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.