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07 Oct 2011

Glenglassaugh Distillery Visit Part 1

Posted by Alastair in Whisky News

In the far north-east of Scotland just off the A98 near Portsoy by the shore of Sandend Bay and the Moray Firth sits Glenglassaugh Distillery, a traditional nineteenth century distillery. Having sat idle for over twenty years Glenglassaugh Distillery was purchased by the Scaent Group from drinks giant Edrington in 2008. A thorough refurbishment of the works took place which included installation of a new boiler and heat exchangers, a complete overhaul of the electrics and making the roofs wind and water tight. Soon to follow was the first new spirit running off the stills and into casks on 16th December 2008. The first cask filled was a refill sherry butt and release of its precious contents in a very special and limited edition bottling is imminent.

Glenglassaugh Distillery was founded by James Moir and opened in 1875. It is one of the very few truly coastal Highland distilleries. Banff Distillery, a close neighbour and also a member of this select group of Highlanders, was demolished several decades ago.

So, on a fine September morning we set off from Auld Reekie (Edinburgh to those not in the know) to the Whisky Capital of the World, for our rendezvous at Glenglassaugh. Undaunted by storm force headwinds and a proper tartan rainstorm we arrived for our appointment and to a warm welcome by Mhairi, Glenglassaugh’s Production Manager. Mhairi’s CV includes a stint at Francis Cuthbert’s twenty-first century farm distillery at Daftmill in Fife, quite a contrast to Glenglassaugh.

Although Glenglassaugh Distillery has been substantially rebuilt, some of the original buildings remain giving an interesting mix of solid, nineteenth century stone-built and slate roof buildings and some best efforts from the 1950’s. By the lane leading down towards the sandy sea shore part of the old maltings still stand as a reminder of Glenglassaugh’s formative years. Unfortunately, due to the high cost of malting barley onsite it is unlikely that Glenglassaugh will reopen its old maltings.

Glenglassaugh is a compact distillery and one of Scotland’s smaller distilleries equipped with a traditional cast iron mash tun with a cog and rake stirring system, six washbacks comprising four of Oregon pine and two decommissioned of stainless steel, two gleaming copper stills and a gleaming brass spirit safe. Although much of the equipment was mothballed for over two decades it is now cherished and clearly very well cared for. And man and machine have glorious views from the stillhouse looking out over an ever-changing northern sky and North Sea – some blue sky had even arrived.

Maturation is in both traditional dunnage and racked warehouses where a tremendous selection of casks including sherry butts, bourbon barrels, sauternes wine casks and a port pipe are tucked away behind a wall of octaves who’s stencilled cask heads read like a who’s-who of the whisky world. The oldest cask from 1963 will reach the landmark fifty years in November 2013.

In the filling store, a fresh delivery of sherry Octave casks from Spain overwhelmed us with powerful and lingering sweet sherry and raisin aromas. The Angel’s will certainly be enjoying their share here.

So when can we expect the first release of new Glenglassaugh? December 2011 is the answer. The first cask, a refill sherry butt, filled on 4th December 2008, will be bottled and on sale at the distillery’s new visitor centre in December. A celebration of the re-opening of Glenglassaugh Distillery, the opening of the Glenglassaugh Visitor Centre and the coming of age of Glenglassaugh’s superb new whisky. And we can look forward to expressions of the new Glenglassaugh from 2012 onwards.

If you can’t make that trip north, the distillery’s new series The Chosen Few features single casks selected by every member of the distillery team and the first release is a 35 year old sherry butt selected by Ronnie Routledge - and of course it is available to buy online at The Whisky Barrel.

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