Whilst the trio of distilleries within Inverness have come and gone, to the north on the Black Isle, Glen Ord continues to prosper. Established in 1838 by Thomas Mackenzie who as the landowner leased the distillery for several years under the name of Glen Oran to a handful of licensees with mixed results. Even by then, illicit distilling was still rife in the region, which remains to this day an largely farm based community with a taste for whisky.
The abundance of barley and peat fuelled the requirements of any wannabe distillery and for Glen Ord, its proximity to crops ensures its continued existence. Today, the distillery is only one of a handful that still produces its malt requirements on site. However, unlike Springbank, this is achieved via modern methods rather than the traditional floor malting approach seen in Campbeltown. Glen Ord made the move away from this method in 1961 with the introduction of Saladin maltings that automated the process. It was a short-lived attempt as while these boxes were operational elsewhere for much longer, by 1968, Glen Ord had moved to the drum maltings that are seen across facilities today. Nowadays the maltings act as a central hub for Diageo’s distilleries in the region supplying all their requirements.
Eventually in 1878, Alexander Mackenzie inherits the distillery through marriage. As a banker, he sees the potential in Glen Ord and instigates a series of improvements including a new still house. The unfortunate spectre of fire follows soon after prompting a further rebuild. The distillery is sold shortly afterwards and passes through owners once again until it arrives within the ranks of the respected John Dewar & Sons blending firm along with other distilleries such as Parkmore and Old Pulteney, when they purchase James Watson & Co. The lasting legacy of their ownership is the name change to Glen Ord although it was still known locally as Glenoran or in more recent times as Glen Ordie. Due to the harsh economic conditions of the 1920’s, consolidation is widespread across the industry and in 1925, Dewar’s is taken over by the Distilleries Company Limited which is a forerunner to the Diageo we know today.
It’s here that Glen Ord remains as a key component within the Diageo portfolio. The distillery itself despite the tradition exterior has changed and expanded greatly. Today, its annual capacity is nearly 11 million litres making it one of the largest in Scotland. The key driver in all of this is the Singleton single malt which Diageo has huge plans around via achieving top spot in the single malt sales chart. The concept kicked off in 2006 with a 12-year-old expression before further additions to the range. Since 2011, the distillery has received massive investment as its stills have grown to 14 in number and there are 22 washbacks on site. These are just 2 figures in a list of impressive numbers for Glen Ord, which continues to provide for the Johnnie Walker blended range.
The Singleton range is very popular in the Far East with its light, delicate and grassy notes being more suited to this thriving international market. Since 1988, the distillery has welcomed visitors and continues to do so with an informative tour and a well-stocked shop. This harbours much of the Glen Ord range that is not available in the UK, with the majority of the 15 and 18-year-old being shipped abroad. Also in existence is a duty free range comprised of No Age Statement releases (Signature, Artisan, Liberte, Trinite), as well as the occasional aged limited edition. These all display a new style of Glen Ord, one with those light and approachable characteristics, but the distillery has bottled single malts for many years in a variety of distinctive bottle shapes. Generally, much like the distillery itself, these releases from the 1970’s onwards are overlooked but contain some rather excellent whisky.
For many years Glen Ord was rarely bottled by the independent sector but nowadays with its increased capacity and rising profile, bottlings are starting to be seen on an ad hoc basis. It’s current standing in the Diageo portfolio is that of an initial whisky, one that may entice and draw you in to explore single malts in greater detail. As part of a trio of distilleries supporting the Singleton range, with Glendullan and Dufftown, we’ll be seeing much more of Glen Ord in the coming years.