Glenallachie Distillery is located a mile and a half south of the village of Aberlour, in the heart of Speyside whisky-making country. Unlike neighbours such as Aberlour and Glenfarclas, however, it has led an extremely low-profile life. Until now.
Last July, it was announced The GlenAllachie Consortium had signed an agreement to purchase Glenallachie from Pernod Ricard, with the Glenallachie brand, and McNair’s and White Heather blended Scotches.
Majority shareholder in the GlenAllachie Consortium is a certain Billy Walker, previously of BenRiach Distillery Company fame. The trademark capitalised central ‘A’ tends to give the game away. Walker boasts more than 40 years in the Scotch whisky industry, and in 2016, US-based Brown-Forman Corporation paid £285 million for the BenRiach business, giving Walker and Co a sizeable pot with which to play.
Rather than retire somewhere warm and sunny and count his currency, Walker established the GlenAllachie Consortium, in which he is accompanied by Trisha Savage, who worked alongside him at Burn Stewart Distillers for many years and was instrumental in the creation and expansion of the BenRiach Distillery Company.
The third member is Graham Stevenson, previously the managing director of Inver House Distillers.
Glenallachie was one of those distilleries built at a time when blended Scotch sales were growing, particularly in the USA.
The GlenAllachie Consortium’s mission statement declares it to be, “…a wholly Scottish owned, Scottish based and truly independent Scotch whisky company producing excellent whiskies and offering them to the market at premium but affordable prices.”
GlenAllachie distillery celebrated an important anniversary in February of this year, since on 9th of the month it was 50 years exactly since the first spirit flowed. Glenallachie was one of those distilleries built at a time when blended Scotch sales were growing, particularly in the USA. The 1960s saw the creation of a number of new distilleries, such as Clynelish, Loch Lomond, Tamnavulin and Tomintoul, as well as major expansions at many existing sites.
GlenAllachie, Gaelic for ‘valley of rocks’, was constructed during 1967/68 for the Scottish & Newcastle Breweries distilling subsidiary Mackinlay-McPherson Ltd. It was the last distillery to be designed by William Delmé-Evans, who was also responsible for Tullibardine and Jura, along with some work on Macduff.
GlenAllachie and Jura were acquired from Scottish & Newcastle Breweries Ltd by the Invergordon Distillers Group in 1985, and production at GlenAllachie ceased two years later. In 1989 Campbell Distillers, part of Pernod Ricard, acquired the distillery for £3.5 million, principally to supply malt spirit for the Clan Campbell blend.
By 2017, Pernod Ricard was reviewing its estate of distilleries, and came to the decision that GlenAllachie was now surplus to requirements, hence the sale to the GlenAllachie Consortium. Rather bizarrely, however, 2017 also saw Pernod release an NAS Distillery Edition of GlenAllachie, which is still available in some outlets.
It was a distillery that had been very under-exposed. It fitted our modus operandi, as practised with BenRiach. It’s a blank canvas. I was impressed by the balance and body of the spirit, and location-wise the distillery is fantastic.
In the hands of the Consortium, the distillery’s 50th anniversary is being celebrated by the release of six single casks bottlings, ranging in vintage from 1978 to 1991, and, according to Billy Walker, “We bought GlenAllachie because I felt we had unfinished business in the Scotch whisky industry, that there was scope to do more. Trish and Graham were keen to do something new, and whisky is a passion for me.
“GlenAllachie presented an opportunity we couldn’t miss. It was a distillery that had been very under-exposed. It fitted our modus operandi, as practised with BenRiach. It’s a blank canvas. I was impressed by the balance and body of the spirit, and location-wise the distillery is fantastic. Water-wise it’s great, too. It’s a gravity-fed water source, the Henshead and Blackstank Burns on the north face of Ben Rinnes. It’s lightly peated and not too hard – ideal for processing.”
For some, the challenge of taking an unknown single malt brand and making a commercial success of it on the global stage might seem daunting, but Billy Walker is far from daunted. “We’re familiar with the routes to market that are important to build a brand from scratch,” he explains.
