Rosebank and Glengoyne: Sisters in the Ian Macleod Distillers Family
By the time Rosebank was founded by James Rankine in 1840, George Connell had been a licensed distiller on his Burnfoot farm for seven years. In truth, he was almost certainly making moonshine on the side before then. The distillery was named after the farm, then became Glen Guin, Gaelic for the valley of the wild geese, and finally Glengoyne.
Rosebank is just twenty miles east as the crow [or goose] flies, though the countryside could not be more different. Instead of the bustle of the Lowlands beside the Forth and Clyde canal, Glengoyne is just over the Highland line amidst the rolling hills of the Campsie Fells. It has always been a beautiful spot to make whisky, but in Connell’s day this was bandit country full of outlaws and cattle rustlers like Rob Roy who once hid in a tree 300 yards from the distillery.
“With Glengoyne, it’s all about the distillation and how we operate the stills,” says Robbie Hughes, group distillation manager at Ian Macleod. “We don’t rush things, and because we distil very slowly it’s all about the quality.” A single wash still feeds a pair of small spirit stills, and when they’re fired up the heat is turned down to keep the liquid simmering gently.
There is nothing fast and furious about Glengoyne, in fact it appears deliberately inefficient. The distillation is said to be the slowest in Scotland which seems to amuse Robbie. “We don’t make our accountants very happy, but it makes me really happy,” he says. What eventually trickles off the condenser to be captured as the base for Glengoyne single malt is as pure a newmake spirit as you will find.
With no peat in the barley and no heavy use of oak to mask any flaws in the mature whisky, Glengoyne has nowhere to hide. Like Tamdhu and soon Rosebank, it has no added caramel, dubbed ‘fake tan’ in the industry, so its colour is completely natural. And, having strived to create a unique spirit, a lot of care is taken to preserve that character through the decade or more that Glengoyne spends in wood. The same will be true of Rosebank once Robbie gets his hands on the stills next year.
From 1876 for almost a century, Glengoyne was owned by the family firm of Lang Brothers in Glasgow. Its purpose in life was to supply malt for blends, notably Lang’s Supreme, and that role continued when Glengoyne became part of a bigger group. It was well maintained, if inevitably a little overshadowed by its more famous stablemates.
That changed the day it returned to independent hands under Ian Macleod Distillers in 2003. It has been cherished by its new owners and given a presence almost for the first time with its range of single malts that account for two thirds of production. Many in the whisky industry say it’s the best thing that ever happened to Glengoyne. Hopefully they’ll be saying the same about Rosebank.