Glenfiddich was founded by William Grant in 1886 during the whisky boom of the late 19th century in Dufftown, which rightly deserves the nickname ‘whisky town’ given the six distilleries that are based there.
Despite the brands huge international success today, it was founded on a shoe string. William Grant acquired second hand stills from Cardhu distillery and his founding investment was a mere £120, around £15k in today’s money.
Glenfiddich was competing with many other distilleries, mostly catering to a domestic market, but William Grant & Sons realised that the lucrative international and specifically American market was relatively untapped and a huge marketing campaign was launched.
They were also one of the first (and still one of the only) to bottle their product in square bottles. This gives Glenfiddich a noteworthy appearance when sitting in your drinks cabinet, but also meant that more bottles could be shipped in a container, thus reducing costs for getting the whisky to those new found markets overseas. However it was actually Johnnie Walker pioneered this budget shipping technique and others have followed.
In 1969 Glenfiddich opened a visitor centre, inviting the inquisitive public inside the factory to see how their whisky was made. This was arguably the first distillery to become a tourist attraction, something that almost all distilleries now offer as part of their ‘brand experience’.
By the 1970s Glenfiddich was the world’s number 1 whisky producer. It became a huge operation, bottling over 120,000 cases of whisky annually and shipping them to the four corners of the globe. They also introduced the concept of the ’single malt’, being that a bottle is sourced from one single cask rather than blended with different casks or even from different distilleries.
By the late 90’s the distillery had somewhat gone off the boil and had developed something of a reputation for being a bland mass produced whisky. The 29 stills that operated at the peak of production went down to 5 wash stills and 8 spirit stills. But by the turn of the century a focus on quality and limited edition bottlings relit the fire behind the brand.
Glenfiddich remains in the Grant family to this day, an independent status that the distillery makes no bones about promoting.