Whisky Advocate

Guest blog: Book review of “Glenglassaugh”

October 7th, 2010

Note: This the first in a series of regular book reviews, exclusive to WDJK, by Malt Advocate features writer, Jonny McCormick.

I’m in San Francisco to host Whiskyfest. Maybe I will see you there?


Glenglassaugh – A Distillery Reborn by Ian Buxton
 The Angel’s Share (Neil Wilson Publishing, Glasgow) |118 pages

by Jonny McCormick

Many of you will share the same scepticism as I do when it comes to approaching whisky books directly commissioned by a distillery company. However, this newly published history of Glenglassaugh distillery has much to recommend it and this high-quality book could comfortably find a place on the shelf of any single malt lover.  Whilst Ian Buxton (pictured) was Director of Marketing for the Glenglassaugh Distillery Co Ltd during this book’s creation, he has had the access and insight to complement his experience as an author without the end result becoming a glossy marketing endeavour, a process he has described as “semi-detached”.

Glenglassaugh – A Distillery Reborn makes absorbing reading from the early history of distilling in the area around the small settlement of Portsoy, Aberdeenshire and the local accomplishments of Colonel James Moir who had the distillery built in 1875 with typical Victorian vigour through to the recent history of the negotiations into the purchase of the distillery and existing stock in 2008 by the Scaent investment group from Highland Distillers who had mothballed the site in 1986. Buxton keeps the history engaging and informative including quirky asides about characters associated with the distillery.

A chapter is devoted to the major developments and changes of ownership from the late 19th century through to its cyclical periods of activity and closure in the 20th century. This includes contributions from Jim Cryle, Glenglassaugh distillery’s manager in the early 1970s and later The Glenlivet’s Master Distiller, as he recounts how attempts were made to tame this Highland spirit made with hard water from the Fordyce Burn by using soft water from Rothes brought in by tanker along with experimental changes made to distillation to try to create a Glenrothes style malt demanded by the owners of the day.

A short reference chapter on the few official and independent bottlings (backed up with an impressive photographic record) separates the old history from the renaissance as Scaent go shopping for a distillery.

Stuart Nickerson, Managing Director is central to the purchase before overseeing the million pound refurbishment as equipment left dormant for two decades is cleaned, repaired or renewed and replaced in time for that first mash on 24th November 2008.

Throughout the book, but especially at this point, the story comes alive with the accompanying original photographs by sought-after distillery photographer Ian MacIlwain (best known for the captivating Bottled History, see Malt Advocate, Q4 2009). From the dereliction of warehouse and malting floor, the dull sheen of the copper-domed Porteus mash tun to the industry of Forsyth’s men as they breathe life back into the neglected stills, MacIlwain creates studied images worthy of lingering contemplation.

With a nod to his Classic Expressions series, Buxton ends with a colour facsimile of the pamphlet by Alfred Barnard commissioned by Highland Distillers in 1898 where he described his journey to Glenglassaugh, then a mighty powerhouse with a solid reputation, interspersed with historical photographs of the young distillery. Fortunately for Glenglassaugh, there is no longer an end to its story.

10 Responses to “Guest blog: Book review of “Glenglassaugh””

  1. Andre Girard says:

    Got a sample copy of the book from the distillery ambassador and this book is great. Plenty of info and pictures are beautiful. I now need to find a bottle of Glenglassaugh to celebrate the reopening of the distillery with our club’s members.

    Ian MacIlwain book “bttled history” is also a must have for whisky lovers and photographers. Quite expensive book – specially with the shipping price but well worth the price.

  2. Rick Duff says:

    I bought a copy of the book. Was a great read. Was going to purchase from the distillery.. however found copies on eBay with cheap shipping to the USA.

  3. Thomas W says:

    I’m not sure this is a proper review as there is barely any opinion in there.
    Actually, Rick Duffs comment is somehow equally helpful as Johnnie’s rather descriptive, if well written summary.

    However, I think book reviews are a terrific idea!

    • Patrick says:

      Hi Thomas,
      If you want, you can have a look at the review on my website. This book is indeed very well written, gives a comprehensive history of the distillery without going too far in the details.
      I really enjoyed it and I also appreciate that we talk a bit more about the whisky literatutre.

  4. Red_Arremer says:

    I understand your skepticism about corporate sponsored books. I’m currently reading Paterson’s book, Goodness Nose. I was worried that there would be a pro-Maliya bias and I was right– there was. It only came in in the last chapter, though. Most of the book, Paterson really surprised me with his insight and relativelty unbiased view of the whisky game.

    • Thomas W says:

      I also find Richard’s book interesting, even if I felt the “master blender” chapter contained fewer “secrets” than it could have.

      Apart from that, I am currently working on a scientific study, which will include certain quotations of “Goodness nose”, among others. It will be using Richard’s Jura biography… and exclude all the bad reviews on that one. Still got enough 2007 bottled Jura for now! Love that bottling, very rich!

  5. Luke says:

    I met Ian Buxton on Wednesday evening in Mitchell’s Winesellers (Dublin) at the launch of his book ‘101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die’ – a fun little book and a great man to chat to.

    I can’t finish this post without mentioning that at the launch Mitchell’s had very generously opened a bottle each of their special edition Green Spot 10-Year-Old (40%ABV) and Green Spot 12-Year-Old (58%ABV). These were specially selected by Barry Crockett and Billy Leighton in Irish Distillers for Mitchell’s 200th Anniversary – stunning stuff!

  6. B.J. Reed says:

    Any books that highlight the history of distilleries are worth a read and this one sounds like it fits the bill.

    I remember in 2004 going through Ardbeg with Jackie Thomson and there was a room filled with all sorts of papers that had to do with the history of Ardbeg and I asked if they were working with an archivist to make sure that history is not lost. I hope more distilleries will do oral interviews, catalog records and do everything they can to preserve their history.

    • Patrick says:

      I do agree with you, but the problem is that some companies are pretty bad at it, and some have very rich archives, but don’t want to share.
      Talking about Ian Buxton, you might have a look at Dewar’s legacy. The last chapter is rather “promotional”, but the book is very well written and richly illustrated (if still available)

  7. Ian Buxton says:

    Thanks Patrick.
    “The Enduring Legacy of Dewar’s” is indeed still available. have it and it’s also available direct from the publisher
    You might find sellers on eBay also.

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