Whisky Distilleries

Lagavulin – The Runaway Success

Lagavulin Distillery is one of the three distilleries on Islay that made up the Kildalton trio together with Ardbeg and Laphroaig. It is a picturesque distillery situated at Lagavulin Bay enjoyed by many who visited. Saddled with a relatively dull history, Lagavulin produced one of the most widely-enjoyed whiskies on Islay.

Brief History of Lagavulin

Legal distilling started at Lagavulin in 1816 when founder John Johnston built the distillery. A second distillery, named Ardmore, originally shared the same site but the Johnston family bought it in 1825. However, by 1835, Johnston ceased production at Ardmore.

In 1836, Johnston passed away, and the family sold the distilleries to Glasgow spirit merchant, Alexander Graham. He absorbed the production of Ardmore into Lagavulin in 1837. In 1852, John Crawford Graham took over the Lagavulin distillery, but his era lasted only a brief ten years.

By 1862, James Logan Mackie & Co. bought the distillery and refurbished it. With blender James helming the distillery, the public awareness of the distillery grew. However, it was his nephew, Peter J. Mackie who took Lagavulin to greater heights.

The Story behind Peter J. Mackie

Peter J Mackie first learned his art of whisky blending at Lagavulin at a tender age of 23. It was 1878 and his first trip to Islay to learn whisky at Lagavulin gave his invaluable experience of the production of whisky. His success with learning the secrets of distilling eventually led to his taking over of the distillery after his uncle, James Logan Mackie, died in 1889.

Peter J Mackie (later becoming Sir Peter Mackie) was an important figure in whisky history. The Mackies started to blend whisky in the mid-1880s, with Lagavulin at the core, and Peter Mackie registered the “White Horse” brand in 1891, one year after the company changed its name to Mackie & Co. Peter Mackie also co-founded Craigellachie distillery and recognised as a great innovator of his time.

The “Fight” for Laphroaig

Peter Mackie leased Laphroaig distillery in the 19th century and tried to copy its style. Several legal battles ensured between the two distilleries and in 1908, Peter Mackie officially lost the battle. In his irritation, he built a second distillery on the site of Lagavulin, named Malt Hill. It tried to reproduce the same characters of Laphroaig, but it failed. It closed in 1962.

The Beginning of the Modern Era

Sir Peter Mackie passed away in 1924, and the company changed its name to White Horse Distillers Limited. During this period, they produced various expressions that are vastly different from the modern bottlings that we enjoyed now. One of them was a Lagavulin 16 Years. Bottled in the same style as the contemporary version, it had only one difference – the label held the name “White Horse Distillers”.

 

Sadly, White Horse Distillers Limited did not hold on to Lagavulin for very long. In 1927, the distillery went into the hands of DCL (present-day Diageo). When the war started, Lagavulin closed and only reopen after the war. However, tragedy struck again when a fire destroyed much of the distillery in 1951. Diageo rebuilt it.

The distillery floor malting closed in 1974 and turned into a visitor’s centre and admin offices.

The Modern Era

As Lagavulin heads into the modern era, the Lagavulin 16 Years becomes one of the six Classic Malts. Selected in 1988, it becomes Lagavulin’s pride. Today, Lagavulin holds the fort by operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with the ever-growing demand. The core range is the 16 Years Old and the distillery also released a limited edition cask strength 12 Years Old every year. One of the most popular at the moment is the 12 Years Old released in 2016 for the 200th anniversary of the distillery.

 

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A Visit to King Car Kavalan Distillery in Yilan, Taiwan

Kavalan Distillery from afar

We visited Kavalan Distillery in Yilan during our trip to Taiwan in May. It was a rather long journey from Taipei as we needed to take a local commuter train from Taipei to Yilan. After that, we took a cab from the station to the distillery. The drive took 22 minutes! Thankfully, we started our day early and arrived at the distillery 10 minutes before 11 am.

The cab driver dropped us at the main entrance, and we walked into a building that looked like a colonial house from the past. What greeted us when we went in was this.

It was a crisp, clean look with an impressive, awe-inspiring feel to it. Behind the two doors that you could see in the back of the picture was an auditorium.

I love this auditorium because the glass behind the stage allow everyone to look outside and enjoy the view of the lush greenery.

Searching for the Distillery Tour

After a short exploration, we approached the staff at the main building and asked about the tour. She told us that it would start at every hour, and adviced us to wait for the tour. As we planned to take the 1 pm tour, we decided to go for a meal at the Mr Brown’s Cafe first, which was at the far end of the distillery grounds. When we returned from lunch, we waited for the tour to start. They ushered us into another big room where we spent 10 minutes watching a film about King Car Group, the parent company of Kavalan Distillery. The Group is enormous, with businesses in all kinds of beverages and insecticides (they started the group with pesticides).

