Life as a Glenfiddich Family Member

1 November 2014

Glenfiddich has been a family business since William Grant laid the very first stones on the site of our distillery with the help of his seven sons and two daughters back in 1886.

To this day, William’s descendants continue to own and manage our distillery, looking after our whisky and leading the way for future generations to come.

Following in William’s footsteps is fifth generation Grant family member Kirsten Grant Meikle, who took some time to talk to us about what family means to her and, of course, the difference it makes to the way we produce our award winning single malt.

Kirsten, can you tell us more about yourself? How are you related to our founder, William Grant?

I'm a fifth generation descendant of William Grant and the first member of my direct family to work in the business since my great grandfather, Captain Charles Grant.

My great grandfather was the black sheep of the family. After working as a brewer at Glenfiddich, he left the fold to strike out on his own by buying the Glendronach distillery, which my grandfather sold in 1960. But we remained very much 'part of the family', growing up together. So when I was asked to join the family business, I was delighted to say yes.

How did you join the family business?

I was very close to the late Charles Gordon (pictured below) who sadly passed away in December last year. Charlie was chairman and later life president and always took an interest in my career.

Before joining the family business, I’d been working at the UK’s biggest on-trade drinks wholesaler for eight years. It was a fantastic role, travelling the world, creating brands, dealing with suppliers, negotiating prices. Naturally Uncle Charlie paid attention and three years ago he called up and insisted I meet him for dinner – on the 10th of February, as I recall. 

"But Uncle, I'm working in France on the 10th," I said. "I'm coming to Edinburgh on the 10th, see you at 7pm," he replied. Of course I went. Half way through he asked me to join the family business and three months later I began my first day at William Grant and Sons UK.

What does it mean to you to work for a family run company?

Working for the family really is a privilege, not a right. I earned my way in through hard work and feel very lucky to be working in such a fantastic, dynamic, fun industry.

The one thing that always amazes me is just how much work everyone in the family has put into our business over the generations. There's quite a unique atmosphere in the company, particularly around the Dufftown sites and I think that dedication really shows through in the extraordinary care and attention each and every one of us puts into making our award winning single malt.

I think sometimes we forget just how special it is. I always think of Dennis McBain, our coppersmith who after 55 years service is still giving advice and teaching people his trade. It’s passion, commitment, dedication – from family members and old hands alike. You just don’t get that anywhere else and it shows in the quality of the whisky we produce.

One final point is how much freedom we have to help others. We have a very strong philanthropic ethic as a family and are in the process of formalising that through the creation of the William Grant & Sons Family Foundation, with a focus on improving the lives of the people who live in and around our Scottish production sites.

Is it important that the family business remains independent?

Absolutely, keeping our business independent is critical to us as a family. It's something we're always talking about. 

I'm fifth generation, the oldest sixth generation family member is Juliette, who is 31. It's very important to us to ensure the next generation are fully involved in the family business, essentially we see ourselves as custodians of the brand for the next generation, not just the next generation of the Grant family, but also the next generation of single malt enthusiasts as they discover our fantastic single malt for themselves.

The decisions we take as a family wouldn’t always make financial sense to any other group of shareholders, but we feel they’re truly vital to the integrity of the whisky we make. Our on-site cooperage, for example, costs more than outsourcing the work. But we keep our coopers in-house because we understand how important the quality of the cask is to the whisky we produce. Being family run makes a very real difference to the way we do things and that makes all the difference to how our whisky tastes.

How else does family make a difference at Glenfiddich?

Well, it's many things. We look after each other, we always have. William Grant’s daughter acted as his eyes, enabling him to continue working after he went blind. And of course he passed down the keys to the distillery to his eldest son, John, marking the start of a long line of Grants not just owning but also managing our distillery. You could say that the will and determination to create a great single malt is in our blood. 

It’s an extraordinary legacy to live up to and you could see it in my uncle, Charles Gordon, who remained completely dedicated to the business, working tirelessly as life president right up until he passed away last year.

Another big difference is the way we think in terms of generations, not in terms of short-term profit. Because we see ourselves as custodians for the next generation, we think differently about the decisions we make in terms of brand building, thinking in terms of decades not years -- quite a useful thing in the spirits trade. It’s the reason why we have the world’s largest stock of aged whisky. We want future generations to be able to enjoy the whisky we’re making today.

For me, family really is the thing that sets Glenfiddich apart from other single malts. Because we’re family run, we put an incredible amount of care and attention into our whisky. It’s a legacy to uphold, as well as to pass on to future generations.

And finally, do you have a favourite Glenfiddich?

Of course it’s incredibly hard to choose but if I had to say, I suppose I have two. I simply love the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, or, as my Uncle Charlie used to call it, ‘The true taste of Speyside’. After dinner I usually prefer a drop of Glenfiddich 18 Year Old, a truly exceptional dram. 

To discover even more about the story behind our family run business, you can also read our blog post, ‘Keeping it in the family’.