Category Archives: Glenglassaugh

Glenglassaugh 30yr 55.1% – a true celebratory malt

Speyside region – 55.1%ABV – 70cl Decanter (yes folks, a decanter.) – £390 | €469

I’ll be upfront here.  Many folks out there will not have the chance to try this stuff.  It’s rare and it’s very expensive.  Before you start calling me a Daddy Warbucks I will tell you that I reviewed this dram from a sample.  A big, *BIG* thank you goes out to Alan for the sample!  Cheers He’bro!

Why am I so excited about a bottle I could never afford?  Well, because A) some of you good people out there can swing the squids for a bottle and B) Glenglassaugh is a newly re-opened distillery and if this whisky is any indication as to what we’ll see coming out of their stills & casks, well…  let’s say we should all be excited.

On to the whisky!

On the nose Light & fruity nose filled with a mist of lemons (better yet, Etrog) and white pepper.

A hints of lovely oak to it.  Sweet flowers and Sharpies (black markers).

Honey salted butter (unmelted butter – a fresh stick).

Black licorice.

Sugar cubes and almond oil.

On the mouth Fruity – Apples and berries.

Loads of toffee and burnt tea leaves.

Rose water (oh, I love this!).

This is getting hotter by the second — cayenne and jalepeno notes pop in right as it heats up – brilliant.

Black grapes and cherry skins.

The mouthfeel went from oily and chewy but we go quickly over to thin and hot.

Finish Prickly pears both in taste and feel “prickly” tongue and cheeks.

In sumI am thankful to have had a chance to taste this stuff.  I was only 6 years old when this was distilled.  That aside, there’s a reason this is an award winning whisky.  Powerful and truly enjoyable Scotch whisky!  Another dram to break out for the most special of life cycle events such as the birth of a child, marriage, bar/bat mitzvah (for my heebs out there), Christening (because I’m an equal opportunity whisky lover), etc…

Last month I had the good opportunity to interview Stuart Nickerson (Managing Director of the newly re-opened Glenglassaugh distillery).  If you’ve not yet had a chance to read it, you may want to do so right now.  Part 1 & Part 2

A day in the life of… Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director of the Glenglassaugh Distillery – Part 2 of 2

When we last left Joshua and Stuart, they were knee deep the history of Glenglassaugh, obstacles in progressing sales and awareness of the brand, the many awards won for their 21, 30 & 40 year old whiskies and who was on the Glenglassaugh team and why.  We now move onto other subjects such as “New Make Spirit”, “Full Cask Sales”, “Vegetarianism”, “Desert Island Drams”, “Stuarts creation of the current Highland Park 25yr expression” and “Sleeping Customs Officers, hard at work!”

If you’ve not yet read it and wish to get caught up on part 1 to this interview, click here.

Please join me in the conclusion to last weeks interview with Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director of the newly re-opened Glenglassaugh Distillery:

Joshua: Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz around new make spirit, white dog, moonshine… call it what you will.  Without going into the arguments for or against it, what are your reasons for making your “Spirit Drink That Dare Not Speak It’s Name” new make spirit available for mass consumption?

Stuart: We decided to make our new-make spirit available for two reasons, firstly because our distillery manager, Graham Eunson, and myself, who between us have many years experience of managing malt distilleries, thought that the new-make was outstanding and fruitier than any others that we had come across.

The second reason was that we had a number of enquiries, particularly from European consumers who were interested in trying the spirit and in some cases comparing it with mature Glenglassaugh.

We followed that product up with “The Spirit Drink that blushes to speak its name”, the result of maturing for 6 months in Californian red wine casks and this product really is different. It is red/pink in colour with lots of pear in the nose but a strawberry flavor on the palate. It has been particularly well received by mixologists with several cocktails created using it as a base.

It is the success of these products that has led to extend the range with the forthcoming release of  “Peated”, new-make from peated barley and “Fledgling XB” which is normal new-make allowed to mature for 12 months in a first after bourbon cask.

We have taken on board consumer feedback and reduced bottle size to 200ml and we have also changed the names to make it easier to ask for.