After the film, all of us waited with anticipation for the tour guide – who never came! The staff informed us that it was a self-guided tour and we could walk around by ourselves! We were bummed! To be honest, we were a little annoyed at the lady as she did not tell us in advance. We could have started the self-guided tour without going back to the main entrance! So, we tracked our way back to the distillery again.

The Distillery “Tour”

It was disappointing that there wasn’t a tour guide but the state of the distillery tour made it worse. To be fair, there was a lot of information available, but all of them were general, and there was nobody stationed there for visitors to ask questions. Furthermore, there wasn’t any information about their production process. Here are some of the pictures from the distillery.

The awards that Kavalan won

 

Entrance to the distillery

 

Barley Storage

 

Peaty Malt

 

Regular Malt

 

A half completed cask

 

Different casks used in Kavalan

We understood that Kavalan makes their casks in a cooperage within the distillery. We also managed to see a machine that appears to be charring the barrels. However, we did not manage to explore further as we did not have enough time after wasting time waiting for the film at the main entrance. Moving on to the production line, these were what we found.

Mash Tun at Work

 

These bottles showed the fermentation process

 

Here’s the yeast that Kavalan used

 

Half of all the stills that we saw

 

More Stills

 

The Spirits Safe

 

Warehouse

As you can see from the pictures, the whole “tour” was nothing more than just a stroll through a park. It was very different from Nantou Distillery, which we visited last year. The whole process took us less than 30 minutes and bringing our disappointment along with us; we headed to the tasting area. We got a free dram when we entered, but we quickly moved on to the paid tasting.

The Tasting Room

Kavalan has a Tasting Room on the second floor of the building that houses their shop and cafe. It hides in a corner, so you need to do some walking to find it. We paid NTD$400 at their shop and headed upstairs for the tasting. We were given a choice of 4 drams out of the 16 expressions they have, and of course, we went for the single casks.

Paid Tasting

Geek Flora chose the following:

  1. Ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength
  2. Manzanilla Sherry Single Cask Strength
  3. Amontillado Sherry Single Cask Strength
  4. Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength

Geek Choc chose the following:

  1. Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength
  2. Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength
  3. PX Sherry Single Cask Strength
  4. Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peat Cask Single Cask Strength

The expressions were a mixture of delicious stuff and those which were lacking. Our favourite turned out to be the Ex-Bourbon, the Manzanilla, the Vinho Barrique and the PX Sherry.

The DIY Blending

After the tasting, we went to the DIY Blending Room where we had previously booked a slot to do our blends. Our job here was to become a master blender and create our special blend. The DIY Blending Experience cost NTD$1,500.

We had three different casks with different flavours. We guess that two of them are ex-bourbon matured and one is an ex-sherry matured. They were labelled A, B and C. A (ex-bourbon) was 40% abv, B (ex-sherry) was 40% abv and C (ex-bourbon) was 46% abv.

The three casks

The lady manning the room gave us the below setup. Our job was to blend the three liquids given into something that was uniquely our own.

The setup

When we started work, we forgot to take pictures along the way once we got engrossed in the blending. It was a fun and insightful experience where we took a peep into the world of all master blenders. The experience also “helped” us to forget the time! It was later than we thought when we finally finished!

Flora’s Blend

 

Choc’s Blend

The Rush for the Train

The last part of our journey to Kavalan Distillery was the most stressful one! Due to us forgetting the time, we only managed to get the shop staff to call a cab for us at 5 pm. She dropped us a bomb after that – the cab could only come in 20 minutes! Our train was due at the station at 5.35 pm, so we thought we were going to miss the train. We lamented about paying extra for new tickets but due to the efficiency of the staff at Kavalan, and the experience of the cab driver, we arrived at the station at 5.34pm. With one minute to go, we rushed into the station, and found that our train was late for 3 minutes! We were so glad! We finally boarded the train at 5.37 pm before it went off a minute later. It was such an adventure!

Therefore, if you are heading to Kavalan, we would suggest you go early, and complete the tasting and DIY blending (if you want to do it) before going to the self-guided tour. It would help you to determine the time and of course, call the cab earlier! 😀 Of course, the other option is to stay at Yilan for a couple of days and explore the town.

 

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The Glengoyne Way – No One Takes More Time & Care

Glengoyne Distillery nestled deep within the beautiful landscape of Dumgoyne, north of Glasgow, Scotland. Within the surroundings of the distillery, a hidden waterfall waits to surprise first-time visitors. The miniature glen that Glengoyne sits is an amazing sight to behold. There is no wonder that visitors often named Glengoyne Distillery as the most beautiful distillery in Scotland.

History of Glengoyne

George Connell was the founder of Glengoyne distillery. History has it that Connell began distilling at Burnfoot Farm – the current Glengoyne distillery – in 1820. Safe within the miniature glen that hid the farm from the Exciseman, Connell escaped the notice of the law. Connell was not the first man to distil at the farm illegally as he learnt the trade from his grandfather.

