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Glen Keith is another of those distilleries that has sulked quietly its whole life as an under appreciated blending machine. Despite the fact that its short history is actually very fascinating. Founded in the late fifties due to the sharp increase in the whisky industry, it has had a relatively short life seeing as it was sadly mothballed in 1999. Whether it will reopen remains to be seen but there are some very tasty bottlings out there so it is well worth investigating if you come across one.
Glen Keith Distillery
Stills: 3 Wash 3 Spirit
Water Source: Balloch Hill
Capacity: 3.5 Million Litres
Owners: Pernod Ricard
1960-1970: Triple Distillation.
Glen Keith began production in 1960 and initially had a three still set up as it was designed for triple distillation, an unusual method for a Speyside distillery. The stills were initially direct fired and the process was partially old style in execution, unlike most of the new boom era distilleries of the 50s/60s/70s that were usually kitted out with the latest equipment.
Thankfully there are several bottlings from this era that give us a glimpse into the world of triple distilled Glen Keith. The best are some of the single casks bottled by G&M, particularly a 1967 for LMDW in Paris. The character is sometimes a little hidden behind sherry but there are more naked versions and some very interesting older bottlings under the CC label that give us a fascinating glimpse into the old character. As befits triple distillation fruit is at the fore in most of these 1960s Glen Keiths, lots of tropical fruits on top of metallic touches, paraffin, olive oil, gentle waxy notes and some very nice minerality, like that of great old German Rieslings. There is also a stunning 1970 40yo by German bottlers The Whisky Agency that may or may not be triple distilled but is a complex, old, fruity masterpiece nonetheless.
1970-1980s: A Distillery Playground.
In 1970 two new stills were installed bringing the number up to an unusual five. Triple distilling was now practiced alongside standard double distilling and the stills were all gas fired, the first distillery to do so in Scotland. A few years later in 1974 all the stills were converted to steam heating. This was the start of a fascinating era at Glen Keith where the distillery would be used as a laboratory of sorts for Chivas to experiment with production techniques on a small scale. Amongst the various things tried out at Glen Keith was an onsite Saladin maltings that was used until 1976, homegrown yeast strains, wheat mashes and, most intriguingly, whisky made from peated water. This latter distillate was called Glenisla/Craigduff and has been bottled by Signatory, it is a tasty dram that has typical Glen Keith fruitiness and lightness but with an intriguingly earthy peat aspect.
Other bottlings from the 70s are variable from very fruity, ala 1960s triple style while some are richer and display a more overt biscuity maltiness which speaks more of double distillation. The best examples from the seventies come from Jack Wieber, Duncan Taylor and Signatory.
1980s-1999: A Sad Demise.
Glen Keith continued to be used as an experimental distillery throughout he 1980s and 90s. Due of the modernist nature of the experiments the spirits character from these years is a distinctly modern one. Triple distillation was abandoned in the early eighties leaving a double distilled, typically soft and fruity Speyside style distillate. The botltings from these years do not quite match the personality of those from the 60s and 70s but that is normal with almost all distilleries in Scotland. Depsite this there are still many good drams to be had, lets not forget that despite the changes Glen Keith was, at its heart, a consistent and top quality malt whisky. There are some excellent bottlings from this era by Malts Of Scotland, Cadenheads and Sestante.
Glen Keith seems unlikely to reopen, when it was sold to Pernod Ricard there was a glimmer of hope but in a moment of classic, cold hearted finance thinking they chose to reopen the drastically inferior Allt ABhainne instead, simply because it could be run by only one employee. So it seems that Glen Keith will remain mothballed for the foreseeable future. Lets hope it reopens one day because it is a very charming distillery with an often fantastic distillate and a wonderful history.