History

A royal loss (Glenury Royal)

In the latest in our series Gavin D.Smithtracks down the story behind Glenury Royal
By Gavin D. Smith
Glenury Royal distillery can claim a number of notable distinctions. For example, it is one of only three Scottish distilleries – along with Lochnagar and Brackla – ever to be granted permission to use the ‘royal’prefix or suffix. Surely, it is also the only distillery to have been constructed by aMember of Parliament who claimed a long-distance walking record, but more of that later.Glenury was built just outside the east coast port of Stonehaven, 15 miles south of Aberdeen, in 1825, and was one of many Scottish distilleries to be established in the heady years following the liberalising Excise Act of 1823. Indeed,Glenury’s founder, the local landowner and MP Captain Robert Barclay Allardice, invariably known as ‘Captain Barclay,’was remarkably quick to see the potential of the situation.Glenurie, as it was initially known,operated in the name of Barclay,McDonald & Co,and commenced distilling in April 1825.However, spirit was produced for only a short time before fire destroyed much of the distillery’s malting facilities.Matters went from bad to worse, when a fortnight later, a distillery employee suffered fatal injuries.As the Aberdeen Journal reported (May 11th 1825):“On Saturday last,about one o’clock, Andrew Clark, one of the workmen employed at Glenury Distillery, being sent to examine the state of the great boiler,by some unfortunate accident fell backwards into it and was so dreadfully burned, that he died in extreme agony at 7 o’clock in the evening.” Not the most auspicious of starts, but Captain Barclay was made of stern stuff, and just a decade after the distillery’s establishment, he secured the highly prestigious ‘royal’ suffix due to King William IV’s fondness for Glenury whisky, which was regularly ordered for the royal household.Many years later, a ‘King William IV’blend was marketed, containing a high proportion of Glenury malt.Barclay had established a somewhat eccentric reputation before constructing Glenury distillery, most notably by walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 consecutive hours for a wager of 1,000 guineas.This feat occurred at Newmarket in the summer of 1809, and took the good captain six weeks to accomplish.Barclay was a fearless gamble and also a great supporter of prize-fighting,being no mean exponent of the art himself.Following the captain’s death in 1854,Glenury subsequently operated under the auspices of William Ritchie & Co of Glasgow, but was silent from 1928 to 1937.In 1936 it was acquired for £7,500 by the Glenury Distillery Company Ltd, which sold it on to Associated Scottish Distilleries Ltd two years later for £18,500.This company was part of entrepreneur Joseph Hobbs’empire, which also included the fellow ‘Eastern Highland’Lochside distillery in Montrose (see WM 62).In 1953, the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) bought Associated Scottish Distilleries Ltd, going on to operate Glenury under its Scottish Malt Distillers subsidiary.The rise in demand for Scotch whisky saw DCL double the capacity of the distillery by adding a new pair of stills in 1965, and carry out substantial overall upgrading.Two decades later,however, the great thirst for Scotch had turned into a whisky loch, and Glenury was one of ten DCL plants closed in 1985.There were hopes that the distillery might be revived in the early 1990s, but in 1992 the 18- acre site was sold to a development company and outline planning permission for residential construction was granted the following year.The distillery buildings survived intact for a further decade before demolition to make way for housing,popular with commuters working in Aberdeen.Today, the hillside site to the north-west of Stonehaven, close to the River Cowie, which once provided the distillery with process water, offers only one tiny clue to its former use.Search hard enough you will find a small, commemorative plaque on the surviving base of the former distillery chimney in the middle of the estate of uniform, modern houses.Glenury Royal distillery may have been obliterated from the Stonehaven landscape, but Diageo has ensured that its spirit lives on, courtesy of a number of bottlings in the Rare Malts and Special Releases series.Most recent is a superb, 36 Years Old expression, the oldest whisky in the 2007 Special Releases portfolio.