Most distilleries in Scotland are situated on fairly open acreage. They might be close to towns and habitation, but they usually have enough large warehouses, winding drives and expansive fields to make them seem set apart. Not Glen Garioch. It’s smack dab in the middle of Oldmeldrum, on the practically named Distillery Road, and well hidden from view of the main road into town. This somewhat cramped arrangement stems from the distillery’s age—founded in 1797, it’s grown up with the village, I suppose.
When I visited, the distillery was in silent season and also undergoing major repairs, so our tour actually showed very little of the facility itself—only an old, unused malting floor with cold kilns and a show warehouse. Despite this, the tour guide was so engaging that I forgot I wasn’t getting to see anything cool. That’s when you know it’s worth the price of admission.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: The name is pronounced “glen geer-ee.” It means “valley of the granary,” a nod to Aberdeenshire’s reputation for producing excellent grains. The name itself comes from the Doric language—an obscure but apparently still spoken dialect of Scots, native to the northeastern part of the country. (See the Nomenclature section in the Wikipedia link for some fascinating etymological commentary.) The visitor areas of the distillery are peppered with colorful Doric phrases, alongside their English translations.
Glen Garioch is the most easterly distillery in Scotland, which makes it all the more puzzling that its casks are filled—and the whisky blended, married and bottled—in Glasgow, where parent company Morrison Bowmore has a large facility. I’m sure, of course, that this makes financial sense for the company, but it feels awfully like a waste of time and resources. The spirit returns to the distillery site for maturation, where four dunnage warehouses hold a total of 11,000 casks.
Morrison Bowmore has owned the distillery and brand since 1970, but in 1994 Suntory (now Beam Suntory) acquired the company. Glen Garioch has gone through silent periods—the most recent of which was in 1995—but has been back online without interruption since 1997. The biggest difference since its earlier days is that the whisky produced there now is unpeated, although with the rising popularity of non-peat-using distilleries putting out peated expressions these days (e.g. Tomatin, AnCnoc, Arran, etc.), I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon see one from Glen Garioch once more.
Fun fact: According to whisky writer Charles MacLean, the name of the single malt is Glen Garioch but the distillery itself is actually Glengarioch, or was, historically. The distillery itself doesn’t appear to make this distinction anymore, however, and like Undiscovered Scotland, I’ve decided to go with the modern orthographical choice.