Glenturret claims to be Scotland’s oldest distillery, although this is open to debate from some quarters. It can trace its roots back to 1775 and widespread practice of distilling as an illegal enterprise. This was an era prior to the legislation of the modern age and many illegal distilleries existed across the Glens and farms of Scotland. In Glenturret’s case it was a farm distillery known as Hosh that quenched the local thirst for whisky. John Drummond became the official licensee in 1817, just prior to the introduction of regulations that ushered many illegal distilleries into the status of legal enterprises by the state.
Hosh has enjoyed an entertaining history looking back through the years and actually owes its name to a nearby distillery that bore the name previously. The original Glenturret distillery was established in 1826 nearby Hosh, but only lasted until 1852, with the rights to the name being sold to Hosh shortly afterwards. Thus Hosh became the new Glenturret distillery despite having been established 42 years’ prior, albeit the name change is an improvement.
Glenturret moved into the 1900’s with changes in ownership before being struck down by the difficult economic conditions of the 1920’s, which prompted an end to production in 1921. Thereafter the distillery is only used for warehousing before its owners are forced into liquidation in 1929. The equipment for distillation is removed and only the outer shell of the distillery remained. Thereafter Glenturret reverted back to its original purpose, becoming involved in agriculture and storage for working farms.
The distillery remained lost until the 1950’s, when a James Fairlie purchased the site and set about restoring distilling to the Glenturret. This takes a couple of years, but during 1959, the first spirit flows and a lost distillery is revived. Some quarters have argued that this refurbishment means that Glenturret is more a 1950’s distillery than a producer from the 1700’s. The logical comparison would be Kilkerran, or Glengyle distillery, which can trace its roots back to the 1870’s yet, accepts that its current form was only established in 2004. Ultimately, it comes down to the whisky at the end of the day rather than any marketing, as we’ll soon see.
Remy-Cointreau purchases Glenturret in 1981 and has the vision to establish a visitor centre to take advantage of its relatively accessible and central location. This was a brave decision given the difficult times of the era and Glenturret’s relatively unknown status. By 1990, ownership has moved onto the Highland Distillers before this company is acquired by the combined might of Edrington and William Grant & Sons in 1999, under the guise of a new entity called the 1887 Company. The deal included the distillery alongside the Famous Grouse, The Macallan and Highland Park.
After completing the deal, Glenturret was selected as the spiritual home of the Famous Grouse blended Scotch and a new visitor centre experience was established at a cost of around £2.5 million. Today, it’s one of the most popular distilleries to visit in Scotland thanks to this connection, with the distillery’s traditional appearance fitting the marketing dynamic for the Grouse. For the record, the Glenturret does feature in the makeup of the Grouse recipe, but until recently its status as a single malt in its own right has been ignored.
For many years the only Glenturret was a standard 12-year-old before this was switched to the 10-year-old expression in 2003. Neither were fantastic whiskies and the distillery was rarely bottled by the independent sector, thereby offering very limited opportunities for exploration. Distillery exclusives did offer some variety and suggestions of quality, but for the masses these remained out of reach. Part of the problem is that Glenturret’s output is tiny by modern standards, representing just over 300,000 litres annually; the majority of which goes towards the Grouse. A single pair of stills operate at the distillery, as there’s never been any sign of expansion given the size and layout of the site. A quaint feature remains the open mash tun which is operated by hand rather than machine and is the last of its type in Scotland. The desire from Edrington is to keep things as traditional as possible for visitors who mainly come to see Grouse heritage rather than the Glenturret.
In recent years Edrington has started to build a single malt presence for the Glenturret by adding different wood finishes to the core range as well as a peated expression. Various limited editions with varying age statements have been launched including a 32-year-old and the independent sector has also released a handful of cases including one at an impressive 35 years of age. We should expect to see more releases from Glenturret in the coming years as the owners renew their focus on this historic and rather quaint distillery.