William Grant is regularly described as the pioneer of single malt whisky, fuelled by an unwavering ambition to create “the best dram in the valley” he built a success story for himself, from cobbler to whisky magnate.
In the summer of 1886, William Grant left his managerial position at Mortlach, the only distillery at the time in Dufftown, to make his long-held dream a reality. He acquired distilling equipment from the old Cardow distilling plant (now known as Cardhu) and obtained a lease for a field just north of Dufftown called Glenfiddich.
With his seven sons and two daughters, William Grant rolled up his sleeves to begin building his distillery by hand, stone by stone with their bare hands. After a single year of intense labour it was ready, with Glenfiddich’s first spirit produced on Christmas day 1887. To this day the distillery is owned by the same family, William Grant & Sons.
In 1909, Glenfiddich launched their first bottle with the William Grant & Sons coat of arms. At this point William Grant's son-in-law, Charles Gordon, had been appointed as Glenfiddich's first salesman and famously made over 180 calls before making his first sale. By 1914, William Grant & Sons had a thriving international business, however, the onset of war caused hardship for the company and the distillery was forced to shut down in 1917. By 1919, the distillery had restarted production and as Prohibition took its hold in many markets, William Grant optimistically increased production with much success to meet demand when the crisis was over. This is just another example of William Grant's incredible foresight for the changing industry.
By the 1950's Grant’s Stand Fast Blended Whisky was one of the world’s top 10 whiskies, but Sandy and Charlie Grant Gordon (William Grant's great-grandchildren) realised that they needed to start differentiating themselves in what was becoming a very competitive market. The now-iconic triangular bottle was designed by influential 20th century graphic designer Hans Schleger in 1957. It was the first triangular bottle to be introduced and was inspired by the combination of water, air and barley, a trinity “expertly crafted to make Glenfiddich whisky”. Revolutionary at the time, this would become one of the most famous and distinctive bottles in the whisky industry. In a world of round whisky bottles, Glenfiddich stood out.
In 1963 Glenfiddich became the first single malt Scotch whisky to be promoted outside the UK, effectively introducing the world to the single malt Scotch whisky category. In a world of blended Scotch whiskies, it was also Sandy and Charlie who realised the importance in celebrating a whiskies provenance. A new concept at the time, the brothers began introducing references to their water source (the famous Robbie Dhu spring), barley type, cask type and age statements. This may not seem so radical now, but at the time, nobody in the industry was doing such a thing.
They began pulling resources behind their single malt, marketed in the 1950s as ‘Straight Malt’ or ‘Unblended’ whisky. By the early 1960s, Glenfiddich became the first single malt Scotch whisky to be commercially exported outside the UK, essentially creating the single malt category for the world to see. Charlie's favourite saying when travelling the world on business was “Dram by dram, bartender by bartender, bar by bar, we will grow single malt whisky”.
Renowned now as legends of Scotch whisky, Sandy and Charlie undoubtedly laid the foundation for what was to become the single malt category as we know it today.