Joshua: There are a few distilleries out there that offer (at least publicly), consumers the ability to buy full casks.  You offer two sizes of cask and two different spirit types (peated, at 30ppm, and non-peated, or, peated to 1ppm of peat).  Can you go into the details of this program?  As a slight aside, and in addition to the previous question, your pricing for this program is remarkable low.  Is there a reason for this?  Was it purposeful? (Dear reader, please note the Glenglassaugh Octave Cask to the right!  This cask belongs to members of my society, Jason of Guid Scotch Drink‘s whisky society… even Gal of Whisky Israel has a share in this baby!)

Stuart: We have two programmes which are different in a number of ways,

(a) The Octave programme is for individuals, whisky clubs, groups and small businesses that want to purchase a cask of whisky which is affordable, will be ready in a relatively short time period (probably around 5 years) and will produce a reasonable number of bottles but not several hundred.

For this programme we fill octave casks, which are around 50 litres with unpeated new-make spirit and the cost is £500.00 which covers all warehousing and insurance costs for up to 7 years maturation. The cost excludes bottling, shipping and duty and more details can be found on our website including an order form and fact sheet. We do have a specific fact sheet for USA customers and will happily email it to anyone who is interested in this programme.

We also fill octaves with peated new make spirit with everything being the same as above except that the cost is £600.00 per octave to reflect the higher malt price.

(b) The second programme is the 250 club membership and this is for people, groups, clubs and businesses that are wishing to buy a larger cask, similar to the ones that are now commonly used throughout the industry. This would be anything from an ex-bourbon barrel at 190 litres to an ex-sherry butt at 500 litres or ex-port pipe at around 600 litres.

Included this time is maturation and insurance for up to 10 years and also the eventual cost of bottling, consequently the cost is much higher starting at £2,500.

I don’t think that our price is any lower than others although the octave price is low at first sight but as I said theses casks are much smaller than other casks. This programme in particular is very successful and we sell much more than we originally anticipated.

Joshua: One thing I try to focus on with my blog is what dram to drink for a particular mood or season.  Will Glenglassaugh approach the release of new whisky expressions in a similar manner?  Do you approach personal consumption in this manner?

Stuart: Regarding Glenglassaugh we already have a range of products for consuming at different times, be that different season, time of the day or mood.

The “Clearac” spirit drink is remarkably fruity and easy drinking and can be consumed at any time while “Blushes” is great with lots of ice, cranberry juice and cream soda (tastes like strawberry ice-cream)

Our “younger” whiskies – those that are only 26 and 37 years old are very complex yet light and fruity with spices and hints of chocolate and are great before a meal or when sitting in company and chatting. I would probably describe them as spring or autumnal whiskies.

The over 40 year olds generally have a bit more sherry and are complex but with much more rich dried fruits, dark chocolate and marzipan and I would describe them as rich fruit cake. Great at the end of an evening or a winter dram.

Joshua: Stuart, you have a long history within the whisky industry.  Can you go into this?  From your start and up until today?

Stuart: The story really starts when I left University back in 1979 (BSc in Chemical Engineering from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh – seems like a lifetime ago (and is)) and started working with a company in Fife who, amongst other things manufactured by-products plants for the whisky industry. This led me to visit Convalmore distillery, Bunnahabhain Distillery, Aultmore Distillery and the Combination of Rothes Distillers (which is a large by-products plant owned by the Rothes distilleries.) So when I saw a job advertised in Dufftown with Arthur Bell & Sons then I jumped at it.

I joined Bells in 1981 as a project engineer and spent the next 3 years with them working at all of their distilleries (Dufftown, Pittyvaich, Blair Atholl, and Inchgower and Bladnoch).

In 1984 I joined Highland Distilleries as distillery manager at Highland Park Distillery and then in 1987 moved to take up the Glenrothes Distillery manager role, still with Highland, and at the same time managed Glenglassaugh which had recently closed but still had an on-site warehousing squad.

I moved to United Distillers ( a forerunner to Diageo) in 1989 and spent 15 months with them as a project manager with responsibility for malt distilleries capital investment. The time spent with them probably says something about how much I enjoyed the role there.