In 1823, the law changed with the introduction of the Excise Act. Many underground distilleries took the license to operate, but Connell did not. In 1833, he finally decided to work with the law and obtained his license. He named the distillery Glenguin of Burnfoot. Connell took a 99-year lease on the land where Glenguin sat in 1836. It gave him the right to use the water of the property at any future time. Critically, Connell also made the decision not to use peat in his distillation process. His decision to deny peat in his whisky behold his legacy until today.

The Distillery Changed Hands

The distillery changed hands in 1876 to the Lang Brothers in Glasgow. History has it that the Lang brothers wanted to change the distillery name to Glengoyne, but a clerk made a mistake, and the distillery became Glen Guin. The name Glengoyne did not take effect until 1907. Did you know what Glengoyne means? It comes from Glenguin, which means Glen of the Wild Geese.

The Lang brothers took ownership of Glengoyne until 1965 before selling it to the Robertson & Baxter Group. The R&B Group eventually becomes Edrington Group. Under Edrington, the distillery underwent a rebuilding project between 1966 and 1967. They added one more still to the distillery, expanding it from two to three stills.

In 1984, Glengoyne became suppliers of whiskies to the then Queen Mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s household. The Royal Warrant can still be seen on all the Glengoyne products today.

The Beginning of the Modern Era

Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd acquired Glengoyne Distillery in April 2003. The taking over included both the “Glengoyne Single Malts” and “Langs Blended Whisky” brands. Under the family-run company, Glengoyne expanded rapidly regarding output capacity and sales. Ian Macleod keeps to the traditional way of making whisky at Glengoyne, and instead, increase the equipment onsite to increase output. Today, Glengoyne has eight working warehouses with a total capacity of nearly two million litres.

Before we move on from the history of Glengoyne, it is worthy to mention that Glengoyne distilled whisky in the Highlands and matures its whisky in the Lowland. What? Yes, it is true because the distillery sits upon the Highland Line, which divides the Highland from the Lowlands. Glengoyne, however, is still regarded as a Highland Whisky.

The Glengoyne Way

We spoke of the Glengoyne way of making whisky, but we have yet to tell you what it is. The Glengoyne way is six guiding principles that keep the distillery true to their past and the original decision that George Connell made in 1833. The distillery team believes that to change one element would alter the bold and complex flavours of Glengoyne.

Principle #1 – Unpeated

Glengoyne’s whisky is always unpeated. In 1833, the decision was one that was out of necessity. There was no peat in Dumgoyne. Unpeated whisky defines what Glengoyne stands for today – it produces only the most exceptional sherried whisky. The distillery uses Golden Promise barley, similar to The Macallan in Speyside. Perhaps that is why Glengoyne tasted somewhat like The Macallan. Is that the barley making its stake in the whisky?

Principle #2 – Patience

Glengoyne runs the slowest stills in Scotland. The distillate interacts immensely with their copper stills to eliminate the undesired chemical compounds. The result is a smooth, hugely complex spirit that the distillery is known for.

Principle #3 – Sherry Oak Casks

Before the 1870s, Glengoyne did not use sherry oak casks for maturation. However, the boom in sherry in London during the 1870s yields high-quality sherry casks and Glengoyne took the economical route by utilising the sherry casks for maturation. The result was stunning; taking Glengoyne whiskies to new heights and new depths. In today’s market, sherry is not so readily available, and Glengoyne needs to make a decision. They did by sticking to their principle. They use only the best sherry casks and control the process from oak forest all the way to the distillery.

Principle #4 – Maturation

The warehouses at Glengoyne are traditional. Made of stone walls and earthen floor, each warehouse protects the maturing casks from extreme temperature changes. The casks are not stacked close together either. By giving them the space needed for maturation, the distillery creates the consistent evaporation rate that they want in each of their casks.

Principle #5 – Natural Colour

By taking control of the sherry casks they procured, the distillery ensures that the colour of each whisky is natural and without added colour. The clear spirit from the distillery takes on the colour of the cask that they matured in, before getting bottled and released to the market.

Principle #6 – Tradition

It is hard to keep to tradition, but Glengoyne does it, every single day. From 1833 when Connell took the license to operate the distillery legally, the intricate steps he chose to make the whisky are still in use today.

The Glengoyne Whisky

The range of whisky from Glengoyne Distillery is impressive. Starting at ten years old, the core range moves up to 25 years old and a NAS cask strength edition. In between, we have the 12, 15, 18, and 21 years old. The distillery is moving away from the ten years old in recent years and in the future, the 12 years old will be the entry point of the core range.

Besides the core range, there are also rarer whiskies to be found. The Glengoyne 30 years old and 35 years old are expressions to behold. The 30 years old boasts of intense sherry notes with cinnamon, cloves and tangy marmalade. The 35 years old (distilled in the 1970s) boasts of tropical fruits, liquorice and a dark chocolate finish. It also comes in an artistically-designed decanter. Only 500 bottles are available worldwide.