“It’s about taking it to consumers we know will appreciate it, building a reputation and respectability.
“We’ve boarded the train and we know it’s not an express, and we’ll be talking quite small volumes. In terms of markets, we’ll be going for the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, Poland and Ukraine, and outside Europe, the USA and Canada, Taiwan, China and South Korea.”
When it comes to the White Heather and MacNair’s blends, Billy Walker says that “With White Heather initially we intend to release a 21-years-old premium blend. We’re going to reinvent MacNair’s as a richly-peated 21-years-old, and NAS and 12-years-old blended malt variants will be out soon. We’re also looking at a MacNair’s blend and a rum.”
The sale to Walker and his associates included what he describes as, “…a significant amount of stock that allows us to build the GlenAllachie brand with older expressions. In June we are launching a 12-years-old, cask strength, 18 and 21-years-old expressions.
“The inventory includes whisky going back to 1978, and it’s in good wood – barrels, hogsheads and butts.
"We will do some twists on the wood, and PX and Oloroso sherry will play a part in that. We have huge experience in wood management.”
In terms of the distillery fabric, a cask filling system has been installed, as all spirit produced will be matured on site, and an unused warehouse has been converted to a traditional ‘dunnage’ configuration. The current complement of 16 warehouses are home to in excess of 100,000 casks.
We will do some twists on the wood, and PX and Oloroso sherry will play a part in that. We have huge experience in wood management.
“We will produce both unpeated and peated spirit,” says Walker. “The peated version will be heavily peated – we’re looking at malt peated to in excess of 65ppm, to give 30-40ppm in the actual spirit. We are filling the unpeated into ex-Bourbon, virgin oak, PX and Oloroso casks. The peated spirit will go into Bourbon wood and virgin oak, and possibly rye casks.”
Long fermentations of 140 hours are now the order of the day, in order to give “body and floral characteristics,” according to Walker. The four GlenAllachie stills are fitted with horizontal condensers, rather than the much more common vertical variety, and Walker explains that “It’s a tool that allows us quite easily to run them either very cold – to give meaty spirit – or very hot – to give a fruitier style. It’s much easier to manipulate horizontal condensers than it is vertical ones.”
If the condensers are unusual, then so too are the stills themselves. The four wide-bodied pots can be run as two separate pairs, as each pair has its own spirit safe and spirit receiver. This makes it possible to distil two different styles of spirit at the same time.
Mention of stills gives the opportunity to correct an oft-repeated historical inaccuracy relating to GlenAllachie. Almost every source of information on the distillery states that originally there was only one pair of stills, and that the second was installed by Pernod Ricard after it acquired the distillery in 1989. However, original documents held by the Consortium prove that GlenAllachie was equipped from the start with four stills. The records show that the first wash still distillation took place on 9th February 1968, followed by a second on 16th, with the first spirit distillation occurring on 17th. These runs were made from one pair of stills only, and the second pair was subsequently fired up on 14th October.
Given the success achieved by Billy Walker and his associates with BenRiach Distillery and subsequently also with GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh, there can be little doubt that the GlenAllachie name will soon be much better known, and the whisky itself well worth drinking.
William Delme-Evans interviewed in 2004
“When Mackinlay McPherson & Co asked me to create a Speyside distillery for them I first of all had to find a site, and then design the distillery and the buildings. It was quite a lot of trouble to find the right water, but I did, and I had it piped down from Ben Rinnes to a site that I had purchased near Aberlour. This was a big chance to put together all the knowledge I had gained over the past few years. By this time, I had worked out the velocities of the vapours being distilled and was able to design the actual stills with all this knowledge behind me. My architect was Lothian Barclay, the son of James Barclay [legendary Glasgow-born whisky wheeler-dealer]. I designed all the plant and the layout of the buildings, and Lothian the actual building.”
Entering the Glenallachie Distillery grounds
The Glenallachie 50th anniversary range