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Collection: Glen Ord Distillery

The Last Remaining Distillery in the Black Isle in the Northern Highlands

History of Glen Ord

The Glen Ord Distillery was founded in 1838 in the village of Muir of Ord, about 18 mi (29 km) west by northwest of Inverness on the west end of the Beauly Firth. Its' soil, barley, the sea air and the marvelously soft water that imparts Glen Ord Single Malt Whisky with a “Flavoursome roundness,” which has earned this unique spirit the International Wine and Spirits Competition '94 & '95 Gold Medal for the world’s best single malt and the '96 & '97 Monde Selection Awards. It is known as the “Richer Malt” from the Black Isle in the Northern Highlands.

The history of Glen Ord is entwined with Scottish lore and the MacKenzies of Ord. The distillery was prized by other distillers for its unique characteristics long before becoming available worldwide. Its impressive reputation is firmly established in Scotland - especially among blenders who included Glen Ord to add a premium note to their whiskies. Unlike other single malts, much of Glen Ord’s distinctive flavour profile is due to the distillery’s unique twin water source known locally as “The White Burn” which includes lakes fed by rainfall as well as from spring water.

1838 The MacKenzies of Ord feature largely in the development of the distillery. The family was granted lands in the west of Scotland by King Alexander III as early as 1263. Thomas MacKenzie of Ord inherited the estate in 1820 and set about rejuvenating the area. He leased land for the distillery to be built, as he envisaged an industry where local men could have all-year round employment. It also gave him a ready market for his barley.

There was competition from 9 small licensed distilleries in the area, most being run as co-operatives of 10-12 tenant farmers. The entire barley crop was used for distilling - the quickest means of turning it into cash to pay the rent.There are records of an ale house and meal mill on the Glen Ord site in 1549, the meal mill finally closing in 1958. There was also an extensive piggery, taking advantage of by-products from distilling. The distillery employed 18 people.

The distillery was water-powered by 2 large water wheels driven by water from Loch nam Bonnach and Loch nan Eun. Water for mashing was then taken from the Cuckoo Well and added to the whisky’s distinctive character.

The first licence holders were Robert Johnstone and Donald McLennan, trading as Ord Distillery Company. They both subsequently went bankrupt.

1870 McLennan died and his widow married a bank clerk from Beauly, Alexander MacKenzie, who was put in charge of the business. Around this time, Glen Ord was sold in Singapore, S. Africa and other British Colonies. In 1880, some Glen Ord was being sold as Glen Oran.

1896 The distillery was sold at a price of £15,800 to James Watson & Son, whisky blenders of Dundee. This was their 4th acquisition of a distillery as they were committed to obtaining high quality whisky - sales were principally of blended whiskies, particularly 'Watson's No. 10'.

1917-1919 Glen Ord was closed by government order during the First World War, in the interest of conserving barley for foodstuffs.

1923 Watson’s went into voluntary liquidation. The distillery was sold to Thomas Dewars & Sons of Perth, who amalgamated with the Distillers Company Ltd.

1930 Ord was transferred to the ownership of Scottish Malt Distillers, a subsidiary company of DCL.

1939-1945 Closed again for greater part of Second world war.

1949 Electricity came to Glen Ord, until then the distillery was lit by paraffin lamp.

1958 Meal mill closed and the single malt was sold as Or.

1961 Closure of floor maltings; new Saladin boxes built.

1966 The 2 coal-fired stills increased to 6, all of which were fitted with steam-heated coils.

1968 A large mechanical floor maltings was built beside the distillery to meet the needs of 7 SMD distilleries, however Glen Ord continued to use their own Saladin boxes until 1983.

1985 Guinness take-over. Malt and grain distilling becoming United Distillers Ltd.

1994 Was indeed a pivotal year for Glen Ord whose roots are deeply entwined with Scottish history and lore. Known outside Scotland by only Whisky aficionados, Glen Ord’s reputation begins to flourish. In this year Glen Ord 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky brings home three international awards including the World’s most prestigious spirit award the IWSC Gold Medal, the overall malt whisky category trophy for, “Best Single Malt up to 15 years.” and the title of Malt of the Year 1994-1995.

1997 Guinness and Grand Metropolitan merge to form DIAGEO, with head offices in London.

1998 Glen Ord is recognized and available throughout the world and sought out by those who appreciate unique characteristics of this unique "Whisky from the Black Isle."