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Glen Ord Distillery | Last Bastion of The Black Isle

Last Updated: May 15, 2024

Glen Ord is one of few distilleries in the Highlands region known as The Black Isle, a short 20-minute drive west of Inverness. Glen Ord is home of The Singleton Whisky. A considerable upgrade was made to The Singleton Glen Ord visitor centre in 2022, creating an immersive and interactive whisky experience that won Visitor Attraction of the Year at the Icons of Whisky Scotland and World Whiskies Awards in 2024. The Singleton Glen Ord is a fantastic distillery to do a tour or tasting if you're visiting Inverness or headed out around the North Coast 500.

Glen Ord Distillery History

The Black Isle is well known for its fertile lands, coated in a rich dark loam (possibly where the area gets its ‘black’ name from). The area is oddly named, as it is a peninsula, rather than an island, surrounded on only three sides by the Firths of Cromarty, Moray and Beauly.

The abundance of grain crops, mainly barley, saw many landowners intent on adding value to it by distillation. The end product could be quite profitable, and a distillery also meant regular work for local inhabitants. The Forbes of Culloden family had established the region’s reputation for quality whisky in 1690 with their Ferintosh distillery (they had five distilleries by 1786), and at one point employed over 1000 workers.

Seeing the same opportunity for employment and use of his barley, in 1838, Thomas Mackenzie joined nine other local licensed operators (and likely several dozen moonshiners) building a distillery on his lands. The site housed a bothy used by smugglers earlier in the century. (1)

Glend Ord Distillery Visitors Centre and gardens. The visitors centre is located in the old warehouses

Glen Ord Distillery established 1838

Glen Ord was on Alfred Barnard’s grand whisky distillery tour in 1885-1887. He notes there were two old pot stills (one wash one spirit) and a mash tun of 18ft diameter, and a depth of 5ft. The malt houses are likely those that still stand – two divisions 250ft long with a storage capacity of 3000 quarters on the top floor (roughly 38,000 kilograms). The malting floor was underneath and contained Steeps capable of wetting 45 quarters at a time. Heather blossoms were used in addition to peat to dry the barley in the kiln.

This Canmore photo of the distillery from 1974 shows the two malt houses and Pagoda chimneys. The barley was floor malted at Glen Ord until 1961 when Glen Ord installed Saladin Boxes. Saladin Boxes allowed for the mechanical turning of the malted barley, saving labour and time and allowing greater control over the malting process. Surprisingly, Glen Ord distillery did not use the massive Glen Ord malt facility plant next door until 1983, even though other DCL owned distilleries had been using it since its construction in 1968.

Barnard noted eight warehouses at the time of his visit, which held 174,000 gallons of whisky at various ages.

They converted the warehouses into a visitor’s centre in 1994, as the whisky now matures near Glasgow and Fife.

Barnard sampled the 1882 make and found it “very agreeable to the palate” and notes that Glen Ord makes a “pure Highland malt” that is sold principally in Leith (Edinburgh) and London, as well as exported to the colonies, especially Singapore and South Africa. At the time annual spirit production was around 80,000 gallons per annum (363,687 litres).

In 1966 Glen Ord underwent a considerable upgrade. They replaced the two old coal-fired stills with internal steam-heated coil types and increased the total number of stills to six. Subsequently, spirit production rose to an annual output of around 5 million litres.

The most recent upgrade to Glen Ord distillery occurred in 2014 with the addition of a second still house. An additional eight stills were installed, bringing total output to the current volume of 11 million litres per annum (2017).

Where Is Glen Ord Distillery

Glen Ord Distillery (57.522076, -4.475789) is approximately 14 miles / 22 km west of Inverness on the opposite side of the Beauly Firth.

ScotRail runs trains between Inverness and Muir of Ord station roughly every 40 minutes, with a 1.1 km / 0.7 mi walk onto the distillery. See for more information

Buses are also available from Inverness to the Muir Of Ord Pub, 700m from the distillery. See for more details.

Glen Ord Distillery Gate - The Singleton of Glen Ord

Glen Ord Distillery Gate - The Singleton of Glen Ord

Glen Ord Distillery Tours and Bookings

Singleton of Glen Ord Distillery Tour: from £20 per person, 85 minutes duration: Glen Ord tour, and a tutored tasting of three (3) three unique expressions paired with one macaron at the end of your tour.

Online advanced bookings are highly recommended as Glen Ord is a very popular distillery to visit and each tour group has maximum of 16 persons.

One of the still houses at Glen Ord Distillery.

Glen Ord Distillery established 1838

Useful Visitor Information

Glen Ord Distillery offers all of their tours in French, German, Italian and Spanish. If you would like to do a tour in one of these languages, please contact them on 01463 872 004 or at to book in advance. Transcripts are available in Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

For healthy and safety reasons, the distillery does not permit children under eight years old in the production areas.

As with all Diageo distilleries, photos are also not allowed in production areas, which is most of the distillery. No, it’s not because they think you’ll try and steal their ideas or equipment design! Ethanol is highly flammable, and electronic equipment poses a potential source of ignition. As such, they’ve implemented a policy on all their sites – no electronic devices to be in use in production areas, or where ethanol is likely to be in higher concentrations (like warehouses).

