The Glenburgie distillery (also known as Glenburgie-Glenlivet and Glen Burgie / Glenburry)
started producing malt whisky under the name Kilnflat in 1829.
Well, at least that’s the official story - rumour has it that an illicit distillery was founded
almost two decades earlier at the same location in 1810 by one William Paul. For some time,
the 'Glencraig' malt whisky has been produced at Glenburgie as well.
After being closed in or around 1870 it was revived again in 1878 by Charles Kay under
the name Glenburgie. There were other changes in ownership during the 1880's before
Glenburgie was enlarged in 1890. The history of the distillery remained dodgy for four more
decades; it was incorporated as a limited company in 1895, liquidated in 1925 and it finally
went silent from 1927 to 1935. Well, not quite that 'finally', obviously...
The distillery was acquired in the 1930's by Hiram Waker and the company
Gooderham & Worts Ltd. They gave the distillery a new lease on life.
Glenburgie is one of those obscure distilleries that produces a malt whisky that is used almost
exclusively in blends, in this case mostly Ballantine's. Not too interesting so far, is it? But there is
something else that sets Glenburgie apart from most other obscure 'production facilities' in Scotland;
its history with Lomond stills. In 1958 two so-called 'Lomond Stills' were installed. They were used
to produce a special malt under the name 'Glencraig'.
This pair of Lomond stills was removed again in 1981 to make room for a second pair of normal
'neck' stills, so Glencraig was produced for no longer than two decades. You can find some more
background information about the difference between normal 'swan neck' stills and 'Lomond' stills
in chapter 4 of the Beginner's Guide. Vestiges of the original offices and warehouses have survived
the successive reconstructions, but the floor maltings were closed in 1958, just when the new
Lomond stills for the Glencraig whisky were installed.
It seems that Glenburgie itself was temporarily closed in 2000.
Since then, the distillery started producing again and it’s now in full wing again.
Even though bottlings are still quite rare (most of the Glenburgie malt whisky is used for blends
like Ballantine's and Old Smuggler) they are not nearly as rare as Glencraig - the whisky that was
distilled in the 'Lomond Stills' at the premises until 1981. Bottler Gordon & MacPhail has issued
fresh bottlings of Glencraig fairly regularly in the past, but that's likely to decrease.
So, Glencraig was produced for a little over two decades; between 1958 and 1981.
Meanwhile, there had been other changes in ownership. Hiram Walker & Sons (Scotland) Ltd.
that owned Glenburgie since 1937 had evolved into Hiram Walker-Gooderham & Worts Ltd.
over the years. This company was acquired by Allied-Lyons in 1987, and so was Pedro Domecq
a few years later in 1994. Soon afterwards the company began trading as Allied Domecq plc.
Allied Domecq (and therefor the Glenburgie distillery) is owned by Pernod Ricard since 2005.
Water has often been in short supply at Glenburgie.
Attempts were made to find extra sources by sinking boreholes but without any significant
success. There has been an improvement in the situation though - nowadays the cooling water
from the distillation process is retained and pumped back into the distillery dam for continuous
recycling or to the cooling tower for storage. This helps alleviate Glenburgie's water supply
problems and is friendlier for the environment too.
However, the technological progress has also severed some ties to the past...
Glenburgie is located in the ‘Findhorn’ area of Speyside.
The picture at the left shows the old Glenburgie distillery as it was
before it was demolished in 2003. An entirely new complex was
constructed at the same location and equipped with new materials.
Whatever the case, the link between the original Glenburgie distillery and the new one is tenuous at best.
One could argue that an entirely new ‘Glenburgie’ distillery began at this location in 2004.
This brings up an important question: “what makes a distillery?”
Its unique location? A set of buildings? The copper pot stills?
Or is it ultimately nothing more than the company that owns it?
1) Most of the Glenburgie malt whisky is used for
blends like Ballantine's and Old Smuggler.
2) Glenburgie is located not far from Forres and
the village of Alves. The town is famous as the
location of Knock Hill where Macbeth is said to
have met 'the weird sisters'.
6) The Glencraig malt whisky that was produced in the Lomond stills at Glenburgie was named after Willie Craig,
a former production director at Hiram Walker. Because the Glencraig spirit from the Lomond stills had to be kept
apart from the Glenburgie spirit, the distillery had two separate spirit safes and spirit receiving vessels. This was
a fairly unuasual set-up, making Glenburgie one of the few small malt whisky distilleries with double equipment.
7) Glenburgie was totally rebuilt by Allied Distillers in 2003 and 2004 before the distillery was sold to Pernod Ricard.
One might even say that an all new whisky distillery was constructed on the grounds of the old Glenburgie distillery.
Chivas Brothers subsequently expanded Glenburgie further.
4) The malted barley was ground in a Porteous mill
during the 1990's.
5) At the mashing stage, four 'waters' are applied
instead of the usual three - or at least this was the case
in the 1990's. The first water was pumped into the mash tun at 63.5 degrees Celcius.
The second water is added at 95 degrees Celcius and the two final waters raise the temperature to boiling point.
3) Glenburgie was founded in 1829 - but there are
indications that a distillery existed on the site by 1810.
2002 - A 15 years old official bottling of Glenburgie is released.
2005 - Pernod Ricard / Chivas Brothers become the new owners of Glenburgie
through the acquisition of the Allied Domecq drinks conglomerate.
2006 - Two extra stills are installed, bringing the total number of stills to six;
three wash stills and three spirit stills. The maximum production capacity is
increased from 2,800,000 litres of pure alcohol per year to 4,200,000 litres.