In 1990 the general managers role for Wm Grants at Dufftown became available which included managing Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie and that was my next move. I then spent the next 14 years with Grants, moving to Girvan in 1985 to become general manager of Girvan grain distillery and in 1986 I became Distilleries Director for the group with overall responsibility for all of their distilleries.

I left them at the end of 2004 to start my own consultancy as I had always wanted to run my own business and with my children having left home it seemed the perfect opportunity. In 2006 a new client asked me to carry out on a potential distillery purchase and this chance encounter eventually led to the purchase of Glenglassaugh and my moving into this role.

Joshua: How did you get into whiskies?  Did you have a gateway whisky?  Do you have a story that goes with it?

Stuart: My first experience of whisky was as a young teenager when one of my parents friends stuck a glass in my hand, just before “the bells” on hogmanay and explained that I need a whisky to “see-in the new year” correctly. To be honest it tasted awful and I thought that I would not want to repeat the exercise – ever.

I think that my real introduction was probably through my father who was a lover of Glenfiddich and so I got into malts pretty quickly and even though I appreciate a good blend, and there are plenty around, I have always been more of a single malt man.

Joshua: Stuart, you and I share something, which, I think, is somewhat unique to those involved (in any way) to the whisky industry.  You are a vegetarian.  So am I.  What are your reasons for this and how do you find people react to this news when they first here about it?

Stuart: My reasons were mixed, partly because I didn’t like red meat and found it easier at functions to ask for the vegetarian option, partly because I am against intensive farming of animals, and partly because of health benefits in that I feel much healthier that I did when I ate meat.

The reaction is mixed in that some people readily accept it, others are very surprised and want know why I became one and how I can possibly survive as a vegetarian.  A few treat it almost as a disease and go to extraordinary lengths to explain to a waiter that their friend is this strange creature called a vegetarian who will need careful treatment and should probably be examined in case he turns into a mad ax-man (OK slightly joking there). Finally there are those that want to know a lot more as they are genuinely interested and eat less meat anyway but have not taken the step to try being totally vegetarian.

Generally there has been much more acceptance of vegetarians over the last few years and I  normally don’t have too much of a problem finding something to eat when I am out.

Joshua: What passions, other than whisk(e)y, do you have?

Stuart: I enjoy trying to keep fit, although I don’t seem to have the time that I had before for exercise, but I do enjoy running and more recently walking.

I have always enjoyed sport, only as a spectator these days, and the one that I enjoy most is ice-hockey so I have a subscription to ESPN America just so that I can watch it. I also enjoy football and rugby.

Reading any sort of fiction, especially if it relates to Scotland and lots of different types of music completes the list

Finally the most enjoyable thing is just living and making the most of each day.

Joshua: Do you have a list of Top Drams or perhaps some Desert Island Drams you’d like to share?

Stuart: Having worked in a number of distilleries then I do have a soft spot for all of them, particularly Highland Park which was the first distillery that I managed and also Glenfiddich where I had a lot of input over the years in the changes that occurred and I believe which improved the bottled product.

I do like a whisky which is full of flavour and which is complex and I also like some peat so for me I would want to wait for around 10 years until some of the peated Glenglassaugh is available and from possibly a Sherry cask.

Of the offerings which around today, then I would chose a 10 year old Black Bottle Blend, the 25 year old Highland Park (probably because I made it), Laphroaig Quarter Cask (which I tasted for the first time about a fortnight ago), an old Banff which I also tasted recently and of course top of the list a Glenglassaugh.

We have just chosen the next 40 year old cask which will probably be released just before Christmas and it is absolutely stunning, a real rich fruit cake nose and taste.

Joshua: Without giving out names & places (basically, without getting yourself into any trouble), do you have any funny, interesting or bizarre stories from any of your events/travels that you wish to share?

Stuart: Well it was always interesting in the early 1980’s to watch the brewer and the excise officer going into the warehouses at Dufftown on a Sunday morning. No reason given but we all reckoned that there was some illicit sampling going on there.

Just before I started at Highland Park there was an incident when the two operators who were on night shift decided to visit the local farmers fields and help themselves to some cabbages. Unfortunately they were caught by the local police and ended up staying in jail overnight and the stills were still running. No damage to the spirit or plant and no arrests but plenty of red faces.

