Having devoted most of his working life to Glen Grant, Dennis Malcolm was recognised by the Queen for his providers to Scotch. As he celebrates 60 years in whisky, he tells Melita Kiely what has stored his love for the sector alive.
*This function was initially printed within the July 2021 problem of The Spirits Enterprise journal.
Future is what introduced Dennis Malcolm into the Scotch whisky world, he tells me. Born in a home on the Glen Grant grounds, the place his father and grandfather labored, Malcolm is now celebrating a rare 60 years within the trade – and is the longest-serving grasp distiller within the Scotch sector.
His official whisky profession started on the age of 15, when he began working on the Glen Grant distillery as an apprentice cooper.
“After I began to be an apprentice cooper, you needed to spend 5 years studying your craft to make casks – and I didn’t realise how vital that was going to be for my profession in a while,” Malcolm says. “Then, like all younger individuals, I used to be curious and keen on how the liquid was made that will be put into these casks that I used to make.”
Malcolm then went on to work throughout all of the totally different processes in whisky manufacturing, from malting via to distillation. “I did that for an additional six years to be taught my craft at Glen Grant, then I went right into a administration position in 1971 and have become the manufacturing brewer working the distillery,” Malcolm remembers. “There was me, 25 to 26 years of age working this distillery, which was a improbable factor to have the ability to say.”
In 1979, Malcolm moved to The Glenlivet distillery to work as a distillery supervisor, “and I did that as much as 1983”, when he returned to Glen Grant to run all 5 Seagram distilleries: The Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Longmorn, Caperdonich and Benriach.
“I did that till 1992, when a place grew to become vacant to run all of Chivas’ 9 [malt] distilleries, and that was primarily based at Strathisla distillery,” Malcolm explains. “I had extra distilleries to take care of and construct my expertise, studying how the 9 distilleries all work as a result of they’re all totally different characters.” In 2000, Malcolm moved as soon as once more, this time to Balmanach distillery, a “very conventional distillery like Glen Grant”, hesays. “It was very hands-on; if you happen to needed one thing moved, you needed to transfer it your self, there was no automation.”
However in 2006, “one thing was tugging at my coronary heart”, Malcolm says. That was the yr Campari Group purchased Glen Grant, and the corporate requested Malcolm if he’d return to the place his whisky journey started.
“I didn’t want a blink of an eye fixed to decide; I used to be again as quick as I may as a result of my coronary heart’s Glen Grant,” Malcolm says.
When Malcolm reached the milestone of fifty years within the whisky trade again in 2011, he selected to mark the event with a particular whisky launch: Glen Grant 5 Many years.
“I needed to do one thing actually distinctive,” he explains. “I needed to select a share of each kind of cask that the trade makes use of for maturing [whisky], and mix all of them collectively to present us a singular product. See, my hair is white now – it was black once I began doing that,” Malcolm laughs, by no means one to take himself too critically. “It was a challenge-and-a-half as a result of if you happen to put an excessive amount of of 1 cask in, it dominates the aroma and style, so an excessive amount of Bourbon cask and also you get this toffee, vanilla dominating, however too many elderly Sherry ones, then you’ve got an excessive amount of candy fruit, floral notes.”
A self-confessed perfectionist, Malcolm spent weeks fine-tuning the ultimate recipe.
“Glen Grant strives to be persistently good on a regular basis as a result of now we’ve gone from the barley to the bottle, we management all the things from selecting the uncooked supplies, selecting them, to bottling them, all the things has obtained to be good as a result of if you try this – and we’re the one distillery that bottles 100% of its product on website – you’ve obtained no cowl to cover beneath if one thing’s improper, since you’ve finished it your self.”
With 60 years beneath his belt, as of three April 2021, Malcolm has an extra-special shock for whisky followers up his sleeve to mark the event. Glen Grant will launch a rare 60-year-old limited edition whisky, the oldest and first of its variety within the model’s 181-year historical past.
“Sixty years within the trade – and at Glen Grant – is the most effective you may have as a result of it’s only one extra yr working doing one thing you actually love,” Malcolm enthuses. “With this [whisky] we’ve appeared for one thing particular to make individuals sit up and take discover of Glen Grant; it’s not a combination of many alternative casks. We’ve chosen an excellent single cask, which round about August time we should always be capable to agency up and put into motion,” he explains, tantalisingly preserving additional data to himself for now.
The whisky would be the newest in a protracted line of inventive releases from Glen Grant, which Malcolm is extremely pleased with. He has excessive reward for the distillery’s proprietor, Campari Group, which has “invested closely” because it acquired the corporate in 2006. On the time of the takeover, Glen Grant had three expressions, Malcolm says: a five-year-old, a no-age-statement whisky and a 10-year-old, which was offered on the customer centre.
“Since Campari took over, we’ve got premiumised, and as a substitute of simply having three expressions, we now have 5,” Malcolm explains. “We’ve got a none-aged, a 10-[year-old], a 12, a 15, an 18, and restricted version expressions, just like the a hundred and seventieth anniversary in 2010 to mark 170 years of distilling. Then Aboralis launched final yr to mark 180 years of the distillery, and we did a particular whisky for international journey retail, so we’ve obtained fairly a pleasant collection of expressions now to cater for most individuals’s tastes. That’s purely as a result of Campari needed to premiumise.”
