Whisky galore: raising the spirits at the Glenturret Lalique restaurant

16 February 2022 by

The newly opened Glenturret Lalique restaurant combines on-trend contemporary cuisine with centuries of whisky-making tradition, with the spirit finding its way into all courses. Lisa Jenkins takes a tour of high-end hospitality at the gateway to the Highlands

Close to the banks of the Barvick Burn sits the Glenturret distillery, dating back more than 250 years to when Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre first set the malting process in motion, officially making Glenturret Scotland's oldest working distillery.

The distillery has since had many owners, including James Fairlie, who purchased the complex in 1957 after it had stood idle for 30 years. Fairlie wanted to preserve the traditional methods of distilling and reinstated the original equipment. He led the distillery for 20 years as both director and master distiller, and in 1980 established a distillery visitor centre, one of the first in Scotland.

Cointreau bought it in 1981, and Highland Distillers took control in 1990. Then, in March 2019, Glenturret was purchased by a joint venture led by the Lalique Group, a French luxury lifestyle company. With that came a new range for the distillery, crafted by whiskymaker Bob Dalgarno, and in September 2020 it opened the Glenturret Lalique restaurant.

Mark Donald
Mark Donald

The distillery now has two owner figureheads in Hans­joerg Wyss and Silvio Denz, says managing director John Laurie: "Silvio has a great passion for gastronomy and in particular fine dining service. He owns two hotels in France that are home to Michelin one-star and two-star restaurants. He and Hansjoerg agreed that the mission of bringing a fine dining restaurant to a Scottish whisky distillery for the first time would be a great way to separate their business from the crowd, and their ambition is for it to become a real asset for Scotland."

It is now Laurie's job to translate this ambition into a reality and create a gastronomic destination that he hopes will be "a credible part of the hospitality industry".

Premium performance

Laurie's career in hospitality started at the Dalmahoy hotel in Edinburgh. While subsequently working for spirits company the Edrington group, he was given the job of preparing the Glenturret distillery for acquisition in September 2017. It was only after meeting the new owners that he agreed to stay on as managing director to develop the project.

I believe culture is king, and guests are coming for an experience which is generated by the individuals you have selected and directed

"The Glenturret distillery has become well-known for its warmest of Scottish welcomes," he says. "We have a humility and approachability in our team here on-site, and it was really important to me that the restaurant addition continued and indeed elevated that reputation."

Laurie has worked alongside consultant Gregor Mathieson and executive chef Mark Donald to help the business realise its potential in the luxurious offering. Glenturret is classed as a ‘super-premium' single malt. "We have an ambition to create a gastronomic destination that is genuinely worth the trip, where your comfort and enjoyment are our only concern," says Laurie. "We have brought the best hospitality staff we could find around the world to Perthshire, including Mark Donald to head the team in the kitchen, and given them the tools they need to deliver an exceptional experience."

Mathieson is a well-known name in Scottish hospitality, having created and developed the nearby two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andrew Fairlie. He was also part of the development team that created Malmaison hotels before continuing his career as an independent adviser on luxury hospitality for nearly 25 years.

Mathieson also created the Edinburgh Whisky company with two partners, so he also has experience in the world of Scotch whisky. "I suppose I was uniquely equipped to help John realise the potential of this tremendous opportunity, while bringing a fresh perspective and objectivity," he says. "I had a strong understanding of the level and likely expectations from Glenturret's owners, who were clearly passionate and committed to gastronomy at the highest level in their French properties.

Raw langoustine, buttermilk, green juice
Raw langoustine, buttermilk, green juice

"I've helped to create the modus operandi and ‘language' for hospitality at Glenturret and how that is applied through the various channels. I've helped to direct the multiple operational components required.

"I believe that culture is king, and that the guests are coming for an experience which is generated by the individuals that you have selected and directed. Morphing the authentic and sincere culture of the distillery with a global luxury brand through high-end hospitality was also quite a challenge. So, for me, finding the highest level of talent that will work synergistically as the right cocktail of characters is the key. We spent months and months ensuring that the culture was right."

Talent hunt

Laurie and Mathieson carried out a long and laborious international search to try and find the key team members with the talent, background and understanding of the level that was expected. They wanted remarkable food that had a strong sense of place, and genuine service with pinpoint attention to detail.

"Mark had worked with us at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and was clearly a talent and someone I was keeping an eye on as his career progressed," Mathieson says. "We were just lucky he was recently re-established back in Scotland and that he was instantly hooked by the opportunity to create a unique Scottish dining experience in a characterful old distillery.

The Glenturret Lalique restaurant team
The Glenturret Lalique restaurant team

"Restaurant manager Emilio Munoz Algarra has a similarly exemplary CV, in two- and three-star restaurants like L'Enclume and the Fat Duck. He was also at a stage where he was looking for a special opportunity and an appropriate platform for his talents as restaurant manager. We could see he would have the precision and sharpness in service needed to match Mark's cooking, which is highly detailed and involves a lot of tableside finishing."

Head chef Mark Donald started his cooking career in Glasgow. He worked at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie before being tempted away to London to work alongside Claude Bosi at Hibiscus. A four-year stint as head chef at Bentley in Sydney, Australia, followed before he came back to take over the kitchen at the Balmoral in Edinburgh in 2018, earning his first Michelin star the following year.

