The processes of making beer and whisky are similar to the point of distillation, so it is no surprise that a number of distilleries are former breweries. The demolished Lochside in Montrose was previously Deuchar’s brewery and Glenmorangie started life as McKenzie & Gallie’s Morangie brewery.
Glen Moray is another to add to the list, having begun life as Henry Arnot & Co’s West brewery, established in 1828, and transformed into a distillery in 1897 by the Glen Moray Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd. Glen Moray is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, having been created at the height of the late 19th century whisky boom.
When ‘bust’ followed ‘boom’, Glen Moray ceased production in 1910. A decade later the site was acquired by distillers and blenders Macdonald & Muir Ltd, who already owned 40 per cent of the shares in Glenmorangie.
"The brand is better known and better publicised. Sales have doubled in five years, and after the UK, we’ve seen the biggest growth in the USA and Australia.”
The story goes that when it came to acquiring a second distillery, the manager of Glenmorangie was asked to choose between Aberlour and Glen Moray, and opted for Glen Moray. The distillery re-opened three years later, and few changes were made until a reconstruction programme was undertaken in 1958, at which time the floor maltings were replaced by Saladin ‘boxes’ – where barley germinates as its mechanically turned. On-site malting ended at Glen Moray in 1978, and a year earlier the distillery had been enlarged by a second pair of stills.
Macdonald & Muir Ltd changed its name to Glenmorangie plc in 1996, and in 2004 the company was acquired by Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy (LVMH). The luxury goods firm invested in new visitor facilities, and released some interesting limited editions and vintage expressions, but it was clear that the distillery was always going to play the poor relation to LVMH’s other single malt brands, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.
It was no great surprise when in 2008 LVMH sold off Glen Moray to French drinks company La Martiniquaise.
La Martiniquaise is best known in France for its top-selling Label 5 blended Scotch and its Glen Turner blended malt. In addition to Glen Moray it also operates the large-scale Starlaw grain distillery near Bathgate in West Lothian, which opened in 2010. Starlaw supplies grain for Label 5 and since 2004 has also acted as a blending and bottling facility for its whiskies.
Under La Martiniquaise, Glen Moray distillery has expanded, growing from an annual capacity of 2mla to its current 5.7mla. According to distillery manager and master distiller Graham Coull, “The distillery expansions have been to cope with demand for Glen Moray as a single malt and also for the Label 5 blend.
“Around 30 per cent of our output is bottled as single malt, and there’s a wider base of people interested in Glen Moray, partly because we now offer a wider range of expressions. The brand is better known and better publicised. Sales have doubled in five years, and after the UK, we’ve seen the biggest growth in the USA and Australia.”
During the initial expansion, six external fermenting vessels were installed, followed by a further eight in 2016, when a full lauter mashtun was fitted. On distillation, Coull explains, “We changed over all six of the stills in the existing stillhouse to become spirit stills, and we installed three new wash stills – made by Frilli in Italy. They’ve been operational since July.”
In addition to the unpeated spirit produced, around 250,000 litres of peated spirit are made each year, some to create the Classic Peated expression and some for use in the Label 5 blend.
When it comes to the Glen Moray single malt, Graham Coull explains, “The ‘Classic’ NAS range of single malt, Classic Port, Classic Sherry, Classic Chardonnay and Classic Peated is a great introduction to whisky. We brought out 12, 15 and 18-year-old expressions this year as the ‘Elgin Heritage Collection,’ having previously had a 12 and a 16-year-old. We increased the sherry influence in the 15, compared to the previous 16-year-old. We also have three distillery exclusives: cask strength 1994 bottlings, all from the same parcel. They comprise an ex-Bourbon first-fill cask, a peated cask – finished for between five and six years – and a sherry finish, finished for a similar length of time.”
The jewel in the Glen Moray crown is Mastery, created for its 120th anniversary, which was celebrated in September. Mastery was created from five different vintages, matured in either sherry, Madeira or port casks. Coull explains, “Glen Moray has always been innovative with different cask finishes. We had a really nice 1994 maturing in a Madeira cask, which had first been filled into an ex-Bourbon cask, and I decided to make that the heart of the new whisky. Mastery contains 20 per cent port cask-matured whisky from 1988, while 80 per cent of the component whiskies date from 1994 or earlier.”
Two whiskies from Coull’s tenure feature, and the other three were distilled under the his predecessors Ed Dodson and Robert Brown. Just 1,000 decanters have been released globally.
When La Martinquaise acquired Glen Moray, there were concerns that it might become little more than a source of blending malt. Those concerns have been allayed, as major investments have been made, with a wider range of better quality whiskies coming out of the site than ever before. SAMPLING THE SPIRITGLEN MORAY MASTERY 52.3% ABV
Nose: Caramel, vanilla, sherry and smoky red wine
Palate: Smooth, sherried, with toffee, drinking chocolate and stewed fruits
Finish: Spicy port and rich oak in the lengthy finish
Comments: Glen Moray at the top of its gameGETTING TECHNICAL
Malt: Concerto variety. When peated, a ppm level of 40/50
Mashing: Full lauter mash tun – 11 tonnes mash, 26 mashes per week
Fermentation: 14 external stainless steel washbacks, washback charge 52,500 litres. 60-hour fermentations.
Distillation: 3 wash stills (18,000 litres capacity) – 6 spirit stills (3 x 10,000 litres capacity, 3 x 6,000 litres capacity)
Distillery capacity: 5.7 million lpa
The Mastery gift-box