Some of you may be unaware that the main single malt that goes into Famous Grouse is called Glenturret, the distillery of which is the spiritual home of The Famous Grouse brand. On a mild day myself, Tom of Thinking Drinkers and Matt and Karen of Whisky for Everyone were shown around on a press trip.
We were taken around by Ian Renwick, a personable man who is one of the stalwarts of the distillery. We went through the classic distillery tour that explained each stage of the process as you’d expect.
Not to be blasé about it, but holistically the process isn’t much different from any other so I’m not going to explain what we already know but rather discuss nuances and arks that make this surprisingly small distillery rather special indeed.
Some The Famous Grouse and Glenrurret facts for you that I learned on the day:
- The Famous Grouse uses 7,500 tonnes of malted barley a year
- They do 8 mashes a week (two on Monday and Tuesday, one Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, none on Sunday)
- They use 1,050kg of barley per mash
- 140,000 litres of spirit are produced each year
- They get 100,000 visitors to The Famous Grouse Experience each year
- They use 16.5 million litres of water every year
- All water is drawn from the Glenturret loch that runs parallel to the distillery
- They use a Porteus mill for the barley that dates back over 110 years,mot is serviced every year but was in fact out of operation during prohibition so had a few quiet years leading up to the distillery reopening in 1959
- Gordon Motion, The Famous Grouse Master Blender, noses around 600 samples per day and it is estimated he has nosed 1.4 million samples since joining the company in 1998, ascending to Master Blender in 2009
When asked about getting cut off or disasters of pipes froze, Ian explained:
“We are not remote here, maybe by London standards but if we ever got cut off we have three weeks supply of ingredients to keep us going. That being said, production is so fine tuned that In fact we would not be able to order in that time as there would be no space to put anything… I’ve been here eighteen years and it hasn’t happened yet…”
Let’s all do the mash.
Once into the mashing room we started to see and feel what made Glenturret different, what made it interesting and how it’s quirkiness lives in the people working there as you see that they are all wrapped up in a smile-laden pride in their differences.
Glenturret is the only remaining hand operated mash in the industry, three lots of water are poured through the mash to break down the sugars whilst preserving the enzymes which will fuel the flavour a few years down the line. As the water is poured in a mashman hand sifts, works and moves the mash around with great difficulty.
Why? Partly for tourism and partly to upkeep traditions of the brand’s forefathers. We hear how it takes longer but at the same time it gets the mash sugar content down to about 0.5% which is less than most others and is wildly consistent across batches, they see a maximum variation of 1% across batches.
There are no computers here, there is a wonderful sense of this capturing distilling as it should be done.
When you walk around The Famous Grouse Experience you cannot help but be struck by how great a celebration of the brand this is. But I will save brand chat for another article soon. Watch this space.
As I mentioned, the general process is the same as anywhere else but the wooden washbacks that run a 96 hour fermentation (industry standard is half that) and the hand turned mash are all in the hope of creating and retaining a point of difference that they can own.
All 6,000 Glenturret casks are matured here, none are stored off site at all, and within the warehouses they have liquid dating back to the 70s.
Something curious about the production setup is that all grain whisky for the blends is produced by North British Distilleries. Nothing odd there, until you learn that it is a 50/50 joint venture with Diageo.
All in all the Glenturret distillery is brilliantly quaint, the passion of the staff is, as with most distilleries, a lovely and heart-warming thing to see and the plans we heard for the future of the brand are only going to help the brand grow and tackle the taste buds of whisky drinkers the world over.
We then took part in a sensorial adventure that tested, teased and humbled… I will save that write up for another time.