The following originally appeared on Food Digital on January 28 & 29, 2013:
“The Glenglassaugh Distillery…was established in the year 1875. It is built on the slopes of a steep hill close to the sea, from which it is screened by a sand hill. All the work is accomplished by gravitation and water power, and the buildings, which are handsome and substantially built, contain all the new appliances and vessels as in other modern Distilleries.” Alfred Barnard, 1887
Alfred Barnard, who, as secretary of Harper’s Weekly Gazette, visited every working distillery in Great Britain and Ireland between 1885 and 1887, published The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom in 1887 when the original Glenglassaugh buildings would still have been in their infancy. Who knew then that this “modern distillery” would only distill for a further twenty years before being closed for a little more than fifty years?
Before spirit ran again in 1960 the distillery was mostly rebuilt with only one original warehouse and one of the original maltings remaining recognizable to Mr Barnard. Even with this major overhaul to the distillery, spirit only ran for another twenty-six years before the distillery was closed for a second time. Since its founding 138 years ago, Glenglassaugh has been out of production longer than it has been in production.
Since the distillery’s acquisition for £5 million ($8 million) in 2008, and subsequent £2 million ($3 million) renovation, Glenglassaugh has had a very committed Managing Director at the helm. Stuart Nickerson, who, during his storied career in whisky, served time with both Highland Distillers and William Grant & Sons, was in charge of the Glenglassaugh site while he was distillery manager at Glenrothes. It was no surprise, then, that he chose the Glenglassaugh distillery when tasked with purchasing a distillery on behalf of a foreign investment group.
During a recent conversation with Mr Nickerson I asked him what challenges were faced when re-launching Glenglassaugh:
The main challenges in a re-launch are that you are constrained by the buildings and the existing equipment. The buildings were not designed for easy removal of plant for maintenance or replacement. Further, they were not designed for expansion. While there is room to install additional stills it would be very expensive to do so. Similarly our filling store vat is not as large as we would like but, due to its location, it would be extremely costly to replace.
Although the essential pieces of equipment were in good condition (mill, mash tun, washbacks and stills) and we wouldn’t have wanted to change them some items such as the malt intake, malt storage, malt transfer, grist transfer and grist storage all have specific issues with meeting today’s Health & Safety regulations resulting in expensive modifications.
When a distillery is closed for as long as Glenglassaugh was there just aren’t records for items such as underground services, water pipes, etc., and neither do we have records of their age, etc. The result is that we continue to find failing pipes or cables that results in problems and expensive replacement.
“The Glassaugh River, which rises in the Knock Hills, flows through a strip of woodlands…and from thence through the establishment into the sea. Its waters are considered very pure and suitable for distilling purposes, and it was for this reason that the work was located in the Glassaugh Glen.” Alfred Barnard, 1887
While the quality of Glenglassaugh’s spirit has never been in question, the reason for the second closure was because the spirit did not fit it the profile necessary for blending. With the 2008 re-launch of the distillery it was decided that no stock would be used for blending purposes. Early last year, the distillery launched Revival as their first standard release. Later in the year they released Evolution. I asked Mr Nickerson what pressure there was in releasing Evolution after the success of Revival:
We were very, and remain very, pleased with the quality of Revival and it proves that if you have good spirit, a good maturation policy and a strict quality control standard on the finished product then you can produce a top quality whisky, regardless of age.
What made Revival so pleasing is the consumer feedback, not just favourable reviews but repeat sales and volumes so far have exceeded our expectations.
We were always going to be under pressure to produce something as good as Revival but I think that the team here work to that ethos anyway. We are all really proud of what we produce as new spirit and release as whiskies and we don’t release anything that we don’t think is of the highest standard and that we wouldn’t be happy to endorse.
I’ll continue my conversation with Stuart Nickerson tomorrow when we’ll cover how Glenglassaugh reported a profit in only its third year back in production and what 2013 holds for the distillery and US fans of Glenglassaugh.
In the first part of this week’s column I asked Glenglassaugh’s Managing Director, Stuart Nickerson, about the challenges he faced while re-launching a distillery that was first opened in 1875 and about the nervousness associated with following up a very well received launch whisky. In today’s second part we discuss turning a profit in a very short period of time and what lies ahead for both the distillery and fans of the whisky in 2013.
Glenglassaugh turned a profit in only its third year back in production. The question is how much of that owes to having older stock on hand (remember, Glenglassaugh was in production from 1960-1986 and the investment group purchased 400 casks with the distillery) and how much owes to having a great young spirit that has really captured the imagination of the whisky community? Mr Nickerson responded:
Older stock certainly helped in turning a profit as early in our revival as we did. However it was also helped by having great young spirit and by being innovative in terms of creating new products – the Spirit Drink range and also the Managers Legacy and Chosen Few ranges, which have both caught people’s imagination.
The other areas that have helped is being prepared to visit other countries and establishing importers throughout the world (around 27 countries at the last count). For us the network of importers and the type of importer has worked very well, small and independent importers who want to grow and who know Scotch Whisky and love Glenglassaugh and therefore work hard.
Finally a key plank for our growth has also been another innovation, the Octave cask programme. Not only does it provide us with useful turnover and cash but the success of it has helped raise the profile of the brand and encouraged more people to buy our whisky and to become advocates of Glenglassaugh.
Now that you have your feet under you as distillery and a developing brand what lies ahead for Glenglassaugh in 2013?
It will be our first full year for the visitor centre, so while there will be nothing new since late 2012, it will still feel like a new venture.
In terms of new whiskies we intend releasing our third in “The Chosen Few” series, which will be a much younger single cask.
We will also see the 26 year old replaced with a 30 year old as our stock continues to age and we will release more country exclusive single cask bottles.
We will also have a 50 year old whisky later this year.
Production will increase, which is due to success of Revival, Evolution and our older whiskies.
Finally, Glenglassaugh has a very strong US following thanks in no small part to the work of Purple Valley Imports who champion the brand at every opportunity. What can US consumers expect to see here in 2013?
We are growing in the USA and we plan to break into the Eastern states in the next few months.
In terms of whiskies we will be releasing Evolution shortly and I also expect Revival to grow as the feedback has been fantastic.
There will be more of the core whisky such as the new 30 year old, and the older single cask releases.
We already have a North American exclusive single cask, a 37 year old, which is nearly sold out in Canada and is doing well in USA, so we may follow this with a younger exclusive single cask.
My thanks to Stuart Nickerson for graciously answering my questions. Listening to him leaves me in no doubt that Glenglassaugh is in the right hands and that a clear vision is in place for a very bright future. It will be interesting to watch the spirit age and to see the new ways in which whisky consumers respond to the innovative releases ushering forth from this Highland distillery. As Alfred Barnard suggested in 1887 at the conclusion of his trip to the fledgling distillery, “The Whisky is pure Highland Malt…and is said to be steadily gaining favour in the market.”