On my way back from Speyside to Edinburgh I made a pit stop in Crieff. I had recieved an invitation from my German Facebook friend Mark Giesler who wanted to show me Glenturret distillery, best known for being the home of the Famous Grouse blend. Glenturret claims to be the oldest working Scottish distillery (founded in 1775). It is located in a very idyllic small glen just outside the town.
Mark’s original job at the distillery is stillman and mashman, but he also works as a tour guide and sometimes even as Famous Grouse impersonator in a huge mascot suit, so it is not much of a surprise that he is also called “THE German Grouse”. He took me on his special Stillman’s Tour providing a thorough insight into the distilllery and its products.
Glenturret is the lead malt of the Famous Grouse, the blend brand of the Edrington Group. Though not as strong internationally as Johnnie Walker or Ballantine’s, it is very popular in the UK, making the Famous Grouse Experience quite a tourist attraction (what else would you need a live mascot for anyway). And some signs even give the impression that this is actually the Famous Grouse Distillery which of course isn’t the case.
And you can’t fail to notice that the site is set up to cater for a lot of visitors, most evidently noticeable in the very spacious restaurant that even includes a proper bar with beer on tap. Like at Glenfiddich, I expected the entire place to be very touristy, so I was pleasantly surprised to find what basically is just an ordinary whisky distillery.
Glenturret is a bit of a strange place nevertheless. Given the importance of the Famous Grouse Blend you would never expect it to be one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland. With a capacity of only 0.16 million litres of alcohol per year it ranks almost at the end of the list. Furthermore just about everyting in whisky making is stil done manually here. A computer is only needed to dispense the correct amount of malted barley for one mash to be ground by the malt mill.
The mash tun is very tiny, about 2.5 m in diameter, and it has no lid. Unlike in other distilleries, the mash is stirred by hand with a wooden paddle. Glenturret has one of the longest fermentation times in the whisky industry, if not the longest at all. By extending the fermentation to more than 100 hours, they want to take full advantage of the secondary malolactic fermentation that takes place after the yeast has done its job and dies down. This has the effect of breaking down the tart malic acid into the more gentle lactic acid which ultimatley leads to a mellower character of the spirit and also introduces the corresponding esters as additional aromatic compontents.
Glenturret also produces a peaty whisky which is not available as a distillery bottling. All of it is used for their smoky Black Grouse blend that has seen an ever-growing popularity since its introduction.
The spirit is filled almost uniquely into refill casks, both bourbon and sherry. Ther is now a 10 yo standard bottling that has replaced the former 8 yo. In addition to that, there are regular single cask bottlings of which Mark let me try the two current ones, a 14 yo and a 16 yo sherry cask. It is quite obvious that the focus in Glenturret is on the Famous Grouse range, but the single cask malts are of a very decent quality and well worth a try.
I also was treated to the Snow Grouse, a multi-vintage vatting of grain whiskies, designed to lure vodka drinkers into whisky territory. This may actually work, but it is not really a whisky meant to be contemplated over. The Naked Grouse is a very enjoyable blend matured in first fill sherry casks. In Warehouse No.9 whose entrance area is also used for whisky tastings I could also taste a dram of the 30 yo Famous Grouse blended malt. The blended malts are the lesser known products of the Edrington Group, even though they make up a full-blown age statement range with 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 30 years.
My thanks go to Mark who invested three hours of his spare time to show me around the distillery. It was a fascinating experience indeed.