2007 - Ballantine’s becomes the second best selling blended whisky in the world,
overtaking J&B. One main ingredient of the Ballantine’s blend is the Glenburgie
malt whisky, which means that a lot of this malt is consumed around the world,
without many of the imbibers even knowing it.
2003 - The old Glenburgie distillery is demolished and construction starts on a brand
new complex. The reconstruction costs more than 4 million GBP. Except for the four
stills, most of the equipment is brand new. The refurbishment is finished in 2004; the
only remaining old building at the distillery is the customs house.
2014 - Because Glenburgie is mostly a blender’s malt whisky, official bottlings
are few and far between. So, it was a very special occasion when Chivas Brothers
annaounced that a new official bottling of Glenburgie would be released. The
whisky was distilled in 1994, so it had reached the ripe old age of 20 years.
The bottling didn’t seem particularly expensive, but owners employed a trick
we’ve seen more often these days: bottling it at 50cl instead of the regular 70cl.
That means you get just two thirds of the amount of whisky you’re used to...
Glenburgie 1989/2012 (52,6%, Maltbarn, ex-Bourbon casks, 115 Bts.)
Nose: Slightly dusty with an oily sweetness. Then more complex fruits emerge that suggest sherry wood.
Passion fruit? Very nice development early on. GREAT development in fact, with lots of complexities.
Glenburgies are quite rare as single malt bottlings, but I'd say this is pretty close to the 'house style'.
Taste: The suggestion of perfume in the flowery, spicy start. Pleasant, but not as impressive as the nose.
Smooth with a particularly dry & cool finish. One of the few whiskies that would suit a hot summer evening.
Score: 86 points - making it the second highest scoring Glenburgie on my list!
Glenburgie 26yo 1983/2010 (54.7%, Signatory Vintage C/S Collection, Hogshead, C#9811, 184 Bts.)
Nose: Initially not very expressive, but it starts to show a faint sweetness after a few minutes. Taugeh?
It mellows out with more air - and then further when I diluted it to +/- 46% ABV. Some spices later on.
Taste: An explosion of passion fruits opens up into a more generic fruity centre. Drinkable at C/S. Bitter finish.
Score: 85 points - this benefits greatly from a splash of water; neat it scored only +/- 82 points.
Glenburgie 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail 'OB', Bottled circa 2004)
Nose: Oily with a hint of antiquity (?). A weird one. Hard boiled egg white. Madeira. Sour cream. Subtle smoke.
Taste: Phew!!! Herbal and very bitter. It loses many points here. This is a malt for sniffing, not for drinking.
Score: 70 points - although I should point out that the nose alone would have put it well in the 80's...
Glenburgie 13yo 1990/2003 (57.9%, Gordon & MacPhail 'Reserve', Cask #12510)
Nose: Loads of lovely sherry notes in the nose. Sweetness and fruits. Recommendable!
Not as sharp as you's expect at this strength. My kind of malt, needless to say.
Taste: Sherry as well, but it's not as obvious as in the nose. All in all very nicely balanced.
Score: 84 points - it lacks that little bit of extra personality it needs to reach the upper 80's.
Glenburgie-Glenlivet 16yo 1985/2001 (59.6%, Cadenhead's, 18.75cl)
Nose: Round & fruity with a solid base. Very pleasant. Classic example of a good malt whisky.
Taste: Potent and malty at c/s, but a little nondescript. One of the better 'MOTR' malts I've tried.
Score: 85 points - I usually like my malts a little more 'opinionated' but this is an excellent malt whisky.
Glenburgie 8yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 1999, 5cl)
Nose: Sweet and creamy at first, with surprising smoke, organics and peat after a while.
After yet some more time it becomes distinctly sherried. Pears? Garlic? A very funny whisky.
Taste: Flat start, but it rounds out quite nicely in the center with malty and nutty notes.
Some smoke as well. Rather unique, actually! I wouldn't call it 'good', but I wasn't bored.
Score: 76 points - sure, it has flaws, but it packs a surprising coastal punch for an 8yo Speysider.
Glenburgie 8yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail 'OB', code IC/DAH, Bottled +/- 1993, 70cl)
Nose: Sweet and fresh, surprisingly expressive at 40%. Menthos? Some 'veggy' notes as well.
Over time 'veggy' evolves in the direction of organics; quite lovely! Vegetal notes remain prominent.
Taste: That's too bad - there's little beneath the smoothness at first. Later burnt coffee bitterness.
A hint of soap perhaps? A little uneven, but definitely not boring. More interesting than I expected.
Score: 77 points - not really my style, but a very enjoyable nose. MUCH better than the 1997 bottling.
Glenburgie 1948-1961/1981 'Special Vatting' (40%, Gordon & MacPhail)
(Series of bottlings released in 1981 to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana).
Nose: Big, sweet and round with pickles and organics. Complex and quite punchy at just 40%.
Taste: the 'antiquity' was very obvious. Some delicate smoke and a fairly bitter finish.
Score: 87 points - in the same range as the scores from the other malt maniacs. If memory serves, this bottle was provided by Australian malt maniac Craig Daniels on our malt whisky trip to Speyside in 2003.
Glenburgie 5yo (40%, OB, Bottled Late 1960's, Italy)
Nose: Apple, hint of beer and chartreuse... Some sweetness, growing lighter and herbal over time.
Taste: A little flat, but pleasant enough. Round, smooth centre, growing woody towards the finish.
Score: 78 points - above average, but not much more. I didn't notice any obvious 'old bottle effect'.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glenburgie malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glenburgie I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glenburgie.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.