Glenburgie was originally founded in 1810 by William Paul as the Kinflat distillery, although you may see the official date quoted as 1829. Technically, this is also correct as it took 19 years before the distillery started production. This makes it one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and under its current owners Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard), it is primarily focused on providing content for its range of blends including the popular Ballantine’s expressions.
Unlike many of the recent additions to the Speyside landscape, this distillery does have more of a colourful history. Being closed in 1870, it was reopened in 1878 with a new licensee in the form of Charles Hay and a new name as Glenburgie-Glenlivet. The use of this suffix was a tactic used by many distillers in the region, latching onto the popularity of George Smith’s The Glenlivet, which had a popular following amongst consumers and was synonymous with quality. Alfred Barnard wrote whilst compiling his whisky odyssey in the 1880’s that Glenlivet ‘has become a household word and the whisky is appreciated in every country.’ Prior to this and according to Glenlivet themselves, King George IV when visiting Scotland in 1822, requested a dram of Glenlivet before whisky was legalised.
By using this suffix, distilleries hoped to enforce their own quality and location. The Glen of the Livet is one of the longest in Scotland leaving its application open to interpretation. The practice has died out in recent decades with many distilleries engaged in establishing their own brands and heritages, thereby seeking to avoid confusing the consumer. Nowadays it’s more likely to be seen on independent bottling’s particularly those from Cadenheads.
For Glenburgie a new owner in Alexander Fraser & Co, takes over in 1884 and enlarges the distillery in 1890. They remain in charge until 1925 when the company files for bankruptcy and is liquidated. Stepping into the breach in 1927 is James & George Stodart Limited, before Hiram Walker purchases a controlling share in this company. Assuming full control of the parent company in 1936, production resumes at Glenburgie after over a decade of inactivity.
Then things settle down into the tranquil nature we associate with many Speyside distilleries. This all changes in 1958 with the introduction of an additional 2 new stills and the stopping of floor malting at the site. The new arrivals are Lomond stills, which allow the distiller to actively change the characteristics of the new make spirit. Thus whisky from these stills is not known as Glenburgie but rather Glencraig. Today this is a rare whisky in single malt form, as most of the stock was destined for the blended market. Very few Glencraig’s have been bottled over the years, with only a handful of independent bottlers being responsible including Cadenhead, Duncan Taylor, Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory.
The Lomond still experiment across the industry was not deemed a success and the use of these stills soon fell by the wayside and they were removed. The Glencraig was ended in 1981, when the stills were replaced by those to supplement the traditional Glenburgie malt. The stills were increased to 6 in 2006, giving the distillery an admirable output of 4.2 million litres annually today. Unfortunately, many of the original buildings were demolished in 2004 and replaced by the modern equivalents we can see today. The cost of this project was £4.3 million and unusually for such a modern revamp, warehousing still exists on site for maturing stock and is utilised.
Very little is seen of Glenburgie officially with the only current release being an inclusion in the cask strength range that you will see at Chivas Brothers distilleries. Glenburgie is not open to the public and continues to work with the various blends it supports. The official bottling is 17 years old and has a rich texture full of nutty characteristics and red fruits before a dry finish. Thankfully the distillery does make an occasional appearance via several independent bottlers and is well worth tracking down.