Meet Paul Kendall, our Glenfiddich archivist and company historian

4 December 2013

Can you tell us exactly what the archives are, and what they hold?
Glenfiddich’s archives provide a concrete timeline of the brand’s history; they are probably unique in the entire whisky industry for the wealth and material they have because there’s no other distillery or group of distilleries that has got such a continuous history as Glenfiddich.   

The archives cover just about every aspect of the company: advertising, old bottles, labels, administrative material plus a lot of family material. Actually, within the administrative material there’s a huge amount of product information available, so you can imagine now, that when we are developing a new bottle of Glenfiddich, people always come to me ask about accessing the archives for original inspirational purposes.

So Paul, tell us what it takes to become an archivist…
Well, I first started my career as an academic specialising in ancient history, which is something I’ve always been fascinated by. I held several positions as an archivist in London but I’d always dreamt of living in the Scottish Highlands so, when I saw the job advertised at Glenfiddich, I knew I had to apply.

I quickly developed a passion for whisky - the rest is history!

How is it that Glenfiddich has such a rich and lengthy archive collection?
The first thing about these archives is that it has been historically woefully underused. Since the company never really had archives, all it had was material that people had squirrelled away and had sort of left. It’s worth mentioning the archives itself was only born with my appointment five years ago.

This was because prior to that, the buildings had not had anyone living in them for about 20 years. So, what they decided to do was to start using these buildings as somewhere to store material - it wouldn’t even be fair to say it was heritage; it was anything and everything they didn’t know what to do with, so they put it in there.

So, I guess you could say the archives are, in a sense, a nice ‘accident’.

The archives is so complete because William Grant & Sons has remained a family run business with a long period of continuity. William Grant was also a meticulous record keeper – it’s testament to him that so much of this valuable material has survived!

What is its relevance today and why is it important?
We keep archives because we have lots of family material, administrative documents, old bottles, labels and advertising.

There’s also a wealth of product information, which helps inspire us when we’re developing something new. This also ensures we don’t create something that has already been done before.

 We’re sure it’s the question on every reader’s lip - what’s the single most valuable item in the archives?
The most precious item we have in the archives is the case containing the first iconic Glenfiddich triangular bottles, created back in 1961. If there was a fire, then this is the item I would choose to save! It is, quite literally, priceless and the case represents the single most important moment in the company’s history.

Not only that, but it’s unique as it contains the very first bottle from the very first case. The bottles are also in mint condition, which makes them even more special.

Just how important a role do the archives, and archivists such as yourself, play in upholding Glenfiddich’s long-standing history and reputation within the whisky world?
Archives help to give legitimacy to our brand. For example, when I arrived at Glenfiddich, everyone thought the triangular bottle was launched in 1963. However, according to the records, I realised it was actually launched two years earlier, in 1961.

On the surface these may seem like petty differences but I think it’s vitally important that we provide accurate information when we refer to our heritage. 

This archives is probably unique within the industry because of the sheer wealth of material it holds. As far as we know there is no other distillery with such a continuous history as ours. Such a status means they are a great source of pride for Glenfiddich.

How has your role as an archivist evolved over the years? Where do you see it going into the future?
When I started back in the day, Glenfiddich understood the need for someone to look after all of this material but I don’t think they understood fully its worth and what I have been doing is creating a role for myself and in some ways my role as an archivist is only a small part of it. I’m also effectively the company historian and archivists don’t normally have that function, although it depends.

My ultimate goal is to continue to uncover and communicate the vast amount of information from our rich heritage – a fascinating story that spans 125 years and is still going strong today.