There are two types of whisky distillery in Scotland: ones that produce single malt whiskies and ones that don’t. The first, like The Macallan, Glenfiddich and Bowmore, have strong individual identities and global followings. The latter, don’t. They work quietly in the background, churning out millions of gallons of whisky every year for blends like Johnnie Walker and Chivas Regal. The Glenturret Distillery is making the rare migration from the latter to the former.
Existing in some form since 1763, The Glenturret is the oldest working distillery in Scotland. In that time it has had numerous owners with the latest, the Lalique Group, purchasing it from Edrington (owners of The Macallan and Highland Park) in 2019 in a joint venture with Swiss businessman Hansjörg Wyss.
At the time of purchase, The Glenturret was home to the Famous Grouse Experience. It welcomed a lot of visitors but much of the whisky from its one and only still went straight into the Famous Grouse blend. You could buy a Glenturret single malt, but you’d have to go a long way to get it. The Lalique Group obviously saw something special and appear to have handed over a blank checkbook to develop a brand identity of its own.
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Lalique’s only previous foray into whisky was creating the decanters for the now much-vaunted Six Pillar Series for The Macallan. And there’s no hiding the fact that they’re following the same playbook. First, they brought in Bob Dalgrano as the head whisky maker. Dalgrano had worked in The Macallan cellars for three decades, helping to elevate it to the pinnacle of premium Scotch whisky.
He would have been largely familiar with The Glenturret stocks, which, like The Macallan, are largely formed of sherry-seasoned oak casks. He got straight to work, producing a range of core age statement products from a 10 Year Old to a 30 Year Old in elegantly-redesigned decanters. But a distillery with as long a history as The Glenturret naturally had small parcels of high-aged whisky, and it didn’t take long for the first ultra-luxury product to emerge.
The Glenturret Trinity Series
The Glenturret Trinity is the first ultra-premium series from the distillery. It will, once finished, be formed of three expressions drawn from some of its oldest casks and bottled in specially-designed Lalique decanters. Provenance debuted in 2020 and Prowess followed recently. Next year, Passion will complete the triptych. There will be just 320 bottles of each and you’ll only be able to buy them direct from the distillery’s private client division.
When a distillery releases whiskies as old as these (Provenance and Prowess are both 33 Year Old age statements), it usually speaks to where it has been, but these point more to where The Glenturret is going. The quality of the decanters, the hand-carved presentation box and the price point (Prowess costs approximately $15,000) suggest an ultimate vision of creating a genuine luxury brand.
And the whisky is good too, from the top end right to the bottom. Provenance and Prowess are both well-aged sherry-led whiskies. They are in the age bracket where the wood and the whisky tend to balance in harmony. I’m sure Glenturret could have gone older, but they have chosen a level where both collectors and drinkers will find value for money.
What strikes me more about The Glenturret is that the quality goes right down to the entry level. My visit coincided with the news that its Triple Wood 2022 had won best in show at the IWSC awards, scoring 99 points out of 100. The best whisky in the world, sold for $55 a bottle. And during a long tasting session, the one that stood out most to me was a peated 7 Year Old, an experimental, oddly-aged whisky that danced between smoke and fruit like a charred pineapple skewer at a barbecue.
There is quality and age in the warehouse, but there is also expertise and a license to experiment in the blending room. It’s the kind of freedom that can only come from a company that is not currently concerned with the bottom line.
Destination distillery dining
Aside from the money spent on developing a full core range, the new bottles and the Trinity Collection, The Lalique Group has also invested heavily in making the distillery a luxury destination, pulling in the highly-rated chef Mark Donald from The Balmoral.
Donald, who had only been at The Balmoral for two years before being drawn away, brought most of his team with him. The ambition, even before Donald was hired, was to become the world’s only Michelin-starred whisky distillery.
Call it the French influence, but it took just seven months for Donald to earn the restaurant’s first Michelin star.
The tasting menu, priced at $250 a head, takes inspiration from the surrounding Scottish landscape with locally sourced produce. Highlights include a delicate lobster bisque-it and a homemade sourdough that is made on-site with the same malted barley that goes into the whisky.
The restaurant has just 28 covers, and Friday and Saturday reservations sell out as soon as they become available. It’s telling that Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles, Scotland’s only two-Michelin-star restaurant, is just a 20-minute drive away. Gleneagles will see this restaurant as serious competition.
Speaking to Donald during dinner, he appears to have set his sights on matching it with a second star. Considering how much the Lalique Group, Dalgrano and Donald have achieved in such a small space of time, you wouldn’t bet against them.
For more information on how to purchase The Glenturret Provenance and Prowess, visit theglenturret.com
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