What to Expect Next

Ian Macleod plans to focus on Asia for the Glengoyne brand shortly, so we can look forward to tasting events and food pairing sessions. While the organising committee is getting the logistics sorted out, let us wait patiently for the news. We will inform our readers when the events are ready!

 

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Edradour – The Smallest Traditional Distillery in Scotland

Did you know that the smallest distillery in Scotland – Edradour – is near the original Lindores Abbey? Friar John Corr of Lindores Abbey paid duty for eight bolts of malt to make aqua vitae for King James IV in 1494. That is the oldest record of whisky, or aqua vitae, to date. In 1644, when Scotland increased higher duty on alcohol through the introduction of the Scottish Excise Act, Edradour operated illegally as one of the many of the other illicit stills around Scotland.

History of Edradour

The official records of Edradour started in 1825. Before that, we need to look at the history of whisky in Scotland. By 1823, the government of Scotland introduced the Excise Act which encouraged legal ownership through a reduction of duty paid on spirits. Because of the 1823 Excise Act, many distilleries took out licenses and began their history as official distilleries. Edradour is not different. In 1825, Edradour took its license and became a legal distillery through a local farmer cooperative. Alexander Forbes was the license holder. The farmers named the distillery Glenforres.

Expansion of Edradour

By 1834, the farmer cooperative wrote to the Duke of Atholl to request for new buildings for the distillery. As a result of the request, two of the representatives, James Scott and Duncan Stewart, became the official tenants of the distillery in 1837. They also renamed the distillery, Edradour, which means “the land between two rivers”.

As the distillery progressed, the farmers decided to start a formal cooperative. In 1841, John McGlashan and Co formed with eight members – Alexander Forbes, Duncan Stewart, James Scott, James Robertson, Alexander Stewart and William McIntosh. However, misfortune befell the cooperative and in 1853, James Reid, another local farmer, took over the distillery as James Reid and Company. Edradour struggled under James’ leadership and in 1884, the ownership of the distillery transferred to John McIntosh, the son of William McIntosh.

The McIntosh Legacy

Under John McIntosh’s leadership, the distillery began to grow. He rebuilt the distillery and rebranded the whisky. The rebuilding was a success and the distillery flourished. We can even see a surviving plan of the interior of the still house and the tun room today at Edradour.

As Edradour gained popularity, Alfred Barnard visited the distillery. Alfred Barnard, as you already know, wrote the most important book on whisky – The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom – in 1887. In the book, Barnard waxed lyrical about Edradour and described the distillery as “a few ancient buildings not unlike a farmstead”.

By 1907, the flourishing distillery saw the addition of one more person – Peter McIntosh, the nephew of John. Peter continued the McIntosh lineage at Edradour. However, as the years passed, Edradour needed a new partner to expand yet again. In 1911, Edradour took in John Stewart, a wine and spirit merchant as a partner to increase their scope and distribution. The distillery functioned through the First World War and emerged largely unscattered.

The Mafia Took Over

In 1933, William Whiteley purchased Edradour. Before the purchase, Whiteley bought the Edradour whisky for his flagship blends, “House of Lords” and “King’s Random”. He probably got tired of buying the whisky and decided to buy the distillery instead. Haha…

Whiteley retired in 1938, and his successor was none other than Irving Haim, an agent for Frank Costello. Costello was the feared Godfather of mafia fame in New York and headed one of the five families. While nothing changed the production at the distillery, the association with the mafia appeared to give Edradour a more attractive appeal. Edradour continued to produce whisky blends “House of Lords” and King’s Random” and grew in popularity even after the Second World War.

As the world moved along, modernity appeared in Edradour. In 1947, electricity replaced the water wheel and the distillery received consistent power from then onwards. It continued to produce blends until 1976, where Haim passed on.

The Beginning of Modernity and the Single Malt Era

After Haim’s death, the distillery was sold to an American/Australian business consortium for a brief six years before getting bought over by Pernod Ricard. Nonetheless, it managed to snag the Queen’s Award in 1980. Pernod Ricard expanded the distillery by adding a new visitor centre in Edradour in 1983.

Pernod also introduced a new Edradour Single Malt – the Edradour 10 Years Old. At the same time, the King’s Random blend was discontinued. Pernod used the bulk of the spirit for their house blend (Clan Campbell) and the House of Lords while reserving some for its single malt.

Edradour moved back into Scottish Hands

Signatory Vintage Ltd bought Edradour in 2002, effectively moving it back into Scottish hands after 26 years of foreign ownership. Andrew Symington, the founder of Signatory Vintage Ltd, is also a Keeper of the Quaich. Unfortunately for Symington, a flash flood in August damaged the distillery. It was lucky that the flood narrowly missed the still house!

Rebuilding took some time, but Symington soon had the distillery up and about again.

