Glen Ord Distillery – Last Bastion of The Black Isle

Glend Ord Distillery Visitors Centre and gardens. The visitors centre is located in the old warehouses

Glen Ord Distillery History

Glen Ord is one of few distilleries remaining in the region known as The Black Isle, in the Highlands of northern Scotland. The area is oddly named, as it is a peninsula, rather than an island, surrounded on only three sides by the Firths of Cromarty, Moray and Beauly.

The Black Isle is well known for its fertile lands, coated in a rich dark loam (possibly where the area gets its ‘black’ name from). The abundance of grain crops, mainly barley, saw many landowners intent on adding value to it by distillation. The end product could be quite profitable, and a distillery also meant regular work for local inhabitants. The Forbes of Culloden family had established the region’s reputation for quality whisky in 1690 with their Ferintosh distillery (they had five distilleries by 1786), and at one point employed over 1000 workers.

Seeing the same opportunity for employment and use of his barley, in 1838, Thomas Mackenzie joined nine other local licensed operators (and likely several dozen moonshiners) building a distillery on his lands. The site housed a bothy used by smugglers earlier in the century. (1)

Glen Ord was on Alfred Barnard’s grand whisky distillery tour in 1885-1887. He notes there were two old pot stills (one wash one spirit) and a mash tun of 18ft diameter, and a depth of 5ft. The malt houses are likely those that still stand – two divisions 250ft long with a storage capacity of 3000 quarters on the top floor (roughly 38,000 kilograms). The malting floor was underneath and contained Steeps capable of wetting 45 quarters at a time. Heather blossoms were used in addition to peat to dry the barley in the kiln.

This Canmore photo of the distillery from 1974 shows the two malt houses and Pagoda chimneys. The barley was floor malted at Glen Ord until 1961 when Glen Ord installed Saladin Boxes. Saladin Boxes allowed for the mechanical turning of the malted barley, saving labour and time and allowing greater control over the malting process. Surprisingly, Glen Ord distillery did not use the massive Glen Ord malt facility plant next door until 1983, even though other DCL owned distilleries had been using it since its construction in 1968.

Barnard noted eight warehouses at the time of his visit, which held 174,000 gallons of whisky at various ages.

They converted the warehouses into a visitor’s centre in 1994, as the whisky now matures near Glasgow and Fife.

Barnard sampled the 1882 make and found it “very agreeable to the palate” and notes that Glen Ord makes a “pure Highland malt” that is sold principally in Leith (Edinburgh) and London, as well as exported to the colonies, especially Singapore and South Africa. At the time annual spirit production was around 80,000 gallons per annum (363,687 litres).

In 1966 Glen Ord underwent a considerable upgrade. They replaced the two old coal-fired stills with internal steam-heated coil types and increased the total number of stills to six. Subsequently, spirit production rose to an annual output of around 5 million litres.

The most recent upgrade to Glen Ord distillery occurred in 2014 with the addition of a second still house. An additional eight stills were installed, bringing total output to the current volume of 11 million litres per annum (2017).

Getting to Glen Ord Distillery

  • Glen Ord Distillery (57.522076, -4.475789) is approximately 14 miles / 22 km west of Inverness on the opposite side of the Beauly Firth.
  • ScotRail runs trains between Inverness and Muir of Ord station roughly every 40 minutes, with a 1.1 km / 0.7 mi walk onto the distillery. See http://www.travelinescotland.com for more information
  • Buses are also available from Inverness to the Muir Of Ord Pub, 700m from the distillery. See https://www.stagecoachbus.com/ for more details.

What else is nearby

South

North

Also, check out and download our free interactive Scotland Whisky Distillery Map.

Glen Ord Distillery Map

Glen Ord Distillery Tours and Bookings

Tasting + Exhibition Only: £3: A visit to the exhibition, short video and a complimentary dram of Singleton of Glen Ord 12-year-old single malt.

Tasting + Glen Ord Tour: £6: A tour of Glen Ord Distillery, finishing off with a complimentary taste of The Singleton of Glen Ord 12-year-old.

Flavours of Scotland Tasting Tour: £12: Glen Ord tour and tutored nosing and tasting of 3 different whiskies from throughout Scotland.

Singleton of Glen Ord Tasting Tour: £15: Glen Ord tour, tutored tasting of the 12, 15 and 18-year-old Singleton of Glen Ord, and a tasting glass to keep.

Glen Ord Experience Tasting Tour: £25: Extended Glen Ord tour, tutored tasting, sampling directly from two casks of Glen Ord 95 and 99 and a tasting glass to keep. Must be booked in advance.

Grain to Glass Tour: £60: A unique opportunity to see a working Drum Maltings. Followed by a tour of our distillery and a taste of 6 different whiskies. Must be booked in advance.

All tours include a £5 discount voucher redeemable against a 700 ml Single Malt Whisky purchase at the distillery.

