Whisky Distilleries

The Rise and Fall of Rosebank Distillery

Rosebank is as mystical as a unicorn for some of us, perhaps a holy grail of sorts. It nestled along the banks of Forth and Clyde canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the town of Camelon. As a closed distillery, its reputation grew as whisky lovers recognised the excellent liquid that the distillery once produced. There was, therefore, a lot of rejoicing, when Ian McLeod Distillers announced the intention of reopening Rosebank Distillery in October 2017. The esteemed company purchased the site from the Scottish Canals and the trademarks from Diageo with the full intention of rebuilding this once majestic Lowland distillery.

The Humble Beginnings of Rosebank Distillery

Historical records pointed to a distillery in Falkirk that existed as far back as 1798. Founded by the Stark brothers, this first distillery was the forefather to the currently mothballed Rosebank distillery. In 1817, a man named James Robertson opened another distillery nearby and called it Rosebank. The exact location was unclear, but it could be the same site as the current one. Unfortunately, the early Rosebank distillery closed permanently in 1819.

In 1827, John Stark (one of the Stark brothers) opened a distillery on the west bank of the Forth and Clyde canal and named it Camelon Distillery (after the town). He took charge of the distillery until his death in 1836. The distillery then passed to Thomas Gunn and his father. After four years, in 1840, a man named James Rankine approached the Gunns to lease or purchase the Camelon distillery malting grounds (on the east side of the canal). The deal went through, and Rankine set up a new distillery under the Rosebank name.

The Rise of Rosebank

The new Rosebank proliferated and expanded in 1845. Rankine also brought out the Gunns when Camelon distillery went bankrupt in 1861. He demolished the old distillery and left only the malting floors on the west side of the canal. By 1864, Rankine rebuilt the distillery, creating Rosebank as a distillery set across two sites on each side of the Forth and Clyde canal with a swing bridge to link them.

In 1886, Alfred Barnard visited the distillery, describing it as a distillery “set across two sites”. The former Camelon distillery’s malting floors on the west side of the canal produced the malt before transferring it to the distillery on the east side with the help of the swing bridge. Barnard also noted that Rosebank distillery had storage of 500,000 gallons of whisky in their warehouse.

By 1894, the Rosebank Distillery Ltd came into existence as further evidence of its success. It was also one of the many companies that amalgamated to form the Scottish Malt Distillers. The group later became part of DCL.

The Steady Fall of Rosebank

Rosebank was a premier Lowland whisky, but United Distillers decided to mothball the distillery in 1993. The company said that the distillery was no longer commercially viable as it needed a £2m upgrade to comply with the European standards of the time. Hence, the distillery closed with many historical features of whisky production within.

United Distillers sold off the warehouses on the west banks of the canals, and the new owners redeveloped it by 1988. In 2002, Diageo sold the distillery buildings and contents to British Waterways while the malting floors become a housing development. 2008 saw some hope for Rosebank’s revival as the new owners made plans to reopen Rosebank in Falkirk with its original equipment. Unfortunately, during the Christmas and New Year period of 2008/2009, metal thieves stole the original Rosebank stills, together with all the other material. Efforts of recovery were in vain.

The Planned Revival of Rosebank

The plans of revival continued despite the stolen equipment, culminating in the approval of the Scottish Government. News of setting the new building near the early distillery of 1798, near Laurieston, abound. Rumours float around with the hopes of the new distillery releasing its whisky under the Rosebank name, but Diageo, who owns the trademark denied it. In the meanwhile, it continued to release limited bottles of the original Rosebank whisky.

Finally, in October 2017, Lan MacLeod Distillers bought the Rosebank trademark from Diageo, purchase the land from the Scottish Canals and confirms the re-building of the Rosebank Distillery. The new distillery will produce the whisky in its old style, with equipment modelling after its original stills.

The Rosebank Whisky

Flora and Choc do not profess to drink many of the Rosebank whisky, but we have tried a few. Geek Choc loves Rosebank, and he believes that the new distillery will do well if it models the old style. Geek Flora agrees that Rosebank is a premium malt on its own, but she doesn’t like it as much as she loves Littlemill.