There was the time in 1980 when I hadn’t joined the industry but was helping to commission a by-products plant in Rothes and I was on the night shift. A new operator came on and offered me some  lemonade from his bottle. As I was working in a hot environment and so was extremely thirsty I gulped down as much as I could – it proved to be an interesting introduction to full strength new make spirit illicitly obtained from Glen Grant!

In Barbados when I was visiting a rum distillery I managed to take a photograph of a customs officer who had fallen asleep in the filling store.

There was an incident in Islay in the 1980’s when a distillery manager thought that something suspicious was taking place overnight and so locked his brewer into a cupboard in the operators rest room so that he could spy on the men.

Joshua: Lastly, if you had a message or lesson to give people who are just getting into whiskies, what would that be?

Stuart: Well I suppose there are a number of messages that I would suggest;

  • Try a number of whiskies before you decide what you prefer as there is so much diversity
  • listen to what whisky writers/tasters say but make up your own mind as each person’s taste is different
  • Drink whisky the way that you like it and not as others tell you that it should be drunk
  • Keep trying different whiskies, talking to different people, reading about the subject and visiting events – it is a great industry with lots of helpful people who are only too happy to pass on their thoughts
  • Finally, keep an open mind and try to enjoy every dram but don’t criticise the ones that you don’t like, because someone else probably does like them!



If you’ve not yet read it and wish to get caught up on part 1 to this interview, click here.

A day in the life of… Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director of the Glenglassaugh Distillery – Part 1 of 2

And now for the third installation to my interview series.  As you may or may not know, I’ve decided to start this series of interviews to help demystify some of the many aspects of the whisk(e)y industry.  Who makes it, how they do it, how they got into it, how to they sell, promote it, market it, etc…  While this series is called “A Day in the Life”, it will focus on more than a day in the life of a Cooper, Sales Person, Ambassador, Master Blender, Independent reviewer/critic, etc…  Also, I will try to get a little personal (without making said person blush).

My third interviewee is Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director of the newly re-opened (2008) Glenglassaugh distillery.

Stuart, thank you SO MUCH for agreeing to be interviewed, for your great answers and the depth with which you went into!

Stuart has provided me (and you) with so much information here, I thought it’d be best to break the interview into two part.  Stay tuned for part two to be posted a week from today.  Mark your calendars for Thursday, July 15th, 2010 – part deux to my interview with Stuart Nickerson.  Until then, let part one of this great interview begin:

Joshua: Stuart, Glenglassaugh is a newly re-opened distillery (thankfully!).  Can you explain the history and reasons for it’s initial mothballing and the impetus for the re-opening?  Additionally, how did you become involved in the process?

Stuart: The distillery dates back to 1875 and was founded by James Moir who was a local philanthropist, he was also involved in bringing the telegraph and the train to the town and donated sums of money to local causes as well as gifting the town hall. After his death and the death of one of his two nephews who had helped to start the distillery, it was sold by the remaining nephew in 1892 to Robertson & Baxter who immediately sold it to Highland Distilleries for £15,000 (an increase of £5,000 over the purchase price)

Highland owned it ever since until 2008. They closed it in 1907 and it remained silent until 1959 when a new distillery was built on the site, making use of only one of the original malting buildings (for malt storage) and one of the original warehouses as well as a couple of the cottages for workers.

Following the re-build in 1959 it was opened in 1960 primarily to make a blending malt for the growing blends which were owned or managed by Highland, these include Cutty Sark, Lang’s Supreme and The Famous Grouse. However Glenglassaugh is complex Highland Whisky made from hard water with distinctive fruity aroma and taste rather than a light floral Speyside which is what Highland were looking for and which was already being produced at Glenrothes and Tamdhu. Highland tried in a number of ways to change the spirit, they increased the size of the spirit still, tried using water taken from Glenrothes and finally installed a water softner. None of this worked and so they closed the distillery in 1986 and instead they expanded Glenrothes. From their position this the best position for their business plan.

At the same time I was employed as Distillery Manager of Highland Park Distillery which was also owned by Highland. All the distillery managers were aware of the high quality of Glenglassaugh and enjoyed a dram of it. In 1987 I was asked to become Glenrothes Distillery Manager and at the same time Manger of the Glenglassaugh site which has a fairly large warehouse.

