Glengoyne Whisky: A taste of tradition

During my fourth visit in Scotland I visited one of the most exquisite and interesting distilleries, Glengoyne where I had a very interesting chat with Robbie Hughes, the Group’s Distillery Manager – by Maria Th. Massoura

How long have you been here?

I have been working with Glengoyne Distillery for the past 14 years. I started as a distillery manager. Now I am group distillery manager, and I am responsible for Glengoyne and Tamdhu whiskies and also Edinburgh Gin. All the production comes to me. I still have a day to day contact with Glengoyne but the distillery manager reports to me. So, I got to make sure that the group has everything it needs, that we always produce the right quality of whiskies and gin.

Apart from all the paperwork, if I asked you what is the most exciting thing that you do, what would it be?

It has to be my trips to Spain, to the city of Jerez to buy the sherry casks. I went recently and bought the butts for 2019. However, I do love just being at the distillery every day.  I have been doing this since I was 18 when I was unloading barrels in a distillery in North Scotland. It kind of spiraled up. After that I became brewer (this is an old title for assistant manager). Eventually I became a manager. Of course, I like making whisky, it’s exciting. I ‘ve done all the stages in the distillery. Most of all, I liked working in the warehouse with all the workers. In general, it is beautiful to produce a single malt, a scotch! It is exciting being part of this industry.

In the year 2018, where does Glengoyne stand in the market, the global and UK one?

We are in the Top 20 in Single Malt whisky and among the big players. Glengoyne is a very small distillery, therefore we can’t make a lot of whisky and so, we cannot compete in terms in volume.

What is the core of Glengoyne whisky’s philosophy?

Glengoyne has been trying for 200 years to have consistent, high quality whiskies. We produce in a very specific, slow way, we do a slow distillation. You can’t speed that up, because you would change Glengoyne. But that’s part of our philosophy. It’s a beautiful whisky, not because of the way we distil. It’s the type of casks we use. All of our whiskies are aged in sherry casks – they have this character. Another thing, it’s all natural colour. We do not add any caramel to the Glengoyne. It comes from the cask.

So, in modern terms, this is a craft distillery.

It’s traditional. There are no computers. It’s two men – the same it was in 1883. We had an upgrade in 1967, so we have been doing it that way for the last 50 years. We ‘ve always had men and women making whisky, so it was like that from generation to generation.  It’s like your mother giving you a recipe, that her mother gave her and you pass it down. We have young people know learning the trade, learning the job from people who have been here for 40 years. And they will pass it on.

Are you planning on adding some technology?

We are not changing anything. There are more efficient ways of doing things. But at the moment we are just going to keep doing what wφe are doing. We are at a good volume, we are doing about 920,000 L of alcohol per year.

Are you going to experiment with Glengoyne Whisky?

We are always looking to experiment with casks, finishes and other types of creation. People want choice. When we bought the distillery in 2003, Glengoyne only had the 10-year-old, the 17 and the 21. Just three whiskies. Over the last 14 years we ‘ve built it up. It is massively bigger than what it was. Last month, we were looking at some Port casks (we already have some PX casks maturing whisky). The problem with experimenting in whisky is that you have to wait a long time. So, if you do get it right you have to wait again! (laughs). It could be at least 10 years and then another 10 years. We always have in mind the next generation of people who are going to work here or the next generation of drinkers. We will try into different kinds of wood, to answer your question, if we think it’s going to work. We wouldn’t do it just for the sake of it. Madeira, PX, Sherry, Ruby ports etc. – these are worth investigating, they are interesting.

What is your opinion of the whisky world these days? The drinkers, the collectors, the societies, the bloggers, the cocktails, the bars.

It’s vibrant! Nobody would have expected for whisky to be in this position – it’s being well planned. Whisky clubs visit the distilleries, they are an important market for us, they will talk about us.

You, the people who work in the whisky industry, are more than ever out there! Tradition versus modern life and technology.

Whisky has been out there for 500 years. It is about finding the balance. You always have the older people who like whisky. You just have to find the younger people to like whisky as well. But that improves. You mentioned whisky cocktails. I was drinking a whisky cocktail the other day in Aberdeen and it was very good. If you had talked to me 10 years ago about whisky cocktails, I would get a bit snobby, a bit protective. But if it’s done well…well if everything is done well, it’s worth it. The cocktail has to compliment the whisky.

How do you drink your whisky?
If I have never tried a whisky before, I will try it neat just to see what’s in there. And then will add just a few drops of water, just to open it up. And if I don’t like it, I will just add ice in it!

Tell me about whisky and…cola!
I suppose you can look at it from a cynical point of view and say “at least they are buying it”. Still though, it’s nice to know that your whisky is being appreciated.

What are the plans for the group, in which Glengoyne is part of?
We are buying another distillery, Rosebank, in the Lowlands. It has been closed since 1993 and tt has been empty since. In 2009 metal thieves got it and stole the copper. So, we are going to knock it down and build a new one.

Will it retain its name?
Yes. We will employ a new manager, and a new team. We are going on a different journey, regarding the philosophy. Perhaps we won’t do the sherry ageing, but do the bourbon- maturing in American oak. Will try also triple distillation instead of double.

Last question. What are your thoughts on the whisky industry, the drinks industry in general, these days?

The industry is now very buoyant. I haven’t’ seen anything like that. Nothing was happening for decades. Now the last 10 years, there is a new distillery built up every 2-3 months.  The drinks industry, gin, beer is mad! And the products are expensive, people have more disposable income to spend on these products. It is a lifestyle. The drinks industry is pushing for that. So, it is a good place to be. Not at all boring!

The interview took place at Glengoyne Distillery, Near Killearn, outside Glasgow, in November 2017. It was followed by a wonderful Glengoyne whisky and handcrafted chocolates pairing!

Pairing a 15yro and a 21yro Glengoyne Whisky with handcrafted chocolates

The range of Glengoyne whisky is imported and distributed in Cyprus by Vassos Eliades Ltd.

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