The Glenturret: How Scotland’s Oldest Working Distillery is attracting a new generation of whisky drinkers
The Glenturret is celebrating an exceptional year, boasting 31 international award wins, success at a ground-breaking Sotheby’s auction, collaborating with the country’s most renowned hotel, Gleneagles, and becoming the world’s first distillery to receive a Michelin star just seven months launching The Glenturret Lalique Restaurant. Managing Director John Laurie speaks to Nima Suchak about his role in blending tradition with the future for a new generation of whisky lovers.
Describe about how the philosophy of The Glenturret connects to you?
My journey into whisky comes from a love and passion for the product, and what it means for the nation that I am proud to be part of. I went to a whisky show at 25 and fell in love with the branding, the stories and connection to Scotland that the whisky industry has quite uniquely. It wasn’t a commodity to me, it was always something more special than that. The Glenturret is the oldest distillery and still the only handmade whisky in Scotland, yet, there is a real sense of humility here…we call it the warmest of Scottish welcomes. And while we are super premium luxury, our humility and honesty are key components. That locks me into the brand and keeps me here because it’s great to be part of something that is Scotland’s oldest, that is delivering the traditional methods of whisky-making, while being really humble and honest.
How does the brand balance heritage, tradition, and the future?
You need to understand what parts of your heritage are actually the key parts of your identity and what makes your brand special. The quality of whisky that’s made by Glenturret is non-negotiable. The way we go about making it is non-negotiable. Where we embrace the future is in the way that we communicate with the consumer. If you want to continue and grow it’s really important that you adapt to the world that you’re living in and that has to be negotiable. As much as I believe the product should never change, your presence in the world and how you communicate your presence in the world has to always change.
You were named one of the ‘50 most influential people in British luxury’ in the ‘rainmaker’ category of Walpole’s Power List. How are you going to make the most of the recognition and influence that this brings?
What that meant for me was the arrival of Scottish single malt onto the luxury stage. In Scotland in particular, we are guilty of not having confidence in our strengths so it’s about our industry getting onto that stage in an incredible and confident way. It shows that the whisky industry has arrived in the luxury consumer goods world, and is here to stay.
The Glenturret is one of the fastest developing brands in the sector by value and volume since the acquisition by Lalique Group and entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss. What makes this relationship work so well?
Lalique has a huge depth of understanding of the luxury market and what it means to be a true luxury consumer good. Where we are similar is their protection of the history and heritage of the Lalique brand and the protection of Rene Lalique’s history and heritage to ensure that he is very present in the modern brand. What resonated with me was how they managed to modernise and bring a product into this world without whitewashing its history, and they’ve done that here again with us. The Glenturret was very small when it was bought, and while we have grown very fast, we remain a boutique distillery.
The Glenturret Lalique Restaurant is the first distillery in the world to have a Michelin star—and just seven months after opening. Was this always in the game plan?
The concept of neighbourhood vineyard restaurants really interested us and we thought it would be great to be the first to have a fine dining restaurant within a distillery setting. Our mission was to create a world class restaurant that really helped a new set of consumers understand the terroir of our area. Globally-renowned Head Chef Mark Donald spent his first couple of months with our production team, championing the Scottish produce foraged in the local terroir, fusing playful flavours reflective of his global experience. The entire team at The Glenturret have worked incredibly hard to get the business to where it is now and we have been very successful with awards, winning gold medals and the coveted Distiller of the Year. But that only means something to you if you are aware of what those things mean within the industry. Whereas Michelin is universally recognised and gave us the wider recognition for the hard work that the whole team have done—whisky and restaurant combined.
What has been the most challenging aspect for you in relaunching the brand? How did you overcome these challenges?
When the business was part of Edrington, it was part of a large, corporate entity. And the culture and systems of work that exist in a large corporate entity are very different from a small agile operation. So, taking the business on a journey to becoming a standalone distiller within Scotland that has a really ambitious target of a super-premium product required a new set of skills, a new energy, a new pace. Therefore, the biggest challenge for my leadership was to find that skill, pace, and culture without moving too far from our humility and tradition.
How has Brexit impacted the brand, and its new international appeal?
As a business, it has been a very difficult challenge. Lots of different markets require different paperwork, administration, and labelling which has created an administration burden on the business and caused us a lot of strain. The challenge, though, has been to ensure that the consumer doesn’t see that challenge. The consumer should get The Glenturret that they love and paid for, and should get it the way they expected. The challenge for us is not to let any of those frustrations apparent to the consumer.
Where do you see the brand in the next five years?
I’ve always had the vision that The Glenturret will become that special occasion drink. It’s going to be the one you reach for at special event, or you want to share a special dram with that special person on that special occasion. We’re on that journey. We’re very much becoming that brand for people.
What is your choice of drink to relax?
I genuinely love whisky and the industry so my drink of choice is The Glenturret Triple Wood. It’s super smooth and super easy to drink.