SB meets… Gregg Glass, Whyte & Mackay
Gregg Glass, master whisky maker at Scotch producer Whyte & Mackay, discusses upcoming anniversary celebrations for Jura and Fettercairn.
What inspired you to become a distiller?
Growing up in the Black Isle, the heart of whisky-making country, a truly beautiful part of the world across the Cromarty Firth from The Dalmore Distillery, the Scotch whisky industry was a natural avenue to pursue.
I started working at The Dalmore Distillery in an entry-level role and little did I know that I would leave, returning to become the master whisky maker, not only for The Dalmore, but for an incredible collection of distilleries. Importantly, I consider myself fortunate to work with people at every site passionate about what they make and do – creating brilliant whiskies.
Is there anything you’d like to experiment with?
As a whisky maker we look to balance the influence of the cask with the character of the new make spirit. You see that innovation in our recent releases, The Dalmore Luminary No.1, our whisky hand finished in Italian Amarone red wine casks and a unique kintsugi cask created with Japanese mizunara oak, Scottish tay oak and American white oak. We are looking forward to announcing our next landmark release The Dalmore later this year.
For Jura, we have an exciting new release coming soon – just ahead of the 60th anniversary [this year] – which celebrates the energy and prosperity the whisky has brought to our tiny island community on Jura.
For Fettercairn, we are about to celebrate our 200th anniversary next year, with a very exciting programme of whiskies and events to announce. In the meantime, the Warehouse Collection will release its fifth release in the spring, another new perspective on the distinctive tropical style of Fettercairn.
The Scottish Oak Programme is close to my heart. Fettercairn was the birthplace of the programme, and we have whiskies laid down, which are exploring that programme further. I’m really excited about Fettercairn. It may be a hidden gem in the whisky industry, but it is a cracking single malt and our 200th anniversary in 2024 is going to be incredible.
How are plans for Dalmore’s distillery expansion progressing? What will the expansion entail and how will it benefit the brand?
The Dalmore is increasingly scarce, and yet it is experiencing phenomenal demand. That will continue to be the case, even after the development. However, what we recognise is that when the distillery was founded, they sought to reimagine what it was to create an exceptional single malt. That is the vision we have applied to the distillery development.
From a whisky-making perspective it has been fascinating to rediscover (and discover) the intricacies of the distillery itself. Not only the balance between the stills, and how they play together, but the idiosyncratic nature of their design – inside and out. As you would expect, we are committed to retaining every feature that makes The Dalmore unique as we develop our new still house.
The development will retain the intimate character of the site, beautifully located right beside the Cromarty Firth, and we will reimagine the visitor experience in a way that befits The Dalmore’s positioning today, offering a taste of what makes this place, and our whisky, truly special.
What characteristics do you look for when it comes to creating new whiskies?
Simple. Flavour. We say as whisky makers we are flavour-led. We believe that there is a whisky for everyone due to the diversity of flavour characteristics Scotch whisky offers. An innovation may be sparked by a story, a person, a moment in time – but always we are aspiring to create a whisky with fantastic flavour.
What do you have planned for the company’s Whisky Works arm?
We are very proud of what Whisky Works has achieved. Each of the four releases continues to enjoy a warm reception from whisky explorers. I could not possibly comment on our future plans for Whisky Works, yet. Needless to say, I have one or two experiments in mind that may or may not be laid down in cask.
How do you consider sustainability when creating your products?
Scotch whisky makers are connected at the roots. We are passionate about what we make and the place we make it. For us we are committed to make a positive impact, not only to the environment, but the local community too.
We like to make whisky in the right way and support those we work with – from the island community of Jura to the local farmers who form our Fettercairn 200 Club. Through our initiatives, we aim to make the best whiskies we can, in the best possible way. For us sustainability is fundamental, but I would say as whisky makers in Scotland it always has been.
Why did you create the Scottish Oak Programme and what is the next step in the programme?
We announced our Scottish Oak Programme in 2021 with the ultimate aim to help establish the use of native oak as a quality raw material for the wider spirits industry, starting with Scotch.
We want to establish the use of Scottish oak widely among whisky makers while addressing some of the historical challenges around working with Scottish oak – such as porosity, quality, consistency of the wood, and cost versus true value.
I began developing the programme at Whyte & Mackay in 2016, developing partnerships with other organisations, including local landowning estates, sawmills and coopers. We want to support local businesses and craftspeople, through stimulating demand for traditional skills and keeping these skills alive.
We’ve even developed a planting scheme, which has seen 15,000 trees planted across Scotland, including 13,000 at our own Fettercairn Distillery on the site of an ancient forest.
How does Scottish oak compare to other oak you’ve used for whisky making?
We’re still experimenting with Scottish oak and discovering its characteristics across all our distilleries and the single malts we make. Something we have learned is that it influences the whisky comparatively quickly – which is something we will need to manage in a different way to other oak casks we use.
As we’re working closely with the sawmills who create our casks, we can trial how slight differences in the production can affect the whiskies.
To be at the forefront of these experiments is hugely exciting and puts us at the helm of something we believe will become an important part of the whisky – and wider spirits – industry in the years to come.
What will the launch of the Fettercairn 200 Club enable the brand to do?
The Fettercairn 200 Club was launched in June 2022 by Fettercairn, alongside our founding partner Bairds Malt. The partnership works with barley farmers within a 50-mile radius of the distillery and the members have committed to supplying the distillery with 100% of the barley needed to produce Fettercairn single malt whisky.
We want to ensure end-to-end transparency of the highest quality locally-sourced barley as part of our land management vision of the next 100 years. Ultimately, we want to produce our own single-origin single malt whisky.
What has been your biggest achievement in the industry to date?
Hiring our two blenders – Kirsty Hodge and Joe Ricketts. To me, the team is everything. I was quite humbled to be named Distiller of the Year, Scotland at the 2023 Icons of Whisky Awards – that is a testament to the whole team, everyone that has had a hand in the whisky we make.
What more would you like to achieve in your career?
Keep making fantastic whisky. We often say we are in a restless pursuit of the perfect whisky. That is what drives us at Whyte & Mackay as whisky makers.
What are the biggest challenges facing the Scotch industry?
There are global complications and challenges closer to home, such as the proposed restrictions on alcohol advertising in Scotland.
I would hope that we all remember while Scotch whisky is a global success story – and at Whyte & Mackay we are fortunate to enjoy sustained growth – the industry needs support if we are to continue to grow internationally and to invest back at home.
As a whisky maker at Whyte & Mackay, making a positive impact locally is important and part of the magic of each of our five distilleries, and the people that work there.