Sour raspberry, liver, cocoa
Sour raspberry, liver, cocoa

Donald is delighted with the customers currently coming through the door: "We've had quite a lot of locals coming in, which is very encouraging, and a lot of guests from the hospitality and drinks industry. As we are the first distillery to have ever offered dining like this, we have had a really positive response from what we are trying to achieve up here.

"When things open up a bit more next year, I believe we will see more guests from the US and further afield, as we are at the gateway to the Highlands and surrounded by incredible scenery and world-class golf courses."

Loving it local

The restaurant team take their inspiration from the landscape and the ingredients at the heart of Perthshire, as well, of course, as the ingredients used in the distillery. A myriad of local suppliers and producers are used, and much of the restaurant's vegetable supply comes from a local farm. Their mushrooms are wild and picked by the kitchen porter's father. The barley flour for the bread comes from a mill 100 metres away (it's the same barley that goes into the Glenturret whisky), and all their beef comes from Highland Wagyu in Bridge of Allan.

Other restaurant suppliers include Castle Game, Burnside and David Lowrie Fish Merchants, but although the chef says that they are spoiled for choice with fantastic ingredients in Scotland, the menu and its ingredients will always be dictated by the quality of produce rather than their provenance.

"We are also fortunate enough to be surrounded by woodland and plenty of flora and fauna. We use a lot of fruits, shoots and flowers. Close to the back door of the kitchen is a stunning forest where we can collect what we need for the day," says Donald.

Dishes on the Glenturret menu include starters of raw cherrystone clam, gooseberry and dulse with a tattie scone; and Highland Wagyu and Baerii platinum caviar. Mains might comprise line-caught mackerel, Datterino tomato and nectarine; or langoustine, buttermilk and Daurenki Tsar Impérial caviar. Desserts include Leadketty strawberry, celery and sweet cicely; and Amedei chocolate millefeuille, green coffee and Glenturret 12-year-old caramel. All diners receive malted barley sourdough, house-cultured butter, a ‘sweetie box' and coffee, for £110 per person.

John Laurie, managing director
John Laurie, managing director

The ‘first bites' given at the start of a meal, developed by Donald and his team, are representative of Donald as a cook, he says. "They show an understanding of ingredients, are packed full of flavour and have just the right amount of fun and playfulness." The sour raspberry, liver and cocoa starter, for example, offers just that high-spirited touch.

The chef likes some acidity in his food and uses anise and similar flavours, "almost as much as salt," he says. Liquorice, fennel, chervil, tarragon and Pernod are also predominant flavours, alongside fish and seafood.

Close to the back door of the kitchen is a stunning forest where we can collect what we need for the day

The menu changes as and when the team see fit, but dishes are evolving daily. "After a lockdown that seemed like an eternity, we were all quite nervous to get back into the kitchen. It can seem quite daunting even after a week off. Fortunately, we had a lot of time to develop and work together before opening," Donald says.

So is the restaurant looking to be recognised? Donald says: "For me, chasing awards and putting their importance above anything else is a huge misstep and can drive you mad. Obviously, accolades are important, not only for the business, but also for our own personal development, but I believe attaining them directly correlates by not placing them at the top of my list of aspirations."

North Ronaldsay mutton, smoked leek, morels
North Ronaldsay mutton, smoked leek, morels

In their various spheres, Mathieson, Laurie and Donald are aiming to create a cosmopolitan, Scottish gastronomic experience at the highest level, with a personality of its own.

Mathieson sums it up like this: "The special Lalique touch has created outstanding interiors and stunning elements throughout the guest journey. With a strong sense of place, supremely talented staff and a unique melding of craft distilling and high-end gastronomy, the new Glenturret experience is a truly exciting addition to the hospitality scene in Scotland."

Still waters: milling, mashing, bubbling and ageing

The distillery team produces small batches of single malt by hand and are committed to the hallowed traditions of whisky making.

The malted barley is milled and ground into grist using a Porteous mill, which has been on site for over a century. The grist is then tested by hand to check the grits to husk and flour ratio, before it is transported to the grist hopper in the mash house in preparation for the mashing process.

The grist is added with the first batch of hot water to the mash tun, and three pours of water are passed through the grist, each at a higher temperature than the last. The water drains through a filter that captures the spent grist but allows the fermentable sugars to pass through. This hot water is known as wort, which is cooled before travelling to the tun room ready for fermentation.

Once the cooled wort enters the tun room, it is collected in large vessels known as washbacks, traditionally made using Douglas Fir, a pine native to North America. Yeast is added to the wort and fermentation begins – a process that can last for up to 100 hours.

Glenturret's copper stills are made from hand-beaten copper and are a shape and size unique to the distillery. The distillation process runs very slowly and encourages contact between copper and spirit, creating a new-make spirit, the high-proof alcoholic liquid that comes off the still during production.

The new-make spirit is pumped from the still house to the cask filling store and is reduced to 63.5% ABV before it is poured into casks. The seasoned oak casks are weighed before and after filling, a traditional method known as ‘gross and tare', which enables the stillmen to calculate how much spirit each cask holds. For maturation the casks are stowed in traditional dunnage-style warehouses. During the years of maturation, each handpicked cask will release the flavour, character and natural colour that defines the single malt. Only the whiskymaker can say when the spirit is finally ready to be drawn from the cask.

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