Not solely that, however the dad or mum firm’s funding enabled Glen Grant to double its capability, purchase 11 warehouses with room for 60,000 casks, and enhance Glen Grant’s environmental credentials.
“We truly put in a scorching water restoration system as a result of the surroundings is extraordinarily vital to us, and to each distillery, actually, as a result of the three essential substances to make whisky are water, barley and yeast,” Malcolm says. “In every week, Glen Grant makes use of two million litres of water for manufacturing, water going into the product, and 18m litres for cooling the vapour into liquid. So the recent water restoration system utilises the warmth popping out of the water, and places it again into the plant.”
Malcolm has been hands-on in the course of the growth and upgrading of Glen Grant. “My colleagues came visiting, and we went and brokered the deal to purchase the warehouses, and I used to be advised to get the costings for reroofing, rewiring and checking all the security requirements,” he remembers. “As soon as that was all agreed by the primary board, the hundreds of thousands have been there in my price range and I needed to safe the fabric and the roles inside the price range, and I had a three-year window to do it in.”
The grasp distiller was additionally answerable for Campari’s malts in Brazil in the course of the “early days” of the takeover. Malcolm used to purchase Scottish malt and ship it to Brazil, the place it was distilled at Campari’s distillery to make “pot malts”.
A short journey to go to the distillery is amongst many journey adventures Malcolm has had the privilege to take pleasure in throughout his distinguished whisky profession. One among his most memorable voyages noticed him traverse the US “round 2008/2009”.
“We did a ‘Meet the Masters’ occasion,” Malcolm remembers. “So we had a grasp distiller from Edrington, Suntory and me, few of us, and we went from one facet of America to a different and did masterclasses in speakeasies at evening. It was fantastic to see how different individuals offered and the way the youthful technology have been so keen on what we have been doing and asking inquiries to make us listen. It was good.”
With the journey restrictions caused this previous yr due to the Covid-19 pandemic, like most individuals, Malcolm has not been in a position to enterprise too far – or welcome guests to the distillery. Alongside the years, Malcolm has hosted quite a few well-known names on the distillery, and cites former UK prime minister John Main as considered one of his most memorable visitors in 1996.
“Two or three weeks earlier than he got here, ever so many safety individuals got here [to Strathisla], which is subsequent to the river [Spey],” Malcolm remembers. “It was particular police from London they usually had individuals going into the river, checking it. All the sunshine stands on the street, across the distillery, the covers have been taken off, checked after which sealed. In order that was fairly an affair, having the prime minister coming to see our distillery in Scotland.”
A gathering with royalty
Malcolm has additionally brushed shoulders with royalty at Glen Grant, internet hosting prince Charles for the opening of the Glen Grant bottling plant in 2013. “That was actually improbable,” he says. “He was a really down-to-earth individuals particular person, you may be taught from him. He got here in and had a glance across the plant and the bottling corridor; he requested excellent questions, displaying he was very . And once I went round and launched him to individuals, earlier than I did that he mentioned to me, ‘simply inform me their title, that’s all I would like from you, Dennis’. After which he did all of the questioning after that.”
Even a mighty crash of empty bottles breaking mid-meet-and-greet did little to part the prince of Wales, Malcolm provides. “One of many pallets crashed, and [prince Charles] mentioned ‘that’ll be pricey’, and I mentioned, ‘they’re all empty don’t fear, else it could be’. And we simply needed to snigger – he was sensible at placing individuals comfy.”
In his closing celeb anecdote, Malcolm’s infectious sense of humour shines via.
“A really well-known particular person got here to Glen Grant a few years in the past, and when this woman went again to America, after seeing the gardens and having a drink by the rocks beside the waterfall, she was impressed to document a brand new music, and it went to primary in America and the UK for eight weeks – and have you learnt the music? It was Tina Turner – it’s Merely the Greatest,” he laughs.
“I jokingly say that to individuals, however if you happen to’re at Glen Grant at any time, you’ll always remember it as a result of that is the most effective within the trade,” Malcolm insists.
Enthusiasm and care
His ardour for Glen Grant is unwavering – and this enthusiasm and care trickles via to Malcolm’s local people. Over time, Malcolm has remained lively within the Rothes space, together with serving on the native faculty board, and being appointed a convenor at his native church and as a justice of the peace – “I believed they’d give me a gun as properly, however they didn’t,” he jokes, ever humble about his vital work.
Malcolm’s accomplishments converse for themselves, and in 2016 his contributions to the whisky world have been formally acknowledged when he was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) within the Queen’s Birthday Honours, recognised for his years of service to the enterprise and group in Speyside.
“I used to be fairly stunned to be nominated for that as a result of I’m doing one thing I like,” he says. “So once I was awarded, I took it as recognition for the whisky trade, not simply me. It’s good to see someone within the whisky trade has been recognised and the trade’s being seen.”
He stresses the significance of gratitude for these round you, and people who pave the best way for others to succeed.
“I didn’t get right here by myself; there have been many individuals earlier than me at Glen Grant with a great deal of expertise,” he provides.
“They laid the foundations, sound foundations, and everybody coming after them simply constructed on these foundations. So I had loads of individuals supporting me. And you may’t simply take on a regular basis – you must give again as properly.”