Dennis Malcolm is the Master Distiller at Speyside’s Glen Grant Distillery and a living legend in the world of whisky.
“Do you have parents Vinayak?” Dennis Malcolm asks me. When I was preparing for a visit to one of Speyside’s great distilleries, The Glen Grant, I did not imagine that the first conversation I would have with one of the whisky industry’s most distinguished personalities, would be about family.
But the idea of family, and community, runs deep for Dennis who just celebrated his 61st anniversary in the Scotch whisky industry. A third-generation whisky man, he started his career in 1961 as a cooper (or barrel maker) on the same distillery grounds he was born at, and where his father and grandfather spent their entire working lives.
That first day at work may have been six decades ago, but Dennis still clearly remembers the moment he pushed open the double doors to the cooperage, sparking what would become a lifelong career in whisky. And so, it is this day, April 3rd , and not his own birthday that Dennis celebrates each year.
The craft he learnt at the age of 15 has stayed with him even today. As has his curiosity and energy. Then he was curious about how a cask holds its shape “without any glue”, containing a liquid that is “thinner than water”. And today, it’s his childlike curiosity and unflinching passion for the craft of making whisky that has him at the helm of The Glen Grant distillery; one of only eight ‘The Glen Grant Master Distillers’ in their history of 182 years.
Dennis has an unwavering commitment to The Glen Grant, as he does to Scotch whisky. “Making whisky is the only thing I know… it runs in my blood,” he says, showing me the veins on his wrist. At a scant 26 years of age, he became a production brewer, was promoted to distillery manager only seven years later… and the rest is history. He learned about responsibility very early in his career. Not unlike The Glen Grant founder’s son, James “The Major” Grant, who revolutionized forever how single malt whisky would be produced. Both Dennis and The Major, even though 100 years apart, balanced tradition with innovation, such as when they both doubled the output during their respective tenures, without compromising on the product or stopping the production at the distillery.
Founded by brothers John and James Grant who were always at the forefront of cutting-edge transformations, The Glen Grant has several innovations to its credit. From being the first to introduce cooling purifiers and elongated stills to capture a very delicate spirit, and being the first Scottish distillery to generate electricity, to still being the only distillery in Speyside to bottle every drop of whisky on the distillery grounds.
One often finds Dennis working in the distillery or surveying their extensive gardens, complete with exotic plants and a scenic gorge. To get a personal tour of these immense grounds by Dennis and bearing witness to his relentless energy and passion will remain a cherished memory for me for years to come.
It was while walking through these grounds that I asked him about his interest in my parents. He shared that he didn’t have many regrets… only perhaps that he didn’t have nearly enough photographs with his daughter! “Vinayak,” he said, “look after your parents.” And just for a moment, it wasn’t a celebrated master distiller standing before me, but a father. My respect for him grew by leaps and bounds.
Dennis grew up in a village with 1,500 people, 5 pubs, and 5 distilleries. It is a village that he is dedicated to even today, from its schools to its churches. Throughout our conversation, he stressed the importance of giving back to the community and insists he is standing on the shoulders of giants. As we approached the end of a few exhilarating hours, Dennis extended an invitation to all The Dram Club members to visit the distillery as his personal guests. He also gifted me a bottle of The Glen Grant 15 YO to take home and share it at one of our future events!
Dennis’s attention to detail and uncompromising standards of distillery operations have now become a personal benchmark for me, against which I viewed all my other distillery visits. I was humbled by his modesty and completely in awe of his single-minded belief that it was truly his destiny to work in The Glen Grant.
During his current stint which started with Campari’s takeover of the distillery, Dennis has overseen Glen Grant’s core portfolio grow from three principal expressions to five expressions currently – Arboralis, 10 YO, 12 YO, 15YO and 18 YO.
Dennis has also launched some very limited and extremely rare whiskies to mark his as well as the distillery’s key milestones –
- 170th Anniversary: Released in 2010 to commemorate the distillery’s 170th anniversary. Dennis handpicked some of the most valuable casks that were filled between 1976 and 1999 and then married them together for this special release.
- V Decades: Released in 2011 to celebrate Dennis’s five decades in the scotch whisky industry. This expression was a marriage of Glen Grant’s finest casks from the past 50 years.
- 50 Year Old Limited Edition: Release in 2014 to pay tribute to the spirit of innovation and craftsmanship at the Glen Grant distillery. The expression was first put into the cask for maturation by Dennis on 28 October, 1963. Only 150 bottles of this rare whisky were released.
- The Glen Grant Dennis Malcolm 60th Anniversary Edition: Released in 2021 to celebrate Dennis’ incredible six decades long career. This extremely rare and precious whisky is bottled from a single ex-Oloroso sherry cask that was filled on October 24th, 1960. It’s the oldest expression released by The Glen Grant distillery in its 181 year old history.
If you ask Dennis to sum up the distillery, he has spent his entire life in, pat comes the reply: “Best in class.” Well Dennis, you took the words right out of my mouth. You, sir, are the absolute best in class. Slàinte Mhath to your next innings.
Vinayak Singh is Co-founder of The Dram Club – a whisky and spirits appreciation & platform with the goal to make whisky fun & democratic – and Blind Gilt – a recently launched premium cocktail mixers brand. Vinayak quit his 15 year career in capital markets to follow his “spiritual” calling and passion.