02 Aug By Hand and By Heart Blog – The James Fairlie Legacy
As Scotland’s oldest working distillery, we have a heritage that dates back to 1775. Over the last 240 years a lot has changed at Glenturret; millions of litres of whisky have been produced; stillmen, cats and even a distillery dog have come and gone and the distillery has survived everything from the great depression of the 1830s to the US prohibition in the 1920s.
One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the way we make our single malt, choosing to produce our whisky By Hand and By Heart and the reason we still remain true to our values to this day is down to one man’s legacy, James Fairlie.
So, what does one do when a local whisky distillery has lain empty for several years? Perthshire man and self-proclaimed whisky enthusiast James Fairlie thought only one thing – to revive it to its former glory. In a time of large scale, machine operated production, Fairlie’s vision was quite the opposite – small batch production the traditional way: the way whisky has been lovingly made at Glenturret for nearly two centuries before. His vision? To ‘preserve the craft traditions of malt distilling and develop the appreciation of scotch whisky’.
Fairlie bought Glenturret Distillery in 1957 after it had been empty for over 35 years, by 1960 the first drops of whisky had been filled into casks. Fairlie had reinstated all of the equipment, often second-hand, new warehouses had to be constructed along the public road outside the distillery, integrating old buildings and new to bring Glenturret back to the distillery you can visit today.
Glenturret opened as a visitor attraction in 1980 and was sold to French distiller Remy-Cointreau in 1981. Fairlie continued to run Glenturret until 1990 when it was bought by Highland Distillers. In 1991 it welcomed its 1 millionth visitor and now, in 2016, some nearly 60 years since it was re-opened, it welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors yearly, who leave with the knowledge that the reason Glenturret operates today, with its open-top mash tun and Douglas Fir washbacks, is thanks to one man, James Fairlie.
Much of the whisky produced at Glenturret since it reopened has become part of The Famous Grouse blend, however, in 2015 the team at Glenturret thought it was time for the Glenturret whisky to be reborn once again. To celebrate our 240th birthday, the brand was relaunched and we told this very story, about respecting one man’s wish to keep Glenturret a traditional, craft distillery.
In late 2015, as a nod to the man who saved Glenturret, we dedicated our most exclusive cask here at Glenturret distillery to Fairlie himself. A very rare, limited edition 54 bottle release was snapped up by keen whisky enthusiasts and collectors in just 2 hours.
Although James is no longer with us, his son Peter visited the distillery last year to collect his bottle of the whisky named after his father. Peter worked at Glenturret from 1977 and was there when the special cask was filled in 1982. He was delighted to receive his bottle and that his father’s passion of keeping Scotland’s traditional whisky making process alive was being honoured.
We like to think of Fairlie as the saviour of scotch whisky, a true pioneer of the craft movement –sticking to making whisky in the traditional way. His legacy very much still rings true throughout Glenturret to this day…