The New Era Begins

Andrew Symington expanded the whisky portfolio of Edradour. In 2003, he started distillation of a peated version of Edradour, named Ballechin. He also started major refurbishment of the old buildings. One of the first new builds was a new Tasting Bar at the distillery in 2006. He also moved the operations of Signatory Vintage to Edradour. Symington did not want to continue the Edradour’s tradition of bottling offsite, so he built a new bottling facility at the distillery in 2007. Edradour now bottles at the source, creating more appeal to whisky drinkers around the world. The expansion continued with the opening of the Caledonia Hall (for events) and a new dunnage warehouse (to mature Edradour and Ballechin whisky onsite) in 2010.

Edradour Whisky Range

Edradour has both peated and unpeated whiskies. The peated whisky range is Ballechin while the unpeated one is named after the distillery. The core range includes the 10-year-old and the 12-year-old single malt, as well as an 18-year-old single malt. Edradour also experiences with wine casks and released whisky matured in Port, Burgundy, Sauternes and Chardonnay casks.

We also spotted many independent bottlings of Edradour, so there is plenty to choose if you want to grab a bottle or two from Edradour distillery. We also did a review on an Edradour single cask. You can read it here.

The Distillery Moving Forward

We believe that under Andrew Symington and Signatory Vintage, Edradour can only go from glory to glory. Symington became the Master of the Quaich in 2012 and Des McCagherty, of Signatory Vintage and Edradour, became Keeper of the Quaich in 2013.

Will you drink a Scottish Highland ‘Rye Whisky’?

Picture Credits: Arbikie Distillery

We hardly heard of Arbikie Distillery in this part of the world, but they are doing a lot of fantastic stuff over in Scotland. The Stirling brothers, John, Iain and David, are fourth-generation farmers on the Arbikie Farm. Their forefathers started farming at Arbikie since the 1920s, so their history is long indeed. In 2013, the brothers decided to build a small distillery on the farm after coming up with a farm to bottle process. They aimed to produce the finest malt whisky in Scotland using the barley they farm and the water on their estates. Scotland hails the distillery as one of the most experimental distilleries due to the various projects and experiments that the master distiller does.

What is Arbikie producing?

When Arbikie first ran its stills, they produced a potato vodka using Maris Pipers and King Edwards potatoes. They grew both species on their farm. After that, they created a gin in August 2015. Then the distillery began producing single malt spirits. They determined that these spirits will lay in barrels for a minimum of 14 years before getting bottled as single malt whisky.

Arbikie Scottish Rye Whisky

However, Arbikie released something interesting recently – Arbikie Scottish Rye Whisky. Distilled in December 2015, the Scottish Highland Rye Whisky is two years old when bottled. This is batch one of their experimental pot distilled Scottish Rye spirit. Arbikie Farm grew a variety of rye since 2014 and experimented with both the variations and production techniques. The first release consisted of two versions of Rye Whisky. There is a Scottish Rye, which is in line with the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 and an American version, in line with techniques used in North America.

Picture Credits: Arbikie Distillery

As you can see from the label of the bottle, all the essential information that a discerning drinker would like to know is there. It is exciting to know that more experiments are happening all over Scotland. While the younger distilleries such as Arbikie are leading the way, well-established distilleries like Bruichladdich are not far behind either. As to how these experiments will help the industry as a whole, we will have to wait and see.

 

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Have you heard of Glen Flagler Distillery

The story of Glen Flagler distillery linked closely to that of Inver House Distillers. Glen Flagler was a unique distillery as it sat within a larger complex known as the Moffat complex in Airdrie. The purpose of Glen Flagler was to fill in the gaps for Inver House’s blends, but eventually, the company released some single malt expression. There was also a “Pure Malt” expression of Glen Flagler.

History of Glen Flagler

Inver House Distillers (IHD) formed in 1964, backed by Philadelphia’s Publicker Industries. IHD in turn established Glen Flagler in 1965. The distillery found its home within the Moffat complex in Airdrie, together with Garnheath grain distillery. Within the compound, there was another distillery named Killyloch.

The name, “Glen Flagler” honoured the owner of Publicker Industries, Simon Neuman. Flagler was the name of a road in West Palm Beach, Florida, where Neuman stayed. IHD initially built Glen Flagler for their blends but later on, also released official single malts such as the 5-year-old, 8-year-old and a NAS bottling in the 1970s-1980s. A 30-year-old expression appeared in 2003! Independent bottler Signatory Vintage also bottled a handful of expressions during the 1990s.

Tough Times in the 1970s

Troubles brewed for Publicker Industries in the 1970s, sending waves of unfortunate events to IHD. These events affected Moffat complex. Killyloch closed in the early 1970s, and only Garnheath grain distillery and Glen Flagler continued soldiering on. Alas, it could not last either, and IHD shut Glen Flagler in 1985. Garnheath grain distillery shuttered in 1986.

