask or Y type of finish, but there’s not a huge amount of studies that will talk about the character of the new make spirit.
So the character of the Glenturret new make spirit is very important?
Yes, that’s your DNA and that’s what you produce. It’s what is unique to you.
We want to look at that and say, well, what is it that makes the new make spirit unique? The spirit is what drives the conversation. So, you don’t want to use casks that are going to detract away from the character of your new make.
Why is retaining the character of the Glenturret new make spirit so important?
Again, my understanding is that we want the consumer to be able to look back to the character of the spirit we began with, to say okay, I can see that the fruit character is there. It’s changed slightly, but I can still understand that that’s where it’s originally from.
Could you point to other features of the distillery that further our understanding of Glenturret’s uniqueness?
Certainly, I could tell you that the spirit is cut by eye. That’s not done that frequently anymore. It’s usually connected to some sort of computer terminal somewhere.
This is reflective of something deeper: the entire team that works in production here can walk into a room, and they know what’s going on by the sound or by the smell.
This is indicative of something that’s very much inherent in them. It’s a passion for what you do, and it’s about a connection. I’m not detracting away from anywhere else, but can you get that sort of passion and that connection when you’re sitting in a control room 100 meters away from the distillery?
That’s remarkable! The production team at Glenturret know what’s going on from sound and smell!
Yes, they’re craftsmen and craftswomen! It’s that understanding that the slightest half-centimetre turn of a valve can have an effect on the production that you’re doing, so you have to be incredibly efficient and incredibly skilled at your job.
I mean, believe me, I’ve had a shot in the mash house, and I was having heart palpitations. I was like, right, I need to think about steam, I need to think about flow rate, I need to think about the water, the temperature. There were so many things going on that it becomes overwhelming. But the people who work in our production, they make it look easy. And that’s very much about skills that they’ve learned from people who have worked there before, or they’ve honed those skills themselves.
Ultimately, our aim is to produce good quality new make spirit and use good quality casks that will then produce something that the consumer wants to buy and wants to drink. And if we can do that in a way that is interesting and maintains some tradition and almost safeguards the distillery methods for the future, then the team that is here just now has done its job.
You saw Bob Dalgarno join Glenturret Distillery. What was it like for him coming in? What did he do? Why did he choose Glenturret?
I think it’s important to understand that with somebody who has such extensive experience and is what many would say at the top of the field, it could be quite a daunting experience having somebody like that coming on site and you know, asking questions and wanting to know how this works and understand that. But we really needn’t have worried, to be honest. I mean Bob came and got his induction, if you like, and then you never saw him for six months.
He was in the warehouse getting to know the family if you like. So, for me, he’s a man doing his job. He’s a very private person and you have to be respectful of that because he is incredible at what he does, and some people would say perhaps unrivalled in what he does. However, he’s not interested in himself being put out there as a face to the brand, because he understands that the importance of the brand name supersedes the importance of him as a Whisky Maker.
I believe – don’t quote me on that – that one of the main driving factors behind Bob choosing to work with Glenturret was that it’s a very manual distillery. There’s a little bit more or a lot more, depending on how you look at it, of creative freedom that you have.
In terms of what it is you’re looking to produce or what it is you’re looking to achieve, we as a collective team at the distillery are so lucky to have him on board. Certainly, in my development, he’s been instrumental in my understanding of some things, and it’s not often you get the opportunity to work with somebody who is seen as being an expert in their field.
However, if you were to say that to him, he would probably retort, and again don’t quote me on this, but probably retort something along the line, well I’m just a man doing a job, and you look at the humility of the man in terms of it’s not about being the big whisky maker. It’s about coming in and saying look this is what I think we can do here.
And hey, you know, you’ll get a sample given to you of maybe a work in progress, and he’s genuinely looking for an opinion. He’s looking for feedback and that’s taken on board, and it shows you the shape of the man if you like.
Tell me something that is unknown about Glenturret Distillery.
Okay, so in the 1860s there was a female employee at Glenturret. Her name was Grace Gow, and she was in charge of the fermentation at the distillery.
So firstly, in 1860s Scotland, it was very unusual to have a female employee in the distillery. Now, this story does take a little bit of a macabre turn in that they found Grace dead inside one of the fermentation vats. There’s lots of carbon there. She entered the fermentation vessel too early, and she died as a result of that.
Now, that’s not where the story ends. What’s fascinating about it is that Grace was very popular in the local area.
So popular, in fact, that when she passed away, the local newspaper deemed it important enough to document the fact that she had died in an accident at the distillery.
Now that is unheard of in 1860s Scotland. When a woman passed away, she passed away. The family would know, but that would be it. The fact that the local newspaper deemed it appropriate to name her as an employee of the distillery and in such tragic circumstances is amazing because it shows that we had a woman working at the distillery during that time.
It is my perception that you could be forgiven for still seeing a distinct gender imbalance within the whisky world industry and knowing that we had a woman working here at that time, we wanted to give a little tip of the cap. So, what we did is we created a scholarship called the Grace Gow Foundation to empower women in the whisky industry.
What happens is female applicants go through an application process, and they will get a paid internship and practical experience of working in a distillery for something like 6 to 8 months, I think.
But we will also pay and put them through and support them in any way we can through their GCD qualification.
I’m incredibly proud to talk about the fact that the first applicant who came through last year was a young woman. She went through the GCD, got practical experience working in the distillery, and that person is now a full-time process operator at the distillery.
So for us, we are taking a step in the right direction, but much much more needs to be done.
The Glenturret – by hand and heart since 1763.
Good News and Bad
We have some good news and bad. The bad news is that the Glenturret Triple Wood 2022 Release has simply flown out of stock. You cannot find it anywhere.
The good news is that we have Glenturret’s core range in stock. They are simply delicious and unmissable. They are in high demand, and only small batches are released, so it’s best to move fast. Please visit us here.
Interview on the 31st May 2023 by Mayer Abraham of Whisky Kingdom with thanks to Henry Crofts and Jamie Morrison