Glen Ord Distillery Whisky - The Singleton

Glen Ord’s signature whisky, The Singleton of Glen Ord, is sold almost exclusively in Asia. The Singleton of Glen Ord is available to sample at the distillery and we enjoyed the 15yo and 18yo, but note, it’s all chill filtered and caramelised.

I recently had the good fortune to try some Glen Ord 1985-95 10-year-old Single Cask bottled by W.M Cadenhead – it is well worth tracking down if you can! It is a lovely light grassy dram. Glen Ord small batch bottlings are hard to come by though. The SMWS bottle Glen Ord under the numeric code 77, and Signatory Vintage and That Boutiquey Whisky Company also release Glen Ord from time to time.

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photograph of tin and bottle of Glen Ord Signatory Vintage 2008 13yo whisky

A 2008 Glen Ord single malt from independent bottler Signatory Vintage that was matured in a pair of Hogshead casks for 13 years, before being bottled. Unchillfiltered, natural colour.

What Else Is Nearby

Also see our interactive Scotland Whisky Distillery Map.

Glen Ord Distillery Photo Gallery

The distillery is a worthwhile visit as it is quite impressive to see such a high-tech mass production facility (annual production is presently 11 million litres) that still has the feel of an older distillery.  They’ve done a beautiful job of keeping all the sensors and control panels tucked away, unlike some other distilleries I can think of (sorry Glenfarclas but I’m thinking of you here).

The washbacks are timber, and the stills and column condensers shine in all their magnificent copper glory. I’m partial to open topped mash tuns, but that would be impractical for an operation this size.  Glen Ord’s stainless steel behemoth turns over 12,500 tonnes of grist using 56,000 litres of water 42 times a week, and they’re aiming for 50 times a week. The mash tun process results in a clear (not cloudy) wort.

Twenty-two washbacks hold 59,000 litres of wort each and fermentation occurs over three days using a creamed yeast.

There are 14 stills in total at Glen Ord, located across two still houses (8 +6). The stills are run in batches, resulting in a continuous 24/7 production.

The water in the shell and tube condensers is kept hot, so the spirit remains in vapour form for longer and continues reacting with all the copper until the spirit enters the after coolers.

Glen Ord Distillery Pagoda chimney stacks. In 1983 the malt floors were retired, and Diageo's massive facility next door is now used to malt the barley.

Glen Ord Distillery Pagoda chimney stacks. In 1983 the malt floors were retired, and Diageo's massive facility next door is now used to malt the barley.

Three Glen Ord Distillery stills

Glen Ord Distillery still house no 1 of 2. There are 14 stills on site across 2 still houses.

A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery

A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery, home of The Singleton of Glen Ord whisky

Glen Ord Distillery Still

Glen Ord Distillery Still - home of The Singleton of Glen Ord

Up close and personal with one of the stills at Glen Ord

Up close and personal with one of the stills at Glen Ord

Five of the stills at Glen Ord Distillery home of the Singleton whisky

A squadron of stills at Glen Ord Distillery. There are two still houses, with a total of 14 (8 +6) of these lovely copper vessels.

Wash still condensers at Glen Ord Distillery

Wash Still Condensers at Glen Ord Distillery - I love the copper tones. These are in the smaller of the two still houses, which contains only three wash stills and three spirit stills. The other still house has eight (4+4), making a total of 14 Stills on site.

Condenser close-up at Glen Ord Distillery

Condenser close-up at Glen Ord Distillery

Wide angle close up of lyne arms connecting Glen Ord Stills to Column Condensers

Stills connected by lyne arms into condensers at Glen Ord Distillery (The Singleton of Glen Ord)

Glen Ord Distillery Washback close up

Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks, there are 22 in total (across two buildings)

Glen Ord Distillery Washback close up

Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks, there are 22 in total (across two buildings)

The mash tun at Glen Ord Distillery

The mash tun at Glen Ord Distillery holds 12,500 tonne of grist and 56,000 litres of water.

View of a Glen Ord Distillery Washback through the mesh floor

Glen Ord Distillery Washback through the mesh floor. Much like an iceberg, the bulk of a washback is hidden beneath the surface

Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks

Glen Ord Distillery Washbacks

References & Further Reading

picture of the front cover of book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard

One of Amanda's favourite books. Around 1885, Alfred Barnard was secretary of Harper's Weekly Gazette, a journal dedicated to the wine and spirit trade. In order to provide his readers with the history and descriptions of the whisky-making process, Barnard decided to visit all distilleries in Scotland, England and Ireland. Accompanied by friends, he visited and sketched over 150 distilleries, including many of the now 'lost' distilleries of Campbeltown.

book cover of Charle's macleans spirit of place showing black and white phograph of whisky barrels in front of twin pagoda roofed kiln houses

Spirit of Place by Charles MacLean, with photographs by Lara Platman and Allan Macdonald, is a unique addition to the literature on Scotch whisky, from the world's greatest expert on the subject. The perfect gift for anyone planning a tour of Scotland's distilleries, a souvenir for anyone who has visited them, and simply the perfect companion to a dram at home. Campbeltown is overlooked as a region, but Spirit of Place does feature Springbank as part of the 'West Highlands' distillery profiles.

About the author


Amanda is an Australian-born photographer, digital nomad and whisky lover. Her passion for travel and whisky lead her to Islay, where she fell in love with an Ileach (an Islay native). Amanda and Roddy now share their Spirited Adventures.

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