Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Distillery visit - Glenglassaugh

Welcome to Glenglassaugh

The Glenglassaugh distillery (pronounced glen-glas-sow) is located on the east Highland coast, close to the village of Portsoy and about 50 miles north west of Aberdeen. It was founded in 1875 by local businessman James Moir and his two nephews, Alexander and William Morrison, and their whisky quickly became popular with the large whisky blending companies. Glenglassaugh was historically used in blends such as Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. The distillery went on to have an intermittent history with three long periods of closure between 1908-1931, 1936-1957 and 1986-2008.

In 2008, the distillery was purchased and renovated by the Dutch based company Lumiere Holdings. They inherited around 400 old casks of maturing whisky as part of the deal, of which some have been released already. The first new spirit was produced in November 2008 and the current production rate is 200,000 litres per year, although the actual capacity is around one million litres. In 2012 the first whisky was released that had been produced and matured by the new ownership - the Revival.  This was then followed by the Evolution in early 2013.

Following our recent visit, Glenglassaugh has been in the news as it has since been acquired by the Benriach Distillery Company, who have purchased it from Lumiere Holdings for an undisclosed fee. The BDC have added Glenglassaugh to the two others in their portfolio - Benriach and Glendronach.  This should secure the future of the distillery and will hopefully see the brand, which many have worked hard to establish, move from strength to strength.

Sandend Bay, as seen from the distillery roof

Our visit coincided with a bone chilling day in mid-March.  Despite the freezing conditions we could not help but be blown away by the simply stunning location that the distillery finds itself in.  Glenglassaugh is perched on a cliff overlooking Sandend Bay and a two minute walk down a path takes you to the beach (more on that later). If anything, the overnight snow had made it even more stunning.  Our guide for the day was Ronnie Routledge, the Customer Accounts Manager for Glenglassaugh.

Our good friend Ronnie Routledge

After a much needed cup of tea in Ronnie's office, our tour kicked off with a walk through the various distillery buildings to the point where Ronnie was standing in the photo above. Firstly, we went in to the building on the far right, which was formally the malting facility for Glenglassaugh.  Once inside, it was noticeable that this was now in a very derelict state.  It has not been formally used since the early 1900s and has been left largely untouched since the distillery reopened in 2008.  It is an impressive space and left us wondering if it will ever be used in the future.

The malting floor

The next stop was the milling area, which is housed within the main distillery building.  This building (pictured, below) clashes somewhat with the beautiful surroundings of Glenglassaugh.  It is functional rather than aesthetic, and was designed in the 1960s when the distillery was reopened after a lengthy period of closure - it reminded us slightly of the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank.  Once inside, the aesthetic views returned and in some style.

Glenglassaugh's main distillery building

The Porteus mill that is at Glenglassaugh is unique amongst Scottish whisky distilleries.  This was designed in the early 1960s and was built on site during the renovations at that time.  It was then carefully restored when the distillery was restarted in 2008.  The bespoke design includes the malt bins (where malted barley is stored before milling) which are located next door, wooden chutes attaching each bin to the mill and a huge cylindrical sifter housed in wooden casing (seen at the top of the picture, below).  Everything was made to measure and built in to the space - we have never seen anything like it and the craftsmanship is amazing.

The Porteus mill

To get to the mash house, we went along a narrow passageway and came out at the foot of the mash tun.  This is the device where the mashing process takes place, which extracts the soluble sugars from the milled barley by adding warm water to it.  The milled barley is collected in a silo (pictured, below) and is then fed in to the mash tun.  The warm water is then added (at three different temperatures - 62.5°C, then 80°C and finally 92°C) and the mixture is stirred to aid the process.  The mash tun at Glenglassaugh was also made by Porteus in the 1960s from cast iron with a copper dome.  They currently operate seven mashes a week.

The mash tun and milled grain silo

Next door was the fermentation room.  This is home to six washbacks (four of which are wooden and two stainless steel), each which hold 24,500 litres.  These huge vessels are where the fermentation takes place, turning the sugary liquid from the mash tun into a mildly alcoholic beer-like liquid called wash.  The stainless steel ones have only just been recommissioned in order to help with increased production and in another recent change, the fermentation time has been changed from 72 hours to 96 hours.  This gives Glenglassaugh one of the longest fermentation times of any Scottish distillery (most operate times between 45-55 hours), with the goal to increase the fruity flavours in the wash.

