One of the oldest operating distilleries in Scotland – and its most easterly – Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery in the ancient Doric dialect still spoken in these parts) has been making its mighty malt in the quaint and historic market town of Oldmeldrum, near Aberdeen in North East Scotland, ever since it was opened 1797 by founders and brothers John & Alexander Manson.
Curiously, the distillery was originally named ‘Glengarioch’, but its single malt scotch whisky has long been known as ‘Glen Garioch’. At the same time, ‘Oldmeldrum’ was formerly ‘Old Meldrum’. Why this should be is still a mystery.
With an abundance of golden barley and fresh spring water, not to mention the motto ‘Mean, speak and do well’, the quaint and historic market town of Oldmeldrum provides a natural setting for a distillery that only bottles its best whisky, and only then at the very peak of perfection.
Old Meldrum itself derives from the Gaelic Meal-drum, meaning ‘a ridge’, which describes its situation perfectly, overlooking the rolling country of the Garioch.
The distillery, which originally incorporated a brewery as well, stands on the very edge of the town, with a narrow lane connecting it to the main road between Aberdeen and Banff. The Manson brothers who founded it came from farming stock, and were respected members of the local community. Other members of the family were merchants and tanners, and an uncle had been a vintner in Oldmeldrum.
Glen Garioch Distillery remained in the ownership of ‘John Manson & Company’ until 1884, when it was bought by a firm of wine and spirits merchants from Leith, JG Thomson & Co. Two years later, they were joined by fellow Leither, William Sanderson, who had recently been elected managing director of ‘the largest distillery in the world’ – North British, in Edinburgh.
William Sanderson was one of the most influential figures in the whisky trade. The son of a wine and spirits merchant, he set up his own business in 1863 and, in July 1882, launched VAT 69 (according to tradition, he selected this cask from among 100 others, with a group of friends). Glen Garioch became the heart malt for this famous blend, contributing to the accolade bestowed by The War Office Times and Naval Review as "the finest whisky sold at the present time".
Shielded from the world’s prying eyes, deep in the fertile ‘Granary of Aberdeenshire’, and only ever produced in small, precious batches, Glen Garioch is a rare find indeed, but warmly appreciated by those who like a hearty Highland malt, non chill-filtered as nature intended, with a wholesome maltiness, honeyed sweetness and delicious creamy texture to savor.