Current Status of the Site

Sadly, IHD demolished the Moffat site in 1988, bringing Glen Flagler distillery to the dust as well. Currently, only the warehouses, blending and bottling facilities remained and acted as Inver House Distiller’s headquarters.

Glen Flager Whiskies

As mentioned, the whiskies from Glen Flager are hard to find. The official releases appear in auction sites now and then so if you are looking to own a bottle, watch out for them! Otherwise, you can find the Glen Flagler 5 Years Old at The Single Cask as a part of their “Old but not Forgotten” flight.

 

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A Short Story about Saint Magdalene Distillery

Saint Magdalene, also known as Linlithgow, was a Lowland distillery that had its heydays back in the 1800s-1900s. It was a rather large distillery that occupied the coveted position between the Union Canal and the railway line. The distillery had both its railway line and pier, which was something that other distilleries did not have.

History of Saint Magdalene

Saint Magdalene was one of the five distilleries within the town of Linlithgow and outlasted every one of them. Sadly, it followed the paths of the other four distilleries. Sebastian Henderson built Saint Magdalene in the mid-1700s.  He aimed to oppose the Bulzion distillery that opened earlier.  Nothing much was known about the distillery in its early days. The fate of Saint Magdalene changed when distiller Adam Dawson bought the distillery in 1798.

Adam was an experienced distiller who operated the Bonnytoun distillery nearby. He transferred his operations to Saint Magdalene after purchasing the distillery. As the years passed, Dawson’s business grew by leaps and bounds, and he expanded the distillery to absorb the lands of the defunct Bonnytoun distillery. The distillery stretched across 10 acres of land in its most successful years.

Saint Magdalene in the early 2oth

The Dawson family owned the distillery until 1912 when the family ran into financial issues. Faced with a decline in the market and the intense competition within the Scottish whisky industry, the Dawson family liquidated their company, A&J Dawson. With the liquidation, Saint Magdalene had to go. Distiller Company Ltd (DCL) bought the distillery and further licensed it to William Greer and Co. By 1914, Saint Magdalene joined four other distilleries to become the Scottish Malt Distillers. The other four distilleries were Glenkinchie, Clydesdale, Rosebank and Grange.

Closed for Good

DCL (now Diageo) continued to operate Saint Magdalene throughout much of the 1900s, but unfortunately, the distillery closed down in 1983. Saint Magdalene was one of the nine distilleries that were closed by the company. Diageo removed the stocks and renovated a part of the distillery into residential flats in the early 1990s.

Nonetheless, you can still see the malting barn and kiln at the original site, as they are C grade listed buildings (under protection). The pagoda roof (you can see it in the above picture) is the last reminder that this was once the magnificent Saint Magdalene distillery.

Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) Whiskies

Saint Magdalene (Linlithgow) whiskies may not be affordable, but they are mostly good whiskies which you can try at whisky bars that serve old and rare whiskies. For example, we had a pleasant experience at The Swan Song where we got to taste a (Signatory Vintage) Linlithgow 1982 (25 years old). The sweet and fruity experience was not something to forget quickly! If you look to own a bottle, watch out for them in auction sites but do be prepared to pay heavily for a bottle.

 

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A Brief History of Littlemill Distillery

Littlemill Distillery was one of the mysterious distilleries in Scotland in which we do not have a clear idea of its founding year. Rumours have it that George Buchanan of Glasgow founded the distillery after he took over the Auchentorlie Estate in the 1950s. George built Littlemill Distillery together with the houses that he constructed for the excise officers on site. If the dates were right, Littlemill Distillery was the oldest distillery in Scotland.

History of Littlemill Distillery

The history of Littlemill Distillery is long and adventurous. It all started with George Buchanan in 1772 (so it seems). The distillery then went through a period of rapid instability between 1817 to 1857 where it changed hands multiple times. Below is a short timeline of how it happened:

1817 – Matthew Clark & Co. bought Littlemill Distillery

1823 – Jane Macgregor became the licensee of Littlemill after the Custom and Excise Act of 1823

1840 – Hector Henderson took over the distillery (He also founded Caol Ila Distillery)

1875 – William Hay bought the distillery.

Littlemill saw new stability after the Hay family took over the reins. The distillery was rebuilt, expanded and improved by the family. They remained in charge until 1913, when neighbouring grain producer, Yoker Distillery Co. bought Littlemill. With the Hay family gone, the distillery fell into a period of instability again. Blenders, Charles Mackinlay, as well as J&G Thompson, were owners of Littlemill before selling it to the first of its American owners.

The succession of American Ownership

In 1931, Duncan Thomas, the first of Littlemill’s American owners, bought the distillery. Duncan ran the distillery under his company “Littlemill Distillery Co.”. He stopped the triple distillation that was (and still are) popular in the Lowlands and changed the direction of the distillery for a double distillation. He changed malting methods by installing a Saladin box with two ventilation towers and a single kiln. Duncan also introduced innovative hybrid stills with aluminium-coated bodies and rectifying columns to gain better control of his distillation. The changes allowed the distillery to produce three different whiskies – Littlemill (light and unpeated), Dunglas (unpeated full-bodied) and Dumbuck (heavily peated).

