Visiting Glentauchers Distillery, Chivas’ Centre of Excellence
Situated between Craigellachie and Keith is Glentauchers, just off the A95, nestled into a friendly valley. It is one of many distilleries owned by Chivas, and usually it is not open to the public. Only once a year a small number of visitors are allowed inside Glentauchers.
Glentauchers opens its doors during the Spirit of Speyside Festival, which I’m currently attending. That means that you’ll probably see some more posts about distillery visits in the coming weeks, maybe even in the next few days, depending on how much time I have to write. Either way, something to look forward to, I hope.
It’s immediately obvious that Glentauchers is not equipped to handle visitors. There’s a car park somewhere, but I only recognize it because a few other fellow whisky enthusiasts were already bold enough to park their vehicles there. There’s no signs whatsoever, but after a short walk I notice a few people huddled together inside an office/welcome room.
Waiting inside is Mark Cruickshank. He is Distilleries Manager, plural. At Chivas he is responsible for Longmorn, Strathisla and Glentauchers. I might’ve forgotten a fourth, but three is impressive in and of itself. They call Glentauchers their ‘Centre of Excellence’, Mark explains. It is the only fully manual operated distillery owned by Chivas.
While there are computers inside the distillery, nothing is controlled by the computers. That’s all up to the operators, of which there are two at any given time. When the distillery was in need of refurbishment in 2007, a conscious decision was made to not modernize the distillery. Now it is Chivas’ training distillery, as Glentauchers is where all their operators, warehouse managers and even directors spend time to learn the trade, which explains the nickname.
An interesting part of the distillery, Mark tells, are the former maltings. They’re in the old parts of the distillery – Glentauchers expanded in 1965 – stemming from the late 19th century. Apparently, they are quite the sight to behold, but they’re not part of the tour, since the stairs leading up to them aren’t quite sturdy enough to accommodate a group of people going up them.
Nothing to do about that, so instead our first stop of the tour is, as is generally the case on these types of things, the mill room. Connected to it, and easily spotted, are the grain bins. Ten in all, although only five are in use currently. Since the maltings aren’t active any more, they don’t need as much storage capacity for (malted) barley as they used to.
Currently Glentauchers takes in about 147 tonnes of malted barley in a week. Which sounds like a lot, and actually is a lot, but pales in comparison to Glenlivet, where 1160 tonnes a week is needed to keep the distillery running. In total roughly 4 million liters of alcohol is produced at Glentauchers annually, with the distillery in operation five days a week.
The copper-domed mash tun (which is huge) and the six washbacks (also quite large) are all in the same spacious room. When the current lauter mash tun was installed in 2007, it had the slowest rotating rake in the Scotch whisky industry, completing a revolution every 12 minutes. It was so slow in fact, Mark says, that at times the rake used to stop completely – an issue that since has been fixed.
The washbacks hold up to 56,000 liter of wort each. Liquid Kerry yeast (330 liters) is added after about 2,500 liters is filled into a washback, but only after the temperature is checked – any higher than 16 to 18 degrees Celsius and the fermentation might not be optimal.
Fermentation time at Glentauchers ranges from fairly short (56 hours) to fairly long (approximately 106 hours). Half of the work week a short fermentation is employed. Since no one works at the weekend to empty the wash backs, that’s when the fermentation becomes quite lengthy. After distillation all spirit is blended together, so the different fermentation times balance each other out.
It’s a this point that Mark fishes out some wash (or beer, whatever you want) out of a washback that had been fermenting for about 44 hours up until that point. The wash was supremely nutty at that point, and I suspect the fruity compounds hadn’t yet fully formed, as they tend to arrive a little later on during fermentation (if I remember correctly).
Entering the Glentauchers still house is an experience. You travel across a small walkway that spans the length of the room, and is actually pretty high up. You watch the six copper pot stills from atop the shell-and-tube condensers, with the hilly countryside of Speyside stretching out behind them. It’s a beautiful view, in large part because of the unique vantage point. I wasn’t allowed to take a picture up there, sorry about that.
One thing (or two things actually) that immediately catches your eye in the still house, is a duo of big stainless steel tanks propped up behind the pot stills. As Glentauchers doesn’t really have enough washbacks, Mark tells, the wash is pumped into the tanks before it goes into the wash stills. As a side effect of this, the yeast receives a bit of a kick start because the temperature in the still house is very high. It undoubtedly has an effect on the final spirit.
We ended the tour where we started it, in the office/welcome room, where a dram of 11 year old Glentauchers was poured for everyone. Heavily sherried, to the point that it was almost obscene, especially since it was bottled at 64.1 percent also. Not quite my style, but it went down well among my fellow participants.
I never really had much feel for Glentauchers. It doesn’t have much of a single malt presence (although Mark hinted that might chance in the near future), and mostly produces spirit for blends. However, after my visit, seeing how fond Mark was of the distillery, and experiencing Glentauchers myself, I can certainly see myself exploring more independent bottlings from this Speysider. Looking forward to it, actually.
Thijs is a spirits writer and accredited liquorist from The Netherlands. He runs the blog Words of Whisky and contributes to a number of Dutch and international publications.