Travelling around Scotland on over twenty trips a year I visit a lot of whisky distilleries. Some are not exactly well set up for visitors and others have little to distinguish themselves from the competition. That is certainly not the case with Scotland’s oldest working distillery, Glenturret, which I’ve just headed back to after hearing further changes were afoot.
Glenturret handily lies on the outskirts of the trim Perthshire town of Crieff, hometown of film star Ewan McGregor. If you’ve not heard of this distillery I guarantee that you’ve heard of the famous blend that the owners of Glenturret produce and in which the Glenturret single malt plays a crucial role. The clue is in the ‘famous’ here. I’m talking, of course, of the Famous Grouse.
A distillery was first established in this scenic spot by the Turret Burn in 1775 by John and Hugh Drummond. After turbulent times during US prohibition in the 1920s the distillery was revitalised by whisky enthusiast James Fairlie in the 1950s, who had the foresight of making it a visitor attraction as well as just a distillery.
The visitor experience ramped up a gear in 2002 with the opening of The Famous Grouse Experience, a unique, interactive whisky experience at the spiritual home of the brand. It’s now an award-winning, five star visitor attraction that stacks up against any whisky experience in the country. The Glenturret story is a rich one and is told well both in their visitor centre and on their myriad tours.
My favourite of these is the Warehouse Experience, where you can savour a guided nosing and tasting session in their specially built sample room within the bonded warehouses. I also love their Blending Experience. Here I donned a white lab coat and played around with various single malts and grain whisky to create my very own personal blend. I called it ‘McKelvie’s Madness’ as it was quite a wild creation with more peat that everyone else in the room chose!
On this visit I was intent to move beyond the Famous Grouse blend and delve into the long ignored Glenturret malts that are finally getting pushed this year. One of the things I like about this malt is that the team here follow the same traditions and use many of the same authentic methods and traditional equipment that was used back in 1775. At Glenturret they like to say that their water of life is made ‘By Hand and By Heart’, an artisan process that evolved hundreds of years ago and is still used today.
I’ve long been a fan of Glenturret whisky, a smooth easy drinking fruity malt with a touch of vanilla, but you don’t often see it on sale. There are some things that really set it apart, such as the mashing being done by hand. Our guide demonstrated how labour intensive this is. Then there are the tall stills with a bulbous middle section that together aid its sweetness. Add in too the whisky barrels, which are not broken down and flat packed for shipping. This costs a lot more as they are literally paying to transport it by air, but Glenturret reckon it’s worth it to keep the best of the bourbon and sherry flavours intact.
Glenturret’s relatively under-the-radar status looks set to change this year as they are really pushing a variety of core range single malts including triple wood, sherry and peated expressions. I particularly welcome the latter as I‘m a fan of Islay whiskies with their peaty, smoky notes. During my visit I was also lucky enough to try the brand new Brock Malloy Edition #Cask328, a rare hand crafted limited edition single cask from 1986, which goes on sale this month. Just 240 bottles will be available! Look out for more of these speciality Glenturret releases to come.
They already had a decent restaurant on site at Glenturret, which I had lunch at with my family last time I visited. Things have been ramped up a notch lately here too with local Perthshire foodie company Wild Thyme coming on board for lunch and dinner. I tried dishes off the new menu for dinner and they are nothing short of spectacular. During my dinner I feasted on Shetland halibut marinated in Glenturret single malt and perfectly cooked Perthshire venison. Wild Thyme’s cooking is more Michelin star than visitor centre café.
Stuart Cassells, General Manager at The Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret Distillery, is one of the founders of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and piped for them too, so he knows a thing or two about whisky! He joined me for dinner and he neatly summed up where Glenturret is today and the reasons I’m a big fan of both Glenturret and the distillery.
Proudly pointing back to this most picturesque of distilleries he beams: ‘The original vision of James Fairlie, who rejuvenated Glenturret Distillery in the 1950s, was to preserve the traditional art of making whisky and this is something that I believe we need to maintain and celebrate. Today, Glenturret Distillery continues to showcase traditional methods of whisky production, crafted By Hand and By Heart, which offer an authenticity that is rare.’
Would you like to visit The Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret Distillery for yourself? Then click here to enter our competition to win a Warehouse Experience for two which includes a fascinating distillery tour, a taste of four fine whiskies and a magical peek at hundreds of sleeping casks in the distillery’s very special warehouse. Follow that with a delicious lunch from Wilde Thyme at Glenturret. The winner will also receive a personalised bottle of Glenturret 10 Year Old to enjoy long after their visit. Complete your trip to Perthshire with a night’s stay at the luxury hotel Crieff Hydro with access to the hotel’s adults-only spa, and a selection of seven places to eat and drink. Inclusive leisure pool, gym, cinema and daily entertainment programme are also on offer.
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