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A Visit to Glenturret
Glenturret has a reasonable claim to being the oldest working distillery in Scotland. That in itself makes it a must-see but the recent takeover by new owners has brought some interesting new developments to the site.
There’s evidence to suggest the distillery was established as early as 1775 but in recent years it has been rather mistreated, in my opinion. Previous owners Edrington declared the distillery The Home of The Famous Grouse and used it to celebrate their best-selling blend rather than tell its own unique story. Thankfully, it has since been taken over by Lalique, the luxury crystal company owned by Silvio Denz. In what can only be a positive move for the single malt, master blender Bob Dalgarno has come on board after 30 years with The Macallan.
Glenturret is a distillery I’ve always meant to visit. It stands on the outskirts of the Perthshire town of Crieff which is only about 90 minutes from Glasgow. It’s a place I’ve driven past many times without stopping. I finally made amends for that in September when I stayed at the Crieff Hydro Hotel Resort for a few days.
Perthshire is a beautiful part of Scotland. It lacks the drama of the Western Highlands and can’t quite match the huge Atlantic skies of the Hebrides but it makes up for it in sheer greenery. It must surely be one of the lushest areas in the country with rolling hills and seemingly endless forest trails to explore. Our visit to the Hotel was sadly beset with problems that I wont go into here but with a little determination we managed to pull some happy memories from the debris.
Like any self-respecting whisky fanatic, I made my escape from the family setting on Sunday afternoon and set out for Glenturret. It took me around 25 minutes to walk there from my accommodation, travelling along something called the Hosh circular walk. The route took me along farm trails and through dense woodland before dropping me on the main road, just before the distillery turnoff.
The distillery is rather quaint in appearance and has retained a rather agricultural character. That first impression was aided by the trailer that waited outside to collect draff for local farms. Glenturret is very much a distillery in transition, however. The picturesque, white-washed, rural appearance is in stark contrast to some of the lavish, expensive fittings that have been installed in the refurbished visitor centre.
The tour provided an informative rundown of the distillery’s extensive history and covered the production process in as much detail as was necessary. If the exterior of the buildings were quaint and charming, the interior were of a very functional nature. Thick stone walls and bare floors housed massive malt bins, wooden washbacks and a small mash tun. The still house is split over two rooms with wash and spirit still in different sections. The wash still, in particular, looks like it was grown rather than built. Its neck rises into the rafters of the roof and the lyne arm travels along the apex of the ceiling before passing through the wall to the shell and tube condensers that hang outside. It’s like the opposite of those trees that expand to absorb iron railings, only this time it’s the copper that has wound its way through the wooden beams.
Our tour ended with a stop in a grand tasting room, crowned by twin chandeliers. Our guide took great pride in advising us that each fitting cost a mere £70,000 each. You’ll never convince me that such grandeur belongs in a Scotch whisky distillery but there’s no doubt it looked attractive. We tasted a drop of the Triple Wood expression which I found light and incredibly fruity. Here I encountered the only minor complaint from my visit. Our guide took some time to praise the clarity of his dram and informed the group that they should send back any whisky that wasn’t crystal clear. I found that to be rather irksome. I’ve no idea what Glenturret’s stance is regarding chill-filtering but people shouldn’t be told that hazy whisky is somehow faulty.
Through the hospitality of the lovely staff I was able to try a few more drams after my tour. The 12-year-old was very pleasant with a nice sherry influence, though for my personal taste it was perhaps a little too delicate. I thought the 15-year-old was exceptional but I struggled a little with the weighty £110 asking price. The 10-year-old, however, struck the perfect balance between quality and value for money.
This peated malt was bottled at 50% and retailed at a very reasonable £54.
Smell: Peat smoke with a salty, maritime tang. Lots of citrus notes. A bit of aniseed. Honey. Tablet. A splash of water released some tropical fruits.
Taste: Toffee malt with orange and lemon. Salted caramel. Charred oak and peppery smoke. Heather honey. Sea Salt and liquorice all-sorts.
Thoughts: In terms of value for money, this is the standout Glenturret. At 50% abv it’s more robust than the rest of the range and the peat carries a surprising punch. As I mentioned before, I’m unsure where Glenturret stand on chill-filtration but a slight haze appeared in my glass when I added water. That suggests to me that any filtration was done with a relatively light touch. That oiliness is a big bonus as it helps to deliver a fully flavoured whisky. I thought some of the old Glenturret range were decent drams but this new batch is a step up in quality, without a doubt. There’s more character, more intensity and more depth and while some of their bottlings may push the budget a little, a 10-year-old at 50% for £54 is well within the realms of acceptability.
A visit to Glenturret is recommended. Under the new ownership, and creative guidance of Bob Dalgarno, it feels like the single malt has reached hitherto unexplored heights and the Triple Wood, 10 and 12-year-old expressions offer decent value for money. When I heard that Lalique were to take over, I feared we were about to see yet another brand make the overnight transition from budget-friendly to super-premium. There’s certainly been a bit of that and I remain unconvinced that Scotland’s oldest working distillery is the right place to house Lalique Boutiques and £70,000 chandeliers but it seems to be working for them. It’s a fascinating distillery and it deserved to be pushed as a brand a long time ago. That requires investment and the new owners are putting their money where their mouth is. That can only be a good thing.