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[KRÖNIKA] John L S Grant är whiskymakare i femte generationen på Glenfarclas. Ett av Skottlands sista oberoende destillerier som fortfarande drivs av grundarfamiljen. Här berättar han om familjens slit och framgångar genom åren. Från Pattison-kraschens praktsmäll över superfillingkontraktet med Chivas som möjliggjorde expansion till återtåget för den egna singelmalten.
 
8-9 december 2007 kommer sonen George S Grant till Sverige för att prova 43 årgångar Glenfarclas med Henrik Aflodal. En unik whiskyhändelse, ingen annanstans i världen serveras alla Family Casks i ett svep. Klicka för info>>
 
A distilling testimony
/PART I
 
We do not know exactly when distilling started at Glenfarclas. As I’m sure you are aware, this is a common problem in Scotland because, for a long period of time, excessive taxation drove whisky production underground. Today many distilleries are built on the same spot as the original illegal stills.

Our distillery was legally established in 1836, although a 1791 watercolour suggests that distilling had taken place at Glenfarclas for many years previously. At that time, distilling was very much a part-time activity on Highland farms; in our case, Rechlerich Farm, a tenancy on the Ballindalloch Estate. My family’s involvement with Glenfarclas began in 1865, when my great great grandfather, John Grant, acquired the tenancy for Rechlerich. As part of the transaction, he bought the distillery for £511 and 19s – a substantial amount at the time, but less than half the


Johns farbror John Peter Grant (vä), farfar
George Grant och hans far George S Grant.

total purchase price. John was a farmer, not a distiller, so it was the land, the farm buildings, machinery and mill which interested him.
Over time, of course, distilling became a more important part of the family’s activities, although we still continued to farm until the late 1980s.

The 1890s marked a period of rapid growth in the whisky trade so, in a bid to generate additional capital to invest in the distillery my grandfather, George, and his brother formed a partnership with Leith-based blenders Pattison, Elder & Co. The partnership did not last long. The Pattisons were brilliant marketers, but not so good accountants. In 1898, they went bankrupt, leaving my grandfather with severe debts. He vowed never to involve outside investors again. The Spirit of Independence was born.

The first half of the 20th century was not the easiest period in our history. Debts from the Pattison crash still had to be repaid, distilling was restricted during the World Wars, and Prohibition in the US hit hard. On the positive side, when the lease from Ballindalloch Estate expired in 1930, my grandfather purchased the freehold for Glenfarclas outright. We ceased to be tenants.

A brighter future – 1950s
The 1950s were good for Glenfarclas. The repeal of the 1880 Spirits Act, which had prohibited simultaneous mashing and distilling (primarily for the convenience of excise men), effectively doubled capacity. Along with the relaxation of barley rationing, it allowed production to increase significantly. So perhaps it’s no surprise that our oldest stocks are from this period.
 
With increased production came further investment, and four new distillery houses were completed at Glenfarclas in 1955. However, the whole industry was experiencing similar growth. Mothballed distilleries were reopened and whisky production reached new levels; all with one inevitable consequence – the filling price began to fall. In 1952, the market filling price was 16 shillings per original proof gallon. It was the mid-1960s before the price returned to this high level.


Jimmy Hill på väg hem från Ben Rinnes med ett torvlass, tidigt 1950-tal. Glenfarclas första pensionär 1968.


One of my earliest memories came in 1954 when, aged three, I came home to discover my father had painted the warehouse doors at Glenfarclas bright signal red. They’ve been that way ever since; familiar to all who visit the distillery.
In 1958, there was an even more radical event at Glenfarclas – the appointment of our first female member of staff, Maureen Greig. It was a sign of the times; further emphasised when we decided to take a Christmas holiday for the first time. As a result, our last Christmas Day filling is from 25th December, 1959.

Boom Times – 1960s
If the 1950s had been good, the start of the next decade promised to be even better. In 1960, we produced more than double what we produced in 1952, leading to the addition of a second set of stills at the distillery. Increased production also meant we needed more water so, in 1961, a new pipeline was laid on Ben Rinnes to feed water into the Green Burn, our traditional supply.


George Grant utbringar en
Haggis-skål i Lyon 1966.

