Bob Dalgarno spent as many years at Speyside’s Macallan as I’ve been alive. Thirty years (give or take a year on my side, if you’re counting) – not a bad innings in anyone’s book. Come 2019, the master distiller joined the team at The Glenturret as head blender, when the distillery was acquired by luxury goods company Lalique.
First records of the distillery date back to 1763 when it was bought by the Murray family and was called the Thurot Distillery. In 1814, it was taken over by Thomas MacInnesa and renamed The Hosh Distillery. In 1890, it fell into the hands of whisky merchant brothers David and William Mitchell, who in turn passed it on to their sons. Alas, come 1923 production at The Glenturret stopped – although rumour has it that 96,000 gallons of whisky continued to mature in its warehouses. Today, The Glenturret is going through yet another exciting advent of change, which means Bob has had lots to keep him busy.
“You take a step back and the first thing to do was to look at the stock,” Dalgarno tells me. For the whisky veteran, the quest was to create a range around the new-make spirit, build on that into the aged product and then, finally, into the decanter – that way it keeps it “very much Glenturret despite which wood we use”.
And that aforementioned decanter is created by Lalique. The Glenturret by Lalique Trinity series is a three-part release of products from the distillery and its owner to create limited-edition, collectible expressions for anyone willing to part with the best part of £10,000 to be in with the chance to taste and own their wares.
The first release of the Trinity Series is Provenance, a 33-year-old single malt drawn from three casks that were filled in 1987, bottled in December of last year and encased in a limited run of 320 crystal Lalique decanters, designed by artistic and creative director Marc Laminaux. Dalgarno describes the whisky as having “rich notes of ginger, brandy-soaked cherries and plump juicy sultanas, followed by hints of cinnamon sticks, dates and soft whispers of oak and green apple.” According to Bob, the whisky pays homage to the barley that has fuelled the distillery since 1763.
For Dalgarno, creating it was also a chance to recognise three of the people indelibly linked to both the liquid and the glassware’s heritage. Firstly, Elizabeth Philips, who owned the distillery in its original guise: “Many, many years ago, it would have been quite pioneering and must have been so different for a female distiller,” says Dalgarno. “I didn’t want that to be forgotten.” It also pays tribute to James Farlie, who brought the distillery back into operation in 1957 after 30 years of lying dormant, as well as the masterminds behind Lalique. “[I was] trying to tell the story with the three casks and the three people… [combining] the darkness of people and of time, but with pockets of light looking at what these people have done… telling it through the whisky.”
Ultimately, The Glenturret by Lalique range has allowed Dalgarno to do something different with the stock he’s inherited and to tell a story: “It gives a different personal touch and allows us to build a whisky to a certain occasion, which is a different challenge… You’re working with somebody else’s thoughts and their vision.”
The still room
Having worked with Laminaux for many years while at The Macallan, the partnership was bound to glean an exciting working experience for both craftsmen. After seeing Laminaux’s original mould for the decanter, Dalgarno set to work creating the liquid before the two reconvened to marry the two creations: whisky and glass.
Touring the distillery
Work has started on the next two iterations, named Prowess and Passion. Volume-wise, they are likely to be the same and Dalgarno hints that the second will showcase casks, while the third will be a masterclass in honing skill and flavour profile. Though most details are under wraps, what he can tell me is that the distillery’s move to make limited-run products is driven by the small amount of mature stock he has to work with. “It falls by default that collectors want [Glenturret]… it is always going to be small amounts here and I don’t think it is deliberately aimed at the market, but having a small amount of stock means it almost falls into the collectors’ category.”
When it comes to his fingerprint on the liquid, he is quick to add that he didn’t want (or need) to change anything, but instead aimed to make sure that what stock they did have was sustainable moving forward, perhaps building more richness and having something he and the team could “hang our hats on, or coats on, or whatever.” One thing Dalgarno does stress is how manual the operation is at Glenturret and the importance of working a lot with the production team – his first few months were spent in the warehouses.
Though a prior understanding of how to specifically create a desirable and luxurious whisky was key to the success of his work at Glenturret, the most important thing Bob has brought forward from his time at The Macallan is more general: experience. He had moved on from the distillery some time before starting work at Glenturret, consulting at first, before relocating to join the team formally. “I felt it was the right time to move on,” he says confidently. “There were other things I wanted to have a look at. I have lots of fond memories there, but at some point you need a different direction to go in. I wanted to work more with farmers and growers, back in the maltings and so, when the opportunity at Glenturret came in, so did the challenge to work with a different spirit which I thought was very important.”
Bob Dalgarno in the warehouse
Working for The Macallan, of course, has also brought a plethora of experience when it comes to engaging the world of whisky collectors. He recalls the early days – late 1990s, early 2000s – when single-cask bottlings weren’t “a big thing”. Four or five years later, with people travelling more and whisky booming, single-cask and limited bottlings suddenly became collectible. He also likes that whisky collectors now come from all walks of life – from people who have saved especially, to those who can readily afford even the most expensive bottles.
For Dalgarno, however, age is not always a signifier of collectibility. “The answer is, I don’t know. Some yes, some not: I’ve worked on both sides,” he muses. As a whisky maker, he understands the emphasis on age as being hugely important, but when it gets beyond 20 years old he thinks it becomes more about what a drinker actually likes. “I’ve produced a range of no age statement whiskies that have done well,” he says, but concedes that an age statement is certainly an indicator that collectors use to navigate.
The rise in whisky drinkers and those interested in the discipline of making whisky has been exciting to watch from the front line. “Whisky has become hugely interesting. It’s great to see so many people coming to distilleries and looking around. I like giving people different reasons to buy whisky for different occasions,” he says. While some of those occasions might be collecting or investing, above all, Dalgarno hopes that the whisky he produces, collectible or not, results in one thing: that it’s enjoyed.