Glen Elgin was founded during the midst of a whisky boom towards the end of the 1800’s that came abruptly to a halt with the dawn of the Pattinson Crash. During the last decade of the century, 40 distilleries were built as the industry actively sought to meet rising demand. Then one of the leading merchants of the whisky industry was exposed as not the financial flagship everyone had thought it was.
The fallout was dramatic for distilleries caught up in the mess, others were closed and some sold off as the public confidence in Scotch was severely diminished. For Glen Elgin, the partnership of William Simpson (former manager of Glenfarclas) and James Carle (a banker) continued with their project to establish a new distillery on the fringes of the town of Elgin. They employed the renowned architect Charles Doig, who even commented that Glen Elgin would be the last Speyside distillery for several decades. A remarkable premonition, given it wasn’t until 1957 with the arrival of Glen Keith that another Speyside distillery was born.
Production at Glen Elgin commenced on 1st May 1900, but the owners had underestimated the cost of maintaining a functioning distillery with it closing just 5 months later. The site was sold at auction for £4000 to the Glen Elgin-Glenlivet Distillery Co. Ltd., but the distillery was kept silent until the whisky merchant, John J. Balanche & Company Limited, took over in 1907 at a cost of £7000.
Glen Elgin survives the economic problems associated with the First World War, Great Depression and Prohibition only to be sold in 1929 when its owner passes away. The purchaser is Scottish Malt Distillers, which begins the realm of corporate ownership for the distillery. Almost immediately the license for Glen Elgin passes to the White Horse Distillers, who were actively seeking new producers for its increasingly popular blended scotch. This marks a long association with this iconic blend that continues today, although it is rarely seen in the UK, it does remain popular in key markets abroad.
The distillery is extensively modernised in 1964, when it jumps from a single pair of stills to the trio that remain today. The upgrade unfortunately involved the demolishing the original distillery designed by Charles Doig and a new facility being built upon its former residency. Lost to history, Glen Elgin was one of several distilleries across the industry to receive this blanket modernisation. The Glen Elgin stills are unusually small, resulting in an annual capacity of 2.7 million litres due to their size. They are unusually tall, but modestly thin with a distinctive inclined Lyme arm that then leads onto the traditional worm tubs. During the 1960’s the tradition floor maltings were decommissioned and now like other Diageo distilleries, it relies on malt from a central facility.
The distillery closed in 1992 to allow for further modernisation including the replacement of its stills, before reopening in 1995. Only in 2001, did we see the debut of Glen Elgin as a single malt with a bottling as part of the Fauna & Flora range. This series was designed to showcase normally unseen distilleries that were engaged in supporting the blend market. Glen Elgin was one of several to receive its debut via the Fauna & Flora editions, with some entries being rarer than others. Many are still available on sale to visitors across the Diageo distilleries today, but sadly Glen Elgin is closed to the public.
Since 2001, Glen Elgin has enjoyed sporadic special releases thanks to the Manager’s Cask series and Diageo’s Annual outturn with a 16-year-old in 2008. Nowadays the most common sighting is the staple 12-year-old that is available from most specialist retailers along with widespread support from the independent sector. The whisky from Glen Elgin has often been described as soft and gentle, with an emphasis on honey and barley with honeycomb and hints of spice.