Fast forward to 2004 when I was keen to set-up my own business and left Wm Grant & Sons after 14 years, the last 9 of these as Distilleries Director. In 2006 I was asked by a group of investors to carry out due diligence on 2 malt distilleries which were operating and up for sale. For various reasons neither of these sales were concluded and I was then asked to find a distillery which they could buy and I had 3 criteria (1) It had to have heritage and so could not be a new-build (2) It had to be produce high quality whisky, and (3) it should have stocks.

I looked at what was available and several distilleries were considered and rejected for a number of reasons before I approached Edrington (who now owned Highland) and enquired about the availability of Glenglassaugh. They agreed in principle to the sale and there then followed a period of due diligence and creating the business plan before everything was accepted and we eventually took ownership on 29th February 2008.

During this period of time the shareholders asked that I stay on and run the business for them. Well it meant given up running my own business but the opportunity to continue what I had only just started, and also moving back to the North-East of Scotland, was too good an opportunity to miss and so I accepted.

Joshua: With the recent addition of Ronnie Routledge, it’s apparent that you are creating quite the strong team to take the distillery to new heights.  Can you give a brief list of who’s on the Glenglassaugh team, what they do and why they were chosen to come aboard?

Stuart: I have always worked with the philosophy that you employ people that are better than you within their field of operation, people that you can work with and people with the attitude and behaviors that fit the business, and for Glenglassaugh that means people that like a challenge, prepared to work outside their comfort zones and understand what it is to make a quality product and deliver all products and services to the best of our ability and to the highest standards.

Distillery Manager is Graham Eunson who started his career at Scapa Distillery, worked for a while at Glendronach and then moved to Glenmorangie where he was manager for 12 years.  (Graham and Stuart shown to the right nosing first run spirit on Dec 4th, 2008)

Ronnie Routledge is Customer Account Manager and joins us from Single Malts Direct/Duncan Taylor where he was retail manager, before that he was retail manager with Gordon & Macphail.

Peter Innes is our Bottling and Logistics Leader and previously worked with Duncan Taylor and Gordon & Macphail in similar positions.

Graeme Morrison is in charge of our warehouses and is ex-Chivas were he ran their Keith filling and warehouses operations. (Graeme Morrison shown to the left filling the first cask on December 16th, 2008)

Alan Willetts is our stillman and is ex-Glenmorangie.

Our other team members Ronnie Laurence, Neil McGarvie and Michelle Slater live locally and are new to the industry. Ronne and Neil are skilled tradesmen who can turn their hand to many things while Michelle shares her time between administration and bottling. We really are a multi-task team who do anything and everything!

Joshua: Currently, with the exception of your younger-than-3-years-old spirit drinks, the only expressions Glenglassaugh offers is a 21yr, 30yr and 40yr bottling.  As I understand it, these whiskies are not only old but they are rare which makes them a bit on the expensive side.  For those not familiar with Glenglassaugh, what can people expect from your whiskies?  Do you have a trademark flavor or flavors to your whiskies?  In essence, what makes Glenglassaugh stand out from a nose/palate/finish standpoint?

Stuart: Our new make spirit is very fruity, likened to “Eau de vie Poir” and these fresh fruits aromas and tastes can come through in the final whiskies but also develop into a medley of boiled fruits and spices with hints of liquorice and dark chocolate. They age extremely well in refilled casks which allow the flavours the time required to develop and marry.

You can find an extensive tasting of Glenglassaugh whiskies including many independent bottling which was carried out in Norway, here:

Joshua: In 2009, Glenglassaugh won 3 medals — two “Quality Awards” (for your 40yr & Cask Strength expressions) and one Gold Medal/Best in Class award.  At just a year into the re-opening of Glenglassaugh, how did this make you feel?  Additionally, how did you go about creating these award winning expressions?

Stuart: As you say we won Gold Medal (best in class) and the trophy for Best Cask Strength Scotch at the International Wine and Spirits Competition for our 30 year old and we also won Gold Medal (best in class) and the trophy for Best 40 year old Scotch Whisky at the same competition. We were also awarded 96 points in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 for our 40 year old and 94 points for our 21 year old and then recently at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition we won a double gold medal for our 21 year old.

