Glen Moray’s hidden treasures
When whisky fans thought of Glen Moray in the past, high-quality single malt featuring unique cask experimentation may not have been what first came to mind. Little did they know of what the distillery had in store. Felipe Schrieberg reports for Unfiltered
As recently as 2008, Glen Moray was feeling unloved and considered somewhat surplus to requirements…
Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), the parent company of Glen Moray owner Glenmorangie, decided this particular distillery was not the best fit for its luxury-oriented portfolio.
Glen Moray was known at the time primarily for its budget-friendly whisky of passably good quality, but was regarded as something of a black sheep within the LVMH/Glenmorangie whisky family.
It had to go, and was subsequently sold to the French distilling firm La Martiniquaise. Fast forward 12 years and Glen Moray is now in the process of reinventing itself as a distillery capable not only of turning out delicious, accessible whisky, but also of releasing superb experimental whiskies with unusual maturations. So what triggered this radical and exciting transformation of a distillery that had troubled origins?
Located on the western edge of the Speyside capital of Elgin, Glen Moray sits on what once served as the town gallows. Founded in 1897, more than 100 years after the last execution, it began as a brewery before being converted into a distillery in an attempt to cash in on a whisky boom that, at the time, seemed eternal. (It wasn’t).
Closed in 1910 following the industry-wide Pattison crash, Macdonald and Muir (which evolved into the Glenmorangie company in 1996) bought it up in 1923. Under Macdonald and Muir’s stewardship, Glen Moray doubled the number of stills to four and from 1958 to 1978 ran a Saladin maltings facility that was modern and experimental for the time, until its malting operations were outsourced.
Over time and before it was sold, Glen Moray was slowly pushed to the side of Glenmorangie’s portfolio and was largely left out of the single malt revolution, beyond releasing a few whiskies. However, there were hints of what was to come when, in 1999, the distillery released malts involving maturation in white wine casks – an unusual move within the industry at the time and certainly so for Glen Moray.
LEFT: The SMWS spirits team of Kai Ivalo and Euan Campbell at Glen Moray distillery with global brand ambassador and visitor centre manager Iain Allan
Global brand ambassador and visitor centre manager Iain Allan joined the team in 2005, and he has witnessed how Glen Moray and its whiskies changed over time. “When La Martiniquaise took over, they were looking to develop it into a global brand,” he says.
“So they invested in its visitor centre and upgraded our production. Capacity almost trebled from 2.2 million to 6 million litres over a short time.” The whisky began to change under the watchful eye of then-distillery manager Graham Coull. With increased production – around one-third goes into blends Label 5 and, soon, Cutty Sark – Glen Moray added port, sherry, white wine and even peated bottlings to its budget-friendly Classic single malt range, while modernising older releases through its Heritage range when it was first introduced in 2016.
A single cask programme has also been established as the distillery saw how well independent bottlings of Glen Moray, including those from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, were received by whisky fans.
For Iain, the character of Glen Moray’s spirit is so flexible that it can handle these various cask types without problems.
He credits the distillery’s unusually low stills and lyne arms for its unique profile. “The Glen Moray is a wonderfully versatile spirit,” he says.
“It’s light and fruity. Toffee apple are the key words I’d use to describe it, and it’s also oily, which is where the versatility comes from. That’s why it is very drinkable, even if it’s not matured for a long time.”
TIME TO PLAY
That versatility is an advantage for Dr Kirstie McCallum (pictured), Glen Moray’s recently appointed head of whisky creation. With 20 years’ experience in the industry, she began as a blender for Burns Stewart before she became the master blender for the company in 2015. Following Graham Coull’s departure last year, she stepped into her new role and now determines how Glen Moray’s warehouse stock will be used. She’s been excited by what she’s found so far.
“I was really surprised with the stock, especially in Warehouse 1,” says Kirstie. “Back in the day, when the distillery was owned by Glenmorangie, they had done a lot of experiments at Glen Moray, putting down a lot of different whiskies in unusual casks. So there is a lot to play with. I’m a bit like a kid in a sweetie shop!”
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Like most Scotch whisky distilleries, Glen Moray uses a lot of ex-bourbon casks for maturation, in this case sourced mainly from the Heaven Hill bourbon distillery. However, Glen Moray also has access to high quality port casks from Porto Cruz, which La Martiniquaise also owns, in addition to the large supply of wine, sherry, madeira and other casks already in the warehouse – the legacy of Glenmorangie’s use of Glen Moray as a testing ground.
A delicious recently released 13-year-old whisky matured for its entire life in madeira casks is a successful example of these unusual experiments, as is another bottle featuring maturation in ex-cider casks.
While in the ‘old days’ Glen Moray didn’t have a ready route to market for those unusual whiskies, the situation has changed for the better. Kirstie finds Glen Moray’s now positioned to appeal to a wide market. “There’s a Glen Moray for everybody,” she says. “There’s one for people who are just beginning to get into whisky, for connoisseurs, or anyone in the middle. No matter where in your whisky journey you are, there’s a Glen Moray for you.”
GLEN MORAY FACTS & STATS
Owner: Glen Turner/La Martiniquaise
Stills: 9 (3 wash and 6 spirit)
Wash still: 17,500 litres
Spirit still: 8,000 litres
Washbacks: 50,000 litres
Production capacity: 6 million litres per year
Fermentation: 60 hours
Warehousing: Mix of dunnage and palletised with capacity for 180,000 casks on site