We did a couple of reviews of Rosebank earlier this week. The first one is an official bottling by Diageo – a 21-year-old whisky under the Roses series. The second is an independent bottling by Blackadder – a 14 years old cask strength Rosebank. Both have their merits, with Geek Flora liking the official bottling better and Geek Choc liking the independent bottling more.

The Future of Rosebank

We hope that the new Rosebank will be as successful as the old. With Ian MacLeod Distillers, we expect the distillery to flourish and grow under their able hands.

 

Speyside Distillery – A History with Al Capone

Everyone knows that Speyside is part of the Highlands in Scotland. The region boasts of many beautiful distilleries and whiskies that many would pay an arm and a leg (or maybe a kidney) to buy them. However, there is one distillery, which despite its name, is often overlooked.

The Speyside Distillery is an underrated distillery located at Speyside, cuddling the magnificent Cairngorm Mountains. For those who know the land, it is probably one of the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland. The site that the distillery stands on today was once a barley mill and croft in the 1700s. It closed in 1965.

The beginning of the Speyside Distillery

The story began in 1770 when John and Robert Harvey founded Yorker Distillery. After which, they also built Dundashill and Bruichladdich Distillery over the years. Their experiences over the years led to the birth of the Harvey’s Codex in 1856. It was a family-only secret which detailed the art of malting and distilling, as well as the methods in choosing the source of Highland water and the type of casks. The family called their whisky “Harvey’s”.

Lord Byron was a supporter of the Harvey brothers, and in 1815, he gifted a cask of Harvey’s single malt whisky to King George III when he married the daughter of Seaham Hall’s owner, Lady Annabelle Milbanke. A recent tracing of this cask to Kew Palace puts new evidence that Speyside Distillery had a royal connection in the past under its old brand name.

The glorious history, however, came to a sad ending. The Harvey brothers were forced to relinquish their distillery in 1906 and focused on trading whisky made by their friends using the Harvey’s Codex. The industrial brothers did not give up. Instead, the focus on trading whisky helped them to control the quality of their whisky as well as creating a luxurious packaging. The whisky became well-known as Spey. These paid off during the Prohibition Years.

The Harvey Brothers during the Prohibition Years

Spey as a brand was sought after in the US black market during the Prohibition Years. Famous underground names approached the Harveys to export their whiskies from Seaham Hall (where they stored the whisky) into the US black market. Alec Harvey (son of John Harvey), worked with criminal minds such as Al Capone and George Remus during those dark years and reaped a lot of rewards financially. Belle Livingstone of Country Club and Owey Madden of Cotton Club were their esteemed customers too.

The Spey brand became the illegal secret that could not be named. Cotton Club and Country Club both ran membership-only clubs offering luxurious evenings of pleasure that included Spey.

When Prohibition ended, whisky became legal. The legend of Spey lost its illegal secret status but continued to be popular among the rich and powerful. However, the whisky supply dwindled and eventually ran out.

The Turning Wheels of the Modern Era

Alec Harvey’s daughter, Doreen, married John McDonough in 1955. Their first child, also named John, was born in 1956. As a child, John learned about his grandfather’s entrepreneurial journey and took an interest in both business and whisky trading. John Jnr. began a long career with Grand Metropolitan-International Distillers and Vintners and even relocated to Taiwan.

He worked hard to restore his family legacy as a distiller and brand master of Spey. His work in Taiwan inspired many industry players within the country, and they rallied behind him when he sought to relaunch the Spey brand.

The Relaunching of Spey and the Beginning of the Speyside Distillery

John Jnr. relaunched the Spey brand in Taiwan in 1990, with the support and help of his Taiwanese friends and colleagues. The group build the brand successfully into the No. three malt brand in Taiwan within a few short years. Finally, in 2012, John Jnr. revived his family legacy as distillers with his purchase of the Speyside Distillery Company Limited (SDCL) to operate the Speyside Distillery. The acquisition allows Spey whisky to go home finally and also helps to safeguard the supply of Spey for generations to come.

The Spey Whisky Range

The Spey is known as one of the smoothest and most approachable malts amongst the Speyside region due to its light and delicate character. The variety within the range offers drinkers a choice between ages and styles. You can find the range of whiskies from the Speyside Distillery here.

 

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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!