Barton Brands (based in Chicago) became a shareholder in Littlemill Distillery in 1959. The injected funds from Barton allowed the building of Loch Lomond Distillery in 1965 and eased the supply problem. By 1971, Barton Brands bought out Duncan Thomas’ share, and Littlemill Distillery went along in the deal.

Mothballed

Littlemill Distillery continued to produce three different whiskies until 1984 when Barton Brands was bought over by Argyll Group. The new owners mothballed the distillery. Argyll then sold the distillery to Gibson International (Barton’s Scottish arm) in 1989. Littlemill reopened and operated until 1992 when Gibson International went bankrupt and mothballed the distillery. In 1994, the banks liquidated Gibson International, and Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd bought Littlemill Distillery. However, they did not reopen Littlemill. As the owners also bought Loch Lomond Distillery in 1986, they removed the stills from Littlemill and moved them to Loch Lomond.

Shutter for life

After the new owners emptied Littlemill Distillery, they briefly contemplated running the distillery as a museum. However, they dropped the idea and shuttered the distillery for life in 1996. The owners sold it to a developer in 2004. Unfortunately, the emptied distillery caught fire shortly afterwards. Nothing was left on site when they finally put out the fire.

A housing development now sits on the site of what was once Littlemill Distillery.

Littlemill Whiskies

The distillery may be gone, but the whiskies are still floating in the market. There are both official bottlings, and independent bottlings for Littlemill and some of these bottles are going at high asking prices. Prevailing prices for an independent bottling of Littlemill can be as high as SGD$500-$600. While it does not cost as much as a Port Ellen, it is still a hefty sum to pay!

It is a pity that Barton Brands discontinued both Dunglas and Dumbuck in 1972, so whatever is left now are the bottlings for Littlemill, the distillery’s namesake. If you ever spot a Dunglas or a Dumbuck bottle in an auction, do check the authenicity before bidding!

Buying a Cask? Check out Lagg Distillery’s Offer

Lagg Distillery is the peated brother of Arran Distillery, located on the Isle of Arran. The new distillery will exclusively distil peated spirits that remind drinkers of Arran, but it is also different from what you will expect from Arran.

Location of Lagg Distillery

The new distillery sits near the village of Lagg, in the Parish of Kilmory. It is at the southern tip of the Isle of Arran, so it is right at the other end of the island from Arran distillery. This area was famous for both legal and illegal whisky distillation in the past so building a new distillery here seemed like a perfect plan.

Cask Sales

Lagg Distillery is offering a once-in-a-lifetime cask ownership for all whisky lovers at the moment. The distillery commits 700 casks for sales from its first run of peated spirits when the distillery opens in late 2018. Each of these ex-bourbon casks is going at a price of £6,000 and will be filled with the new, heavily peated single malt spirit. The cost includes a maturation period of 10 years. After ten years, owners can choose to bottle their casks or continue the maturation period with additional fees. An expected outturn after ten years yields about 280 bottles (70cl) of 46% abv.

What do you get when you purchase a cask?

When you purchase a cask, you do not just own a barrel! Lagg distillery also offers the following benefits:

  • Membership to the Lagg Cask Society (an exclusive group of cask owners)
  • A bottle of whisky from Lagg Cask No. 1
  • Have your name displayed on the Lagg “Wall of Fame.”
  • A free stay at the Lagg Hotel
  • A piece of history that you will be proud of

Lagg distillery also pledged not to sell additional casks (other than the 700 cask committed) for the next ten years, ensuring that you will be a part of the exclusive group of owners to own a cask.

Buying a Cask? Consider Lagg Distillery

If you are thinking to buy a cask or are in the market to source for a cask, why not consider Lagg Distillery? The peated expressions from Arran, Machie Moor, are fantastic and we believe that Lagg will continue the good works that Arran has done so far.

 

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Bruichladdich – Progressive Hebridean Distillers

Bruichladdich – one of the most famous distilleries on Islay – happens to be one of WhiskyGeeks’ favourite distillery as well. While we have yet to visit this top-notched distillery, we just have to pen something about this progressive, Hebridean, distiller.

History of Bruichladdich Distillery

The history of Bruichladdich is comparable to a roller coaster ride. The Harvey brothers – William, John and Robert – established Bruichladdich in 1881 on the shores of Loch Indaal, on the Rinns of Islay. They built Bruichladdich stone by stone and designed the building with an efficient layout.