The washbacks

Then we moved on to the still house, where the distillation of the spirit takes place.  Glenglassaugh has one pair of stills - one which firstly distills the wash and a second which then re-distils the resulting spirit.  The room was compact but impressive and the stills, like much of the other equipment in the distillery, were renovated in 2008 after over 20 years of neglect.  The stills apparently were discovered to have some of the worse damage and the corrosion was so bad that it had to be removed using an angle grinder.  When we were close to the stills, we could see the scars of this process.

The still house

Before we moved on, Ronnie had a 'treat' for us.  This involved climbing some steps up in to the roof of the mash house and finally up a ladder on to the roof itself.  Wow - what a view (see the second photo from the top of this post).  Words almost could not describe it.  We had seen photos of this view, but it was even better when seen with your own eyes.  Wow - it was bloody cold also.  However, well worth it even despite Matt's mild vertigo induced panic attack.

Back down to earth, the spirit is filled to casks and these are from a variety of sources - we saw ex-bourbon and a selection of different ex-sherry casks (ex-Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximinez) waiting to be filled.  Once filled, these are currently stored in a series of racked warehouses.  Glenglassaugh also has a number of traditional dunnage warehouses, but these are awaiting renovation.  The most impressive part of the warehouse that Ronnie showed us was the 'Octave Wall' - this area is dedicated to casks which customers have purchased as part of Glenglassaugh's Cask Ownership scheme (more on that in another post coming soon ...).

Inside the warehouse
The 'Octave Wall'

Glenglassaugh is one of the few Scottish distilleries that do all of its own bottling on site.  The small bottling plant was tucked away behind the main distillery building and had a fantastic view from its window, overlooking the beach of Sandend Bay.  In this room the bottles are filled and labeled with the use of basic machinery, before being packaged up ready for delivery to customers.

The bottling plant

Towards the end of last Summer, Glenglassaugh opened its new visitor centre. This is housed in one of the old outbuildings within the distillery grounds and also includes a shop and cafe. The centre is open from April 1 until October 31 from Monday to Friday and a series of tours can be taken - the Revival Tour which is £7.50 per person and runs four times a day, the Behind The Scenes Tour which is £30 per person and is available on request, and the Ultimate Tour which is £80 per person and taken by a member of senior distillery management (again on request).  From November to March, any of the tours above can be arranged by appointment only - for more information on tours, how to book and the visitor centre, click here.

The visitor centre

As mentioned earlier, one of the things that sets Glenglassaugh apart from other distilleries is the location.  There cannot be many mainland Scottish distilleries that are closer to the sea?  The view from the distillery is breathtaking, especially given the dusting of snow that was present.  We were allowed to go off on our own down the path to the beach.  This winds away from the distillery, passed some derelict outbuildings and across a wooden bridge which spans the Glassaugh Burn (which the distillery uses as its water source), to Sandend Bay.

The Glassaugh Burn and distillery cottage

This beach is apparently one of the best surfing beaches in Scotland.  The view back from the beach to the distillery perched on the hill is equally as breathtaking.  The small hamlet of Sandend sat on the opposite side of the bay.  Despite the freezing, biting breeze whipping off the North Sea we could not help but fall in love with the place.  We climbed back up and with sadness we said our goodbyes.  We'd had a great time - we just hoped that the rural Scottish bus service would be as kind to us.

The steps down to Sandend Bay beach

We owe Ronnie a huge thanks for taking the time to show us around Glenglassaugh and explain everything in such depth.  If you are ever in that part of Scotland, we highly recommend searching out this lovely charismatic distillery.  Let's hope that the new ownership is sympathetic to what has been achieved there already and change what needs changing while leaving the rest how it is.  It will be interesting to see how Glenglassaugh develops going forwards.  For more information, please visit www.glenglassaugh.com.

1 comment:

Kym said...

I'll put this distillery on my "to visit" list. We met Ronnie some years back when he was Duncan Taylor. Great guy :-)