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Glen Garioch distillery

The Glen Garioch distillery is on the Oldmeldrum border and is connected by a narrow road to Aberdeen and Banff. The two founders, John & Alexander Manson, chose the location very deliberately because the ‘Valley of the Garioch’ region was known for the best barley in the country.


The standards include the Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve (NAS) and the Glen Garioch 12 years - both single malts are matured in a combination of bourbon & sherry casks are well worth exploring.

The Glen Garioch 15 years Sherry Caskis fully matured in Spanish sherry barrels. The Glen Garioch Virgin Oak is a NAS bottling matured in new, unused American oak barrels. The Highland distillery also relies on vintage bottlings that currently date back to 1978. The editions up to 1995 still have the old, smoky character.


Even at the time of its founding the nearby town of Old Medrum was considered the ‘granary of Aberdeenshire’ , the barley grown here is still considered first class. The water comes from a source near the distillery and is said to be particularly mineralic contributing to the variety of flavors in Glen Garioch’s whiskies.

The long Lyne arm that leads across the distillation room to the condensers is particularly unusual. This longer path cause more copper contact and results in a lighter, fruity flavour for the freshly produced spirits.

Until 1995, the barley was dried over peat in its own malthouse, which gave the whiskies a strikingly smoky character. Today the malt floors are closed and Glen Garioch follows a different style, only occasionally peaty whiskies are produced. All malts in the distillery are non-chill-filtered whiskies.


Possibly the oldest distillery in Scotland, though that remains to be verified accounts of the distilleries foundation stretch further back that the 1797 claimed on todays bottles. The first reports in 1785 of alcohol production on the site, found in the Aberdeen Journal, are unclear. They may refer to a previous distillery and brewery on which the present distillery was built.

Between garbled accounts and the distillery changing hands repeatedly over this period it’s hard to be sure exactly what happened until 1837. By all accounts 1837 saw John Mason and Co. the owners of the now lost Strathmeldrum distillery buy Glan Garioch which by that point was outputting 10,000 gallons per year.

The distillery was expanded with new buildings in 1860s and with new stills in 1984. By the time of Alfred Barnard’s visit in 1885/86 the distillery was under the ownership of J.G. Thomson & Co. of Leith and had an annual output is 50,000 gallons

It was around this time in 1877 that Distillery Company Limited (DCL) was founded creating a stranglehold on Scottish grain whisky. Seeking indepdence from DCL a group of merchants and blenders including Andrew Usher, John Crabbie and William Sanderson founded North British (NB) grain distillery, at this time William Sanderson & Sons bought a 50% share in Glen Garioch using it as the backbone of a number of blends including the hugely successful Vat 69.

Alas it was not to be, between the Pattison scandal, punative tax increases and two world wars this independance could not be sustained. Eventually in 1937 Glen Garioch was brought into the DCL family under the guise of their Scotch Malt Distillers Ltd subsidiary (SMD). During the Second World War, production was cut by two thirds in 1939 and ceased entirely in 1943/44. Even after the war there was still a shortage of grain in Scotland and it was not until 1960/61 that production could be raised to pre-war level.

SMD ultimately decomissioned the distillery due to production limits and water shortages in 1968. In 1970 Glen Garioch was then sold to Stanley P. Morrison, who owned the Bowmore distillery at the time. Production resumed and, in 1972, Joe Hughes was appointed manager and tasked with finding a new water source in the area. That source found on a nearby farm was called ‘The silent spring of Coutens Farm’ reportedly discovered by a water diviner.

Bought and revived by Stanley P Morrison Ltd which would later become Morrison Bowmore Distillers the distillery was expanded and becomes the first distillery to shift to North Sea Gas fired stills. Until 1995, the barley was dried over peat in its own malthouse.

In the 1970s, due to the high energy costs, a heat recovery system was introduced which salvaged enough waste heat to two acres of greenhouses. With this extremely innovative idea, the distillery also became well known for growing tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and pumpkins. This line of business was pursued until 1993.

Two years later the distillery closed again as the group and thus distillery passed into Suntory’s ownership. It was later revived as a non-peated distillery. The final peated offering was the Glen Garioch Vintage 95 unfortunately hard to come by, but well worth trying if you get the chance.

Glen Garioch factsheet

Name Pronounced AKA Region Country of Origin
Glen Garioch glen geer*ay Old Meldrum Highlands Scotland
Status Active Whisky Type Website Tours Available
Active 1797 - Present Malt Glen Garioch Not Available
Manager Distiller Blender Owned by Parent Group
Rachel Barrie Morrison Bowmore Distillers

Glen Garioch Timeline:

1794: A reference is made by Rev Thomas Tait to a 'lately established' distillery and brewery in Old Meldrum (found in the Statistical account of Scotland)

1797: The distillery is founded (accounts vary by as to who built the distillery)

1837: John Mason and Co. the owners of the now lost Strathmeldrum distillery buy Glan Garioch

1884: The distillery is sold to J.G. Thompson & Co. the Leith wine & spirit merchants

1885: Or possible 1886 is visited by Alfred Barnard

1886: William Sanderson & Sons a blender from Leith, and then part owner of the pending North British distillery buys a 50% share in Glen Garioch and the spirit becomes a central component of Vat 69

1901: A new kiln with twin pagoda similar to that designed by Charles Doig is installed

1908: William Sanderson dies and is suceeded by his son William Mark Sanderson

1921: William Mark Sanderson and his partners take 100% share in the distillery

1933: In a takeover in all but name Booth's Distillers Ltd merges Glen Garioch into their fold of Northern distilleries

1937: Booth's Distillers Ltd itself is taken over by Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) and managed under their Scotch Malt Distillers Ltd subsidiary

1939: The distillery was closed for the duration of the Second World War

1968: Decommisioned and closed due to 'chronic water shortages'

1970: SMD sells the distillery to Stanley P Morrison Ltd who restarts production

1973: Glen Garioch is first bottles as a single malt

1977: Heat from distillation is used to warm greenhouses in which a variety of flowers and tomatoes are grown

1978: A third still is added and the distillery introduces floor maltings

1982: Glen Garioch becomes the first distillery to shift to North Sea Gas fired stills

1987: Stanley P Morrison Ltd changes the company’s name to Morrison Bowmore Distillers

1989: Japanese distiller Suntory buys a 35% stake in Morrison Bowmore Distillers

1994: Suntory completely takes over Morrison Bowmore Distillers and the distilleries floor maltings are stopped

1995: Glen Garioch releases its final ever peated malt Vintage 95 and temporarily ceases production

1997: The distillery resumes production switching too 100% unpeated malt from November 1997

2009: The standard range is relaunched

2013: The distillery releases Virgin Oak

Useful Glen Garioch links:

Glen Garioch at MaltMadness

Glen Garioch at MasterOfMalts

Glen Garioch at WhiskyExhange

Glen Garioch at WhiskyPortal

Glen Garioch at Whiskybase

Glen Garioch at Wikipedia

Glen Garioch at Wormtub

Interesting Glen Garioch links:

Alfred Barnard on 'Glengarioch'

Glen Garioch at Whiskys.co.uk

Ian Buxton - A Survivor

J G Thomson & Co Ltd, Leith

John Manson (1762 - 1838)

The Edinburgh Malt Whisky Tour

Vat 69 - Scotlands War

Can I tour Glen Garioch?

No, unfortunately Glen Garioch distillery is not open to the public for tours