These awards have absolutely delighted myself and the rest of the team, it justifies the shareholders decision to buy the distillery and our faith in what we are doing here.

In many ways we are in an enviable position having a stock which consists of mainly excellent whiskies and a number of these are simply outstanding. However we would like even more of them!

We create the single cask whiskies by a rigorous nosing and tasting system which involves everyone in the company in the initial selection process with the final decision coming down to a core of 3 of us. However it doesn’t stop there because we need to know that after the cask has been emptied that the nose and taste are still the same and more importantly we need to check again after bottling and before releasing for sales.

We are fortunate in that I do not believe in chill-filtration or colouring and I believe that all single malts should be bottled at cask-strength so therefore there is less risk of the whisky changing between sampling in the cask and the final bottled sample.

Joshua: When you and I spoke on the phone, you had mentioned that you are currently working on establishing US distributions.  What are the trials and tribulations?  Also, is this for your current offering or for new whiskies as well? (Dear reader, just think, the kids in the picture to the left will be old enough to enjoy Glenglassaugh when they release their 18yr expression!)

Stuart: We have an importer appointed, Purple Valley Imports Inc., but have still to ship any spirit. The biggest frustration is getting our labels approved and then working through the three tier system that is used in the USA and the different ways that it is operated in different states.

Purple Valley will be distributing all of our products which now start with a 26 year old, then “Aged over 30 years” and “Aged over 40 years”. We also have a 200ml triple pack of the three older whiskies (26 year old, 37 year old and 43 year old)

The Spirit Drinks, which are not yet 3 years old, will also be available in 200ml bottles and at 50% abv, these are “Clearac” which is new spirit before it is filled, “Peated” which is also new spirit but it has been produced with peated malt, then there is “Blushes” which is the result of 6 months in Californian red wine barrels and finally “Fledgling XB” which is the result of 12 months maturation in ex-Bourbon barrels.

Joshua: On that same phone conversation you had told me that you basically have the freedom to create what you’d like for the future of the distillery.  This being said, what can we, as consumers, expect for the future of Glenglassaugh and what’s the time frame?

Stuart: Firstly we have been experimenting with different cask types as we are looking to find what casks work best with Glenglassaugh and how the spirit/whisky differs from each type and so over the next 18 months there will be further releases of our Spirit Drinks where the spirit had been maturing for longer and from different cask types.

We will release a 3 year old in 2012 although we have not yet decided from which type of cask(s) this will be. There will probably be further aged releases in future years until the whisky becomes at least 10 year old and eventually our main age will become either a 10 or 12 year old.

In general we are very pleased with all of the maturing new spirit and I am convinced that our policy of buying top quality casks from USA and Europe will be beneficial for the consumer and so ourselves as the whisky is bottled and sold.

Joshua: From the standpoint of the managing director of the Glenglassaugh distillery, what would you say your biggest obstacles are in progressing the sales and awareness of your current and future whiskies?

Stuart: There are really quite a few challenges and they will remain for quite some time although obviously we are working on them all. The first one is the fact that the distillery was shut for 22 years which gives us two headaches, firstly the distillery is relatively unknown because we were shut for so long and so there is an exercise just to raise awareness. Related to this is the fact that Highland never pushed Glenglassaugh and so never developed the brand name, there were a small number of individual releases and a number of independent bottling which meant that we did start with number of people in Europe who were aware of Glenglassaugh and realised the quality of it.

The second issue from the shutdown is the lack of inventory which is younger than 24 years and older than 18 months! This means that our aged whiskies are rare, but thankfully of the highest quality which means that once people have tasted them then we find it easier to sell.

Probably the biggest issues are the same ones which face many small companies, lack of human resources and lack of cash flow. We have plenty of ideas and some fantastic potential projects but with only a small team it means that we can’t do everything that we want to do within the time scale that we would want.

Joshua: Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz around new make spirit, white dog, moonshine… call it what you will.  Without going into the arguments for or against it, what are your reasons for making your “Spirit Drink That Dare Not Speak It’s Name” new make spirit available for mass consumption?

Part 2 to this interview can be found here.