Glen Grant Distillery stands at the northern end of Rothes and is accessible from the roundabout from which the A941 heads up the Glen of Rothes towards Elgin, some ten miles to the north. It is one of four active distilleries in or close to Rothes, and the only one with a visitor centre.
Visitors to Glen Grant Distillery start in the attractively landscaped car park, and from here a short woodland path leads you to the excellent visitor centre. This combines reception, a large tasting area for use at the conclusion of your tour, and a shop in which you can purchase a variety of goods including, of course, the distillery's range of products.
The visitor centre acts as a gateway to all aspects of the distillery and this is where you will start your tour. Every distillery is different and one of the things that sets Glen Grant very clearly apart is the effort made to ensure that there is something here for all the family. Distilleries tend to be adult destinations. At Glen Grant the presence in the glen above the distillery of the superb Glen Grant Garden means that members of the party too young to take part in a distillery tour or not wishing to do so have the option of exploring the garden instead: or, of course, you can visit the garden after your tour. You can read more about the Glen Grant Garden on our feature page about it.
Assuming you are taking the distillery tour, you start by crossing the bridge over the Back Burn, which runs down the glen in which the distillery is set en route to the River Spey. You then explore an exhibition area looking at the story of Glen Grant Distillery, whose centrepiece is a spectacular waistcoat and jacket in Clan Grant tartan.
The distillery tour itself bypasses the milling area, which is home to a fairly standard red Porteus malt mill. You do, of course, get to see the mash tun: strikingly large in light blue with a stainless steal slightly conical top. Moving on, there are ten Oregon pine washbacks in their own large and airy room: this is not one of those distilleries where the process, or the viewing of the process, is constrained by available space. You can find out more about Making Malt Whisky from our series of feature pages showing the stages in the process.
The still house is also generously sized, and your first view of it is from a high level platform at one end, with the eight large stills laid out in alternating pairs of wash and spirit stills down the length of one side of the building. Two aspects of the stills are unique to Glen Grant. The most obvious is the shape of the base of the necks of the wash stills (those with red fixtures and fittings: the spirit stills have light blue fixtures and fittings). These are very broad for some distance before markedly closing in.
More subtle is the fact that the lyne arm carrying the distillate away from each still passes into a short copper cylinder at high level on the inside of the still house wall. You could be forgiven for thinking this is a very short condenser. It isn't: the cylinder attached to each still is actually a purifier, a sort of pre-condenser whose role in life is to ensure that only the exact fraction the distiller is seeking makes it through to the condensers. Other components are allowed to drain from the purifier back into the still. In effect this means that the process could be described as "two and a half times" distillation. The purpose of the purifier is to ensure that the spirit that emerges from the process is as light, clean and crisp as it can be: essential elements in the character of the Glen Grant whisky that will eventually emerge from the maturation process. The actual condensers are located on the outside wall of the still house in a remarkably industrial looking lattice of pipework and walkways that is in fascinating contrast with the rest of the distillery.
The spirit safes are on the other side of the still house from the stills, beyond a low level area from which the furnaces beneath the stills were once stoked with coal. Today the stills are steam heated, though it is interesting to imagine what the still house must have been like during the coal fired era.
The warehouses at Glen Grant Distillery are full of character, and of spirit very, very slowly becoming Scotch whisky, and visitors are able to experience the unmistakable atmosphere and aroma of the warehouse before moving on to an audio visual presentation about a key player in the distillery's development, Major James Grant. Then it is back to the visitor centre for a tasting, before exploring the Glen Grant Garden or visiting the Back Burn View Coffee Shop.
Glen Grant Distillery was the first legal distillery to be established in Rothes and was founded by brothers John and James Grant in 1840. With the River Spey nearby, a good supply of fresh water from the hills behind, plenty of high quality barley grown in the area, and the seaport of Garmouth (at the time the most important port on the Moray coast) just ten miles away, this seemed an ideal location in which to make whisky, and so it proved. In 1872 control of the distillery passed to the nephew of the founders, Major James Grant. He was an astute businessman, a keen traveller and a great innovator. He introduced the purifiers: and he was the first man in northern Scotland to own a motor car.
Glen Grant Distillery was visited by the author Alfred Barnard when he was researching his definitive book on distilleries between 1885 and 1887. The distillery's entry in "The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom" runs, very unusually, to five pages and includes an engraving showing an aerial view of the site, not much of it immediately recognisable today. Alfred Barnard does, however, talk about "purifiers attached to the head of each still" that sound identical in design to those in use today, though he passes no comment about the shape of the necks of the wash stills.
In 1897 Major James Grant built "Glen Grant No.2" distillery on the opposite side of the main road into Rothes. This was not a great success, being closed from 1902 to 1965, when it was rebuilt as Caperdonich Distillery. It was finally mothballed in 2002. In marked contrast, the original Glen Grant Distillery went from strength to strength, and by the early 1960s its product had become the most popular Scotch whisky in Italy, a claim to fame it retains today. In 1972 Glen Grant became part of The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd., which in turn became part of Seagrams in 1978. In 2006 Glen Grant Distillery's position in the Italian market led to its purchase by the Italian drinks company Campari. The ownership is reflected in the presence of an Italian flag amongst those fluttering close to "Wee Geordie", an original coal fired spirit still now on display in front of the distillery.