They installed uniquely tall and narrow-necked stills and other state-of-the-art equipment that was unheard of in those days. Bruichladdich was one of the top notched distilleries in Islay. Sadly, the Harvey brothers were better distillers and engineers than they were businessmen. The distillery struggled against the bigger players, and soon, it fell into trouble. A fire broke out in 1934, and shortly afterwards, William Harvey passed away. The distillery was sold several times after 1936 before getting mothballed in 1994. The reason for mothballing was “surplus to requirement”.

The Rise of the Modern Bruichladdich Distillery

Bruichladdich distillery saw a gleam of hope when it was purchased by Mark Reynier of Murray McDavid with the funds from a group of private investors in December 2000. Official records said that he brought the distillery for £6.5 million, but in fact, he brought the 8,000 casks maturing inside the distillery for that amount! The buildings were practically free. Right after the purchase, Mark hired Jim McEwan, the whisky legend who was, at that time, working with Bowmore Distillery, as the master distiller and production director.

The next few months saw Bruichladdich risen from the grave as Mark and Jim dismantled and renovated the entire distillery. While most of the exterior of the building was dismantled and renovated, they refurbished the old, Victorian equipment and restored them for usage. Mark was determined to retain as many of the Harvey equipment as possible, and they managed to do just that! Today, these old pieces of machinery stood proudly in the distillery as the hallmark of the history of Bruichladdich.

In 2012, Rémy Cointreau bought Bruichladdich Distillery and remained as the owner today.

Philosophy at Bruichladdich Distillery

Production at Bruichladdich with Graham Hayes (Picture Credits)

Bruichladdich is a non-conformist distillery, rejecting many of the “whisky production theories” of the day. Believing that industrialisation and self-interest have strangled the whisky industry, Bruichladdich strives to be different.  Instead of following the “rules” of the days, the people behind the distillery set their mind to be innovative and creative distillers.

The people at the distillery believe that whisky needs a character to convey authenticity. They believe in variety, innovation and progress. Bruichladdich is not after a title of homogeneity; it is after a change. The distillers think that the world needs a challenger, one that will stand in the face of blandness and denounced it as such. Hence the distillery often surprises their fans with exceptional, new creations.

Bruichladdich also produces a gin – The Botanist. Similar to what they do for their whiskies, they make sure that The Botanist is different from gins presented by other companies. If you have yet to try a Botanist, it is time for you to try!

The Land, The Water and The Ingredients

Bruichladdich works closely with the people living in Islay as well as the land that forms Islay. Islay farmers planted barley in response to Bruichladdich’s call for an Islay Barley, and others built sheds to dry the barley for the distillery. The land yields the barley; the mountains and lochs produce the water source for mashing, distilling and bottling. Most importantly, the people of the island come together to create whiskies that speak of its origins. It is also the largest, independent employer in Islay.

Bruichladdich believes passionately in terroir – authenticity, place and provenance. That is a heritage that they are proud of.

Bruichladdich Range of Whiskies

Some of the whiskies made in Bruichladdich Distillery (Picture Credits)

Bruichladdich produces three different brands of whiskies in the distillery. They have the Bruichladdich brand, serving up unpeated whisky. Then, there is Port Charlotte, a heavily-peated whisky at 40ppm. For the peatheads, there is Octomore, the most-heavily peated whisky in the world.

Bruichladdich

Classic Bruichladdich is unpeated, floral and sophisticated. It is a natural whisky which is non-chill filtered and colouring free. The whisky is made purely from Scottish barley, although there are some expressions distilled from Islay Barley and Bere Barley.

This range of whisky is living proof that Bruichladdich rejects traditional labelling of the whisky-producing regions in Scotland. Produced in an area where peat is the norm, the Classic Laddie challenges the label of what constitutes an Islay whisky.

Port Charlotte

The range of Port Charlotte is a tribute to the men who once worked in Lochindaal distillery from 1829 to 1929. It is peated to 40ppm and still retains the classic floral complexity of the typical Bruichladdich. The most exciting nibbles about Port Charlotte is that the original stone warehouse of Lochindaal distillery in Port Charlotte still stores the maturing spirits now.

Octomore

Octomore is famous; or in the distillery’s own words, it has taken the world by storm. It was a “what if” idea that turned into a reality. Named after the Octomore farm on the hill above Port Charlotte, the whisky is a legacy to the farm that used to be a distillery. In 1816, Octomore farm was a self-sufficient distillery. It grew its barley, cut its peat and distil its whisky on the farm. While the spark burned only for a few years, Bruichladdich Distillery carried the legend till today through the Octomore range of whisky.

Octomore is known as the world’s most heavily peated whisky. One of the latest expression, the Octomore 8.3, is peated to 309ppm! Contrast to expectation, the whisky is aromatic, floral and sophisticated. You will never expect something so delicious!

Looking to the Future

It is no secret that Bruichladdich continues to be a progressive distillery in today’s whisky world. We trust that Bruichladdich is striving harder than ever before to produce authentic, good-quality whiskies for the world.

We look forward to new releases from Bruichladdich.  As always.

 

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