Distillery Focus

A real revival

Ian Buxton looks at the resurrection of a distillery
By Ian Buxton
It’s a fair bet that Glenglassaugh has had more publicity in the last three years than in the whole of the rest of its history.

And why not? It’s not every distillery that comes back from the dead and is able to turn a profit in half the time the owners had expected. While some of that may be accounted for by single malt Scotch’s recent fashionability, a lot is down to the team’s hard work and a string of interesting releases. Let’s not forget that Glenglassaugh has played its own small part in building what we may just come to see as a purple patch for whisky.

Let’s turn the clock back to Thursday 4th December 2008; a date that I won’t forget for a very long time.

It will live long in Glenglassaugh’s memory too, because this was the culmination of more than €1m of investment –the moment when the very first new make spirit ran from the refurbished stills. I was there, watching a very tense Stuart Nickerson (MD) and Graham Eunson (then Manager) and their carefully feigned nonchalance as the stills came ‘on spirit’. They were trying to look relaxed but, in truth, this was a tense moment for them.

They needn’t have worried: the new make spirit nosed cleanly, with a delightful grassy quality and held the promise of a fine and delicate single malt after due maturation.

“We expected to do well but profitability was anticipated to be a few years off yet”

At that time I had recently finished some consulting work with Glenglassaugh (to be clear, Ian has no continuing relationship with the distillery – Editor.) Just as the distillery came alive my work was all but finished so this was a poignant moment.

So now, more than three years later, Glenglassaugh has launched Revival. It’s a fitting and appropriate name and I approach this, as you will appreciate, with special interest.

The first impressions are of a surprisingly warm colour, especially for a young whisky. Stuart Nickerson, still running the distillery, tells me: “It has been matured in a mixture of new and refill casks, including some red wine casks, and then enjoyed a six month marrying period in first fill ex-Oloroso Sherry casks.”

Whiskies this young present a conundrum: delicious young and vibrant, they will surely improve during the next few years. Should we drink them now or wait?

There will be ample opportunity through the rest of the year to see what Glenglassaugh is capable of, with a string of releases in the pipeline. Next up is a Revival Small Batch variant – “we’ve aged this one in ex Tennessee whiskey casks from Dickel,” says Nickerson, “and we’re just debating whether or not to bottle at cask strength or reduced to 46%.”

Shortly after that we can expect two contrasting releases in the Chosen Few series, selected by the distillery’s staff. Production Manager Mhairi MacDonald has picked an ex-Bourbon cask from 1978, anticipated to provide around 200 bottles at cask strength. Expect to pay around £300 for that one.

But Ronnie Lawrence, the distillery’s joiner, has gone for a 2009 distillation matured in first fill sherry that should be available for under £40. They may provide a fascinating vertical tasting, with the depth and richness of the 34 Years Old showing a vibrant young pretender what could lie ahead.

In the past year, Stuart Nickerson has seen turnover soar by over 60 per cent and the first profit recorded as new distributors come on line and the distillery’s cask purchase programme continues to appeal. “It actually was a surprise when we got the year’s figures,” says Stuart.

“We expected to do well but profitability was anticipated to be a few years off yet. Not that anyone is complaining but I tell the team they’ve just made next year harder!”

That team is growing though, with the arrival of Susan Colville, formerly of Wemyss Malts, as European brand development manager and it’s good to know that far-sighted and patient owners are happy that some of the profit is being ploughed into the development of a small visitor centre in the old distillery offices. As we go to press, Glenglassaugh are awaiting their licencing approval so that visitors may enjoy a dram on site. It’s expected that the doors will be open by the end of July.

It’s a very great pleasure to see this little distillery working again. Somehow, draining the glass, I feel my work is only now complete. But for Stuart, in a way, it is only just beginning. This revival feels very real.