Sales were so good, we simply couldn’t keep up with demand and, in 1961, my father found himself in the unusual position of having to ration the sale of new-make Glenfarclas to the blenders. Our first exports of Glenfarclas 12 Years Old went to Switzerland in 1962, to the US in 1963 and West Germany in 1964.
During that time, my father established the Grant Bonding Company to bottle Glenfarclas under bond for export. However, it wasn’t until 1965 that permission was finally granted by HM Customs and Excise to do so at the company’s Elgin warehouse. Shortly afterwards, my father sold a 50 per cent share in Grant Bonding to the brokers and blenders, Gordon & McPhail.


It was a time of change, and the closure of the Speyside Railway meant all coal and barley was subsequently delivered by road. And it was also a time of sadness, with the death in 1965 of distillery manager William Strathdee – after 43
years’ service. This loyal service is by no means unique. On Boxing Day, 1966, Annette Tweedie joined Glenfarclas as a clerkess and followed in the footsteps of her grandfather, father, uncles and cousins, who had all worked for the distillery.
Indeed, with Annette only now planning to retire after 40 years with the company, 2007 will be the first time since 1890 that we won’t have a Stronach, a Thomson or a Tweedie on the payroll.

All these families will remember the uncertainty of 1968, when the Distillers Company Ltd (now Diageo) wrote to my father to advise him that they didn’t plan to fill Glenfarclas in 1969.
Fortunately, they did but this event prompted my father to lay down more stocks for our own bottlings. He anticipated sales of bottled Glenfarclas would be our future. Without that foresight, we would not have been able to release The Family Casks. So, please raise your glass to my father, George S Grant.

White Gold – 1970s
Demand for Glenfarclas continued to increase and, in October 1970, my father was running the distillery with a record 15 mashes each week. However, his cause was not helped by some particularly dry summers. His 1972 diary tells that, due to drought, it was the end of November before the distillery could run at full production after the summer ‘silent season’. No wonder his diary entry for 30th April, 1973 describes a late spring snowfall as ‘white gold’.

With demand for Glenfarclas outstripping supply, my father’s priority at the time was to increase capacity. Therefore, a deal with Chivas Brothers in 1973 could not have come at a better time. Not only was it one of our largest filling orders ever, it was secured for 20 years, allowing my father to press ahead with expansion plans. The malt barns and kiln were converted into an expanded mash house, tun room and mill, and two new stills were added. By 1975, the project was complete – and the capacity of the distillery had been doubled. Despite the high demand, the early 70s presented major challenges. Rapid inflation was playing havoc with the cost of raw materials. The price for malted barley doubled from £57/tonne in 1973 to £114/tonne in 1974. Fuel prices too were soaring and I suspect my father questioned the wisdom of his decision to convert the stills from coal to LPG in 1973 when the price rose from £22.50/tonne to £48.50/tonne within a year.

On 1st July, 1973, we opened the distillery visitor centre, one of the first in the country. We had always welcomed guests but, as interest in distilleries grew and numbers increased, it was becoming impractical for our production staff to look after them. Having a dedicated team to look after our guests (and maybe sell them the odd bottle) was the way forward. Construction of the visitor centre was unconventional to say the least. At auction, my father bought the wooden panels from the first class smoking lounge on the ocean liner, Empress of Australia, and designed the centre around them. Interest in distillery tours, featuring a dram in the ‘ships room’, was exceptional. We had 1000 guests in the first month alone.

In 1974, after three years each with Bank of Scotland and Wm Teacher Distillers Ltd, I joined the family firm. This was all well and good but, at first, it wasn’t entirely clear what I should do! Eventually, after some discussions with my father and a period of learning the ropes, it was agreed that I should concentrate on building sales of our own bottlings. It was a challenge I relished. One of the first distributors I appointed was Mahler-Besse SA in France; they remain our French distributor today.


"Glenfarclas All Malt Whisky" från 1970-talet.


The Grant family tree sprouted another branch when my son, George Stewart, was born on 17th August, 1976 – the sixth generation of Grants at Glenfarclas had arrived.
Another notable arrival was Margaret Thatcher, who visited for lunch and a dram in May 1977. There were no such indulgences for John Miller, who was under the legal drinking age when he joined the company as a cooper in 1978. Fifteen years later, he had worked his way up to Distillery Manager.

-John L S Grant
Chairman Glenfarclas Distillery
 

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Publicerad: 11/7/2007
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