Glenrothes is known today for supplying whisky to two of the most renown Scotch Blended Whiskies. On the 28th of December, 1879 the first droplets of first make left the kettles of the newly-constructed distillery. The project was close to remaining a distant dream, coming close to bankrupcy in the previous year. Help came from an unexpected benefactor, and without it there likely wouldn’t have been a Glenrothes today.
The river Spey has one of its many branches in the outskirts of Rothes of Scotland’s Speyside. For centuries, it has brought fresh drinking water to the small town, that today is the home of no less than four distilleries. The prefix glen is adopted from the Scottish-Gaelic word for valley, due to the final location of the building site. This was where the local crop merchant James Stuart in 1878 decided to set up shop. He had bought another modestly-sized distillery earlier that went by the name Macallan a decade earlier. But now was the time for Rothes to have a new distillery. It was to produce top-shelf, no-nonsense Single Malt Whisky from high quality ingredients. Maturation was to take place in carefully chosen casks, their assembly being closely supervised by local coopers. There was no shortage of qualified workers in the town of Rothes. Patience would be the last ingredient added to create whisky without compromise.
Aided by the help of the bankers Robert Dick and William Grant, it was possible for James Stuart to begin planning. The construction began in an abandoned mill adjacent to the river. This placement granted ample access to one of whiskies base ingredients. Unfortunately, the faith in the English banking system was failing in 1878. There was proof of corruption in the City of Glasgow Bank, leaving traces to the upper management. This escalated into a financial crisis that rippled through the entire kingdom. The timing couldn’t have been worse for realizing the dream of James Stuart. He was forced to draw out of the project and return to Macallan, leaving his two main supporters with a half-done construction project.
“The fire caused the casks to burst like bombs…”
All options were now closed to being exhausted. The financiers – now heavily indebted – had to seek help from any and all in the surrounding area. From the nearby town of Archiestown, Pastor William-Sharp came to the rescue. He was known locally for warning his congregation against the dangers of worldly temptation. In order to meet the immediate demand for work, e had to put his fire and brimstone sermons on hold. The country was on the cups of the crisis of decades and there was a growing need to keep the gears of society going. A man of modest means, the preacher now appealed to all local businessmen. His campaign raised the then astromical sum of £600. Combined with the efforts of Dick and Grant, this was barely enough to finish the Glenrothes distillery.
Despite settling for a smaller facility, a modern state-of-the-art distillery was completed in 1879. Naturally, with an independent water supply and nearby water mill. A large warehouse at the end of its own railway was added for maturation and storage. This made it possible to receieve shipments of barley and send out the full casks for sale. in Glasgow to the south, whisky merchants such as Robertson & Baxter were waiting. They would purchase the finished product for use in various blended whiskies. Ten workers would attend the daily operations. And a decade later, the two owners would become co-founders of Highland Distillers. Despite already having big plans of buying out Macallan, it would be almost another century before Macallan joined the family of distilleries. James Stuarts whisky vision was now a reality, thanks to the stuborn efforts of Robert Dick and William Grant. Glenrothes was ready to enter the new millenium as an established brand name.
March 1922 was the month of disaster when the distillery suffered a warehouse fire. The fire caused the casks to burst like bombs and sent a steady stream of the precious drops into the river. The following day, the local news paper had reported on townsfolk that rushed to the site carrying everything from pots to pans and buckets, desperately attempting to secure their share of the catastrophe. An unusually deperate and thirsty villager showed up unprepared and was seen using his boot. Further down the river, a herd of cows was seen unsteadily staggering back towards the fields after having wet their whistles. But as with all previous crises, Glenrothes persevered though this.
The following year was an important one for Glenrothes, having secured a contract to deliver whisky to the American consumers. They expanded production to meet the demand of the rapidly growing Blended Whisky brand Cutty Sark. It went on to become the best selling Blended Scotch Whisky in the 70’s, ensuring the future of the distillery. The with the introduction of Famous Grouse in the 80’s, the demand for Glenrothes was steadily increasing.
Despite the somewhat modest beginning, Glenrothes remains a very busy place. Work resumes during all four seasons, the halls echoing with the hisses of kettles, whirring industrial mixers and the hammers of coopers that work by time-honed tradition. And you’ll have to be lucky to receive a tour invite. Unlike bigger Scottish distilleries, this one has no visitation center. They don’t give out many tours in this place. What they do is create quality whisky that speaks for itself.
Experience why Glenrothes is in the absolute top of Speyside Single Malt Whisky and why theirs is one of the most popular for use in Blended Scotch Whisky.