History and whisky! Meet Gordon Dallas
What do the Tulliallan Golf Club, dressing up in period costumes and drinking whisky from a teapot have in common? Glengoyne Whisky Experience Ambassador Gordon Dallas. A man whose reputation precedes him and whose humor could crack a smile on even Angela Merkel’s face. I'm joined by Gordon in the Fine and Rare Tasting room at the distillery, less than 40 minutes north of Glasgow, as we sit down for a delightful chat about everything from life at the distillery and dressing up to make history come to life.
Working at Glengoyne
‘People always say that they love my job and want to know how I got the job.’ Gordon laughs and sniffs his glass. ‘To me whisky has always been a fun thing to do. Several years ago I came at a crossroads and there was a job going at Glengoyne as a tour guide. I fell in love with the place,’ he smiles. ‘When I started I thought: I could do quite well here. I remember, the first year I arrived a gentleman retired. At his retirement-do he was so passionate and so eloquent in his speech. He came there for a bit of a laugh and it seeped into his blood.’
The journey through the distillery was perhaps a little different however than you might expect. ‘Most people go through the production process but I started with history.’ He continues. ‘I started reading up. I kept buying book upon book and I was doing tours for the first year.’ But some things can only be taught from the people on the floor, like Assistant Distillery Manager Duncan McNicoll, who started with the distillery in 1976 and retired in January 2020. These are the people you need to speak to. ‘You can’t buy that knowledge.’ Gordon adds emphatically.
Misconceptions about working at a distillery
‘Working at a distillery, it’s really serious.’ Gordon insists. But they know how to have fun and it’s a lot more lighthearted than the perception of whisky might give off. ‘People often think distilleries are filled with crusty snobs. A place where you can’t talk too loud. That we’re all very austere and serious. They’re surprised to see we’re always laughing and that there’s quite a couple of young folk here.’ And that last fact shows a change in attitude of the visitors as well.
Accepting whisky knowledge from people at any age is more common now, than it probably was in the past. ‘ A lot of people might have their expectations, but nowadays, when they get the information from someone half their age, they take it and thoroughly enjoy it!’
Golf clubs, Kennetpans and a proud heritage
‘From day one my brain was thinking about other things I could do here.’ Gordon continues and I take another sip of my dram. Cut to a year later when Gordon found himself successfully pitching an idea at head office. ‘I started doing evenings at golf clubs, doing whisky talks.’ He explains. ‘Tulliallan Golf Club was the very first one and it was more of a comedy style of delivery as opposed to one of those dry whisky tastings. Afterwards this chap came up to me and told me that I forgot to mention some important places,’ he laughs, ‘places like Kennetpans, and I never mentioned Kilbagie, which is just down the road. This chap was very proud of the heritage of the area. So I knew I had a lot of work to do and I redoubled my efforts.’
On the Fringe in 2018
The success of Gordon’s whisky dinners led to Glengoyne asking him to put together an immersive experience at the Fringe festival in 2018. ‘I wrote the show called “Unhurried”, about the Victorian Era at Glengoyne. We hired an agency that made it into a projection map. The stories I had written were animated and I took the role as the old distillery manager and Robbie Hughes as the current manager. The moment the cork opened of the first bottle the projection started. I’d love to revisit and bring that to life again.’
Onwards, upwards and covid
And from there on things started to speed up for Gordon. ‘I was asked to write the story of Glengoyne and turn it into a tour. I turned it into a walking tour where you start upstairs and walk to the old farmhouse. During the tour you try to drink the flavor development and so I had little bottles of whiskies hidden all over the place. I’m trying to create different experiences but unfortunately this storytelling tour was curtailed by covid.’ But being in lockdown didn’t mean Gordon sat still. ‘I put together the online tours and I did a few Christmas dinners. And when we’re out of lockdown, I travel around Europe. It’s not a nine to five kind of job. No day’s the same.’ And of course there is his Whisky Unscripted podcast, already in its fourth season, in which Gordon Dundas, International Brand Ambassador and Gordon Dallas join forces to talk whisky and everything that surrounds it. If you’ve not heard it yet, you should check it out here.
Closing their doors
Unthinkable and unheard of but it happened nonetheless. Glengoyne closed their doors on a Saturday to give forty people the run of the distillery as an exclusive event. ‘It was the year The Legacy Chapter One was released. Four teams of ten people would go round the distillery, getting tours through the tasting room, the still house and the warehouse and it culminates with a meal at the business center. Once again, they asked me if I could dress up as the Victorian Era manager, Cochrane Cartwright.’ Now in case you don’t know who this is, Mr Cartwright the distillery manager back in the day and has been credited with bringing the slow distillation technique to the Glengoyne distillery and rightly so, deserves this extra credit. ‘I try to do a lot of dressing up in my job,’ Gordon laughs. ‘That’s where it all started. And with the Victorians, everything was covered up and buttoned up. But as you can imagine, after a couple of drinks things go downhill from there.’
The Teapot Dram
As luck would have it, Gordon and I met up on the day the new Teapot Dram was released at the distillery. ‘Back in the day the guys at the distillery got three drams a day, large glasses.’ Gordon indicates a decent three-four shot measurement with his fingers. ‘Three times a day. Monday to Friday. Morning, lunch and before dinner. It was mostly meant to stop them from stealing the whisky and many of the younger guys would put it in their teapot in the canteen. You would see the teapot in the windowsill and you would walk past and you knew there was “tea” in there. You’d shake it around and pour yourself a “cup of tea”. Now Duncan McNicoll,’ he reminds me, ‘he told this story to Robbie Hughes and Stuart at a party one night and it was decided to recreate what that teapot dram was like. So they chose five single casks, poured it in their “teapot” and bottled it.’ In 2021 Batch No. 008 was released and as tradition dictates is made with young, flavor-packed sherry cask whiskies.
Meeting Glenn Close
There are more than enough well-known people out there that love their whisky but meeting them, or even recognising them, can be somewhat of a challenge, as Gordon quickly points out. ‘One of the most exciting people that I've ever met at the distillery was Glenn Close. I didn't recognise her at first, so that was fun.’ It wasn’t until later that something clicked. ‘I had to take her name at the distillery and she said: Close.’
‘To be honest, the Teapot Dram but only because I love the very heavy Oloroso sherry matured whiskies,’ Gordon admits. But if you come across that 30 years old Rosebank, let Gordon know though, ‘I had a chance to buy but I didn’t. It was the first Ian Mcleod Rosebank. It would have been nice.’
Glengoyne distillery is located a mere 14 miles north of Glasgow and is very easy to get to by car and even by bus! Their website offers different experience packages to enjoy when you visit. Unfortunately Glengoyne does not deliver outside of the UK due to Brexit however, there are many online distributors and stores that allow you to buy their delicious whiskies all across the world.