Useful Visitor Information

  • Glen Ord Distillery offers all of their tours in French, German, Italian and Spanish. If you would like to do a tour in one of these languages, please contact them on 01463 872 004 or at glen.ord.distillery@diageo.com to book in advance. Transcripts are available in Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.
  • If you’re toying between the Flavours of Scotland Tasting Tour: £12 and the Singleton of Glen Ord Tasting Tour: £15, I recommend the Glen Ord Tasting Tour.  The Glen Ord 15 yo and 18 yo expressions are rather good and well worth a try if you haven’t had them previously. Also, you get a Glen Ord tasting glass to keep that’s well worth the extra £3.
  • For healthy and safety reasons, the distillery does not permit children under eight years old in the production areas.
  • As with all Diageo distilleries, photos are also not allowed in production areas, which is most of the distillery. No, it’s not because they think you’ll try and steal their ideas or equipment design! Ethanol is highly flammable, and electronic equipment poses a potential source of ignition. As such, they’ve implemented a policy on all their sites – no electronic devices to be in use in production areas, or where ethanol is likely to be in higher concentrations (like warehouses).

Glen Ord Distillery Whisky

Glen Ord’s signature whisky, The Singleton of Glen Ord, is sold almost exclusively in Asia.  It is also available at the distillery, and occasionally variations will appear in retail outlets.  We tried and enjoyed the Singleton of Glen Ord 15yo and 18yo, but note, it’s all chill filtered and caramelised.

A lot of Glen Ord’s spirit is sent off for use in Dewars and Johnnie Walker. I recently had the good fortune to try some Glen Ord 1985-95 10-year-old Single Cask bottled by W.M Cadenhead – it is well worth tracking down if you can! It is a lovely light grassy dram. Glen Ord small batch bottlings are hard to come by though. The SMWS bottle Glen Ord under the numeric code 77.

Glen Ord Distillery Images

The distillery is a worthwhile visit as it is quite impressive to see such a high-tech mass production facility (annual production is presently 11 million litres) that still has the feel of an older distillery.  They’ve done a beautiful job of keeping all the sensors and control panels tucked away, unlike some other distilleries I can think of (sorry Glenfarclas but I’m thinking of you here).

The washbacks are timber, and the stills and column condensers shine in all their magnificent copper glory. I’m partial to open topped mash tuns, but that would be impractical for an operation this size.  Glen Ord’s stainless steel behemoth turns over 12,500 tonnes of grist using 56,000 litres of water 42 times a week, and they’re aiming for 50 times a week. The mash tun process results in a clear (not cloudy) wort.

Twenty-two washbacks hold 59,000 litres of wort each and fermentation occurs over three days using a creamed yeast.

There are 14 stills in total at Glen Ord, located across two still houses (8 +6). The stills are run in batches, resulting in a continuous 24/7 production.

The water in the shell and tube condensers is kept hot, so the spirit remains in vapour form for longer and continues reacting with all the copper until the spirit enters the after coolers.

One of the still houses at Glen Ord Distillery.
Glen Ord Distillery established 1838
Glen Ord Distillery Visitors Centre, located in the old warehouses
Glen Ord Distillery Visitors Centre, located in the old warehouses
Glen Ord Distillery Visitors Centre, located in the old warehouses
Glen Ord Distillery Visitors Centre, located in the old warehouses
Glen Ord Distillery Pagoda chimney stacks. In 1983 the malt floors were retired, and Diageo's massive facility next door is now used to malt the barley.
Glen Ord Distillery Pagoda chimney stacks. In 1983 the malt floors were retired, and Diageo's massive facility next door is now used to malt the barley.
The mash tun at Glen Ord Distillery
The mash tun at Glen Ord Distillery holds 12,500 tonne of grist and 56,000 litres of water.
Glen Ord Distillery Washback
Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks, there are 22 in total (across two buildings)
Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks
Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks
View of a Glen Ord Distillery Washback through the mesh floor
Glen Ord Distillery Washback through the mesh floor. Much like an iceberg, the bulk of a washback is hidden beneath the surface
Wide angle close up of lyne arms connecting Glen Ord Stills to Column Condensers
Stills connected by lyne arms into condensers at Glen Ord Distillery (The Singleton of Glen Ord)
Wash still condensers at Glen Ord Distillery
Wash Still Condensers at Glen Ord Distillery - I love the copper tones. These are in the smaller of the two still houses, which contains only three wash stills and three spirit stills. The other still house has eight (4+4), making a total of 14 Stills on site.
Five of the stills at Glen Ord Distillery home of the Singleton whisky
A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery. There are two still houses, with a total of 14 (8 +6) of these lovely copper vessels.
A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery. Seven of eight in this picture
A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery. There are two still houses, with a total of 14 (8 +6) of these lovely copper vessels.
A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery
A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery, home of The Singleton of Glen Ord whisky
Up close and personal with one of the stills at Glen Ord
Up close and personal with one of the stills at Glen Ord

For more images see our Glen Ord Gallery

References & Further Reading

  1. Alfred Barnard, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, 2008 Edition, first published in 1887 by Harpers Weekly Gazette
  2. Glen Ord Distillery History, Malts.com
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