Glenturret has long claimed to be Scotland’s oldest working distillery, but you’re unlikely to have seen a bottle of its single malt on shelves.
For more than two centuries the whisky produced at this charming distillery, on the outskirts of Crieff in Perthshire, has been mostly destined for blending.
While an inconspicuous no-age-statement range was released in 2015 and a small amount occasionally picked up by independent bottlers, Glenturret’s identity has been defined for many years by its role as the core single malt in the Famous Grouse blend.
Now, 202 years since Glenturret was first licensed to distil, it is embarking on a bold new journey. This is not just a relaunch; this is the defining inauguration of Glenturret as a luxury single malt whisky.
In March 2019 Glenturret was purchased from Edrington by a joint venture led by The Lalique Group, a French luxury lifestyle company best known for its elaborate crystal decanters and glassware. Plans were soon drawn up to relaunch Glenturret with Macallan’s former blender Bob Dalgarno as whisky maker, and creative director Ken Grier as strategic consultant.
Working with the limited amount of stock acquired in the distillery purchase, Dalgarno has been busy forging a new identity for Glenturret, one centred around its fruity, malty and oily new make spirit. “Due to the very nature of Glenturret being so hands-on, we’ve got a style no one else has,” he says. “So the new range is really driven by that spirit.”
As well as being one of the smallest manually operated distilleries in Scotland, producing 200,000 litres of spirit each year, Glenturret is also the only one to hand-mash its barley. Traditional whisky-making practices are core to the distillery’s identity, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. “There is no automation, no big volumes, only simple distilling tasks completed by hand in their own good time,” says managing director John Laurie. “Our current owners have no intention of changing that; they want to preserve these methods.”
In the spirit of maintaining Glenturret’s identity, Dalgarno has created four new core expressions and two super-premium editions.
At the entry level is Glenturret Triple Wood, an expression that also appeared in the distillery’s previous core line-up, but which now has a completely different flavour profile. “This is far heavier and far richer,” explains Dalgarno. Having matured in a combination of European oak sherry butts, American oak sherry hogsheads and ex-Bourbon barrels, the whisky has a fruity, caramel and sticky ginger profile. Bottled at 43% ABV, it’s also the only expression to have been chill-filtered.
Next in the range is the 10 Years Old Peat Smoked, made using a combination of Glenturret peated malt (previously known as Ruadh Maor under Edrington) filled into refill casks, and unpeated Glenturret matured in sherry casks. Bottled at a punchy 50% ABV, Dalgarno describes the whisky as, “just a bit different from what others are doing. I’d describe the smoke as smouldering heather, though the sweetness still comes through.”
Glenturret 12 Years Old (46% ABV) is predominantly matured in European oak sherry and fortified wine casks. “This is a late afternoon whisky rather than a fireside dram,” he explains. “It’s for sitting in the conservatory maybe with walnuts and a cup of lemon tea to go with it. It presents a different drinking experience.”
Finally, Glenturret 15 Years Old (55% ABV) is the most delicate of the range, having matured mostly in refill casks with a small amount of oloroso-seasoned European oak and PX-seasoned American oak. “We’ve tried to make an elegant whisky and quite deliberately, because we have a fair bit of stock in refills at this point. Rather than argue against it we may as well work with it.”
At the top of the range are the “Extremely Scarce” 25- and 30-year-old expressions, both bottled at respective cask strengths of 45% and 45.7% ABV. These editions are limited in number, with just 204 bottles of the 25-year-old (£980) and 750 bottles of the 30-year-old (£1,600) available. Of course, each is presented in a Lalique-designed square decanter featuring the family crest of the Murrays of Ochtertyre (thought to have been the original 18th-century distillery owners).
That said, availability for the entire Glenturret range is tight. Glenturret’s range will evolve each year, with flavour profiles changing according to stock. “The beautiful thing about single malt Scotch is that casks are all different,” says Laurie. “Why should we hide that? Why force engineer it back to the same taste when we should just let it be different?”
Laurie adds that while it was always the intention to relaunch Glenturret as a luxury single malt, its enforced rarity and subsequent pricing naturally supports its positioning. Meanwhile, the distillery is also undergoing a significant £12 million facelift, with major renovations allowing for a new downstairs tasting bar, Lalique boutique, patisserie, café and – the pièce de résistance – a fine dining venue that’s hoped to attract at least one Michelin star. The new visitor centre, which is due to open at the end of this year, will be unrecognisable.
Establishing Glenturret’s new identity poses a welcome challenge for its new owners. “Glenturret is like a person still trying to discover themselves,” explains Laurie. “It has an ambition to be the person who comes into a room and is warm, engaging, approachable and honest, the person everyone wants to talk to... We’re trying to mark our territory in the industry as having integrity, but we’re not there yet; we’re on a journey.”
Nose: It starts out green, bright and malty, a reflection of Glenturret’s new make spirit, before sliding into a waxy, oily sweetness with sticky candied ginger, malt loaf, raisins and aromatic orange zest.
Palate: The fruit is immediately assertive, with more juicy orange, dried fruits and bitter grapefruit pith. Some dry oak and crumbly chocolate provide a restrained sweetness, amid warming ginger spice, raisins and an underlying maltiness in the form of chocolate-flavoured wheat cereal.
Finish: Malty and chocolatey with a faint ginger swagger.
Comment: Said to be a heavier, richer version of the original Glenturret Triple Wood, it’s a solid entry to the new range.
10 Peat Smoked
Nose: Ooft, it’s big, smoky and meaty, like sausage fat sizzling on charcoal embers, while someone nearby puffs on a smouldering cigar. It’s fruity too, brimming with Morello cherries, dried figs and blackcurrant jam.
Palate: The smoke is surprisingly restrained given the nose. Here it’s all about that big fruit: more cherries, peach stone, raspberry coulis, blood orange juice and black pepper spice.
Finish: Ah, there’s the smoke, and a touch of that meatiness returning. Dalgarno describes it as ‘the illusion of smoke disappearing up a chimney’, and I have to agree.
Comment: Meaty, fruity, smoky, powerful and beautifully balanced. A modern classic in the making.
12 Years Old
Nose: A light, sweet and almost floral nose that delicately skips through aromas of apple cake, sultanas, vanilla sponge, grated nutmeg and lemon tea.
Palate: Juicy orchard fruits – pears, peaches and sweet red apples, with a sweet, buttery patisserie vibe in almond croissants and the crunchy, caramelised lid of a crème brûlée sprinkled with lemon zest.
Finish: Drier than expected, but light and long.
Comment: A fascinating exploration of European oak’s impact on Glenturret.
15 Years Old
Nose: Soft yet bold with chewy toffee, vanilla crème and baking spice hanging around. There’s a hint at the oily texture to come.
Palate: As promised, it’s thick, oily and delicately sweet, with lots more toffee, caramel, dried fruit and spice, which builds into the mid-palate. A drop of water releases more fruits and calms the alcohol burn, but you do lose that charming viscous texture.
Finish: A little dry, with a lasting impression of sweet liquorice and smoky charred oak.
Comment: Matured in mostly refill American oak, this expression lets Glenturret’s new make spirit shine.