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Robb Reader: Glen Grant’s Dennis Malcolm OBE

After six decades in the field, the master distiller is the world’s foremost single malt expert.

My career path was predetermined. I was born on site, and my father and grandfather worked there, and I had this hankering to make casks because they’re so uniquely shaped. I knew there was no glue in them – how did they stay together and hold in? Then I started seeing the shift men coming in to help with the bonding and so on, and my inquisitive mind really wanted to know more. I just thought: “I really need to know how this liquid’s made.”

Even when I ended up looking after a distillery myself, that wasn’t enough. I used to say top myself, “I want to run the whole whisky industry.”

I’m now gaining benefit from whisky that was laid down in different casts long before I was born—the distillery has been there for 180 years. Our predecessors laid the foundation for us, which is why I’ve made it my rule to create consistent quality and lay it down for future generations to discover and enjoy—and to be judged by them.

Guide people, don’t tell people. There’s no right way or wrong way to drink single malt. If you want to take it neat, that’s fine. If you want to add soda water, that’s also fine by me. If you drop a little bit of ice in, that’s a fantastic way to appreciate it: as the ice melts and you sip away at it you’re on a journey of discovery with aroma and taste and you’ll eventually discover how you like it. With colour, many people think darker
is better. That is not the case. It’s all to do with aroma and taste being in harmony.

We’re steeped in traditional history. There’s nothing finer than picking a cork out and hearing that popping noise. But it’s the liquid that’s the star.

Every distillery is like a person. You and I are completely different in size, shape and form – and distilleries are the same. We’re all using the same materials: malted barley, water, yeast. The processes are fairly simple as well – grinding, mashing, milling, distilling. And yet we all make a different product. If I didn’t think ours was the best, I wouldn’t still be here.

Whisky is best consumed in good company, chatting about what you’re drinking. The pandemic has brought all of us into focus when it comes to how much contact with people matters.

Glen Grant is traditional but an innovator. We’re still using wooden fermenters that were there 180 years ago, the same processors, the same shape of stills and purifiers. But we use different, newer tools to help us do the job of making spirits. As long as the parameters are not compromised by computers and so on, these things are fine. 

Our archives tell you a lot about past innovation, such as how the Morayshire Railway was founded by James Grant in 1852, because he saw a need for getting supplies from the seaport of Lossiemouth to the distillery. He was hailed as a hero. 

My greatest inspiration? The gentleman who employed me, Douglas Mackessack, who was appointed Managing Director by his grandfather, Major Grant. He’d been a prisoner of war in Japan, and when he came back, he gave all the men who’d also been at war their jobs back. A true gentleman distiller. He taught me that whisky has a fourth ingredient. He instilled in me that, while anyone can buy the kit, you need people around you who are proud and passionate about what they’re doing.

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