Bladnoch in a nutshell:
owner: David Prior
location: 54° 51’ 30” N 04° 27’ 43” W
capacity: 250,000 litres
washbacks: 6 Oregon pine
source of water: Loch Ma Berry
When in 1994 an Irishman, Raymond Armstrong, bought the distillery from United Distillers (now Diageo), for many it was hard to swallow that the end of Scotland’s most southerly distillery had been spelt. The new owner bought it as a property to live in, and the contract with the previous owner stated explicitly that the new one was not to run any kind of whisky distilling activities, end of story. Initially, it was not a problem, as the unused buildings were to be converted into a guest house, but the new owner soon realised what a shameful waste of potential of the place it would be to give up whisky production altogether. Negotiations with Diageo took six years. They eventually softened up the distilling giant to allow for a limited whisky production to be performed at Bladnoch – In December 2000 it was agreed that a maximum of 100 thousand litres of spirit annually could actually be distilled by Raymond Armstrong and his company. A whisky school came later – one could get employed in whisky production, however you had to pay for it, instead of getting a wage. Bladnoch became not only a local culture centre, a holiday resort, a whisky producer, but eventually also an independent bottler, releasing whiskies from other distilleries under its brand. The place seemed to flourish. It was a bolt from the blue then when production was halted in 2010 and in March 2014 it was announced that the distillery was to close down. According to Raymond Armstrong, it was not due to financial problems, but lack of agreement as to the still’s future within the company board.
A year later, the distillery became of interest to David Prior, an Australian businessman, who in association with Gavin Hewitt, a former Scotch Whisky Association CEO, announced their plans to purchase Bladnoch and return it to its former glory as a whisky distillery. The new owners are planning substantial investment and increasing Bladnoch’s capacity to 1.5 million litres of spirit annually. At the end of 2015 their first whisky was launched in Australia – a blended whisky with a high content of Bladnoch, a no-age-statement Pure Scot. It is planned to release a single malt whisky, too – the stocks maturing in the warehouses are from six to twenty-eight years old.
Bladnoch was founded in 1817, which makes it one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland. It was founded by McClelland brothers, and the plant remained in the hands of the same family for nearly a century. Bladnoch changed hands only in 1911, and at the same time the distillery becomes the property of the Irish for the first time in its history – the new owner, Dunville & Co. is an Irish company. Almost until World War Two broke out, the distillery was continually closed down and reopened, until the Irish owners went bust in 1937, the plant was closed down for good, and its equipment dismantled and sold to a Swedish company. It took nearly two decades for Bladnoch to reopen. In 1956 the distillery was purchased by A. B. Grant, furnished with, among others, two new stills, and whisky production got recommenced. Before Bladnoch becomes the property of Raymond Armstrong at the beginning of 1994, it had changed hands several times, with the last owner – before Armstrong – being United Distillers, who decommissioned Bladnoch in June 1993.
The distillery was expanded in 1966, with the number of stills being doubled, and in 1988 a Visitor Centre was opened.
Due to a limited scale of production in the new millennium, it is hard to talk about one single core expression of Bladnoch whisky. In the past, Bladnoch 10yo was released under the Flora & Fauna series, however, it is extremely hard to find in retail these days. In 2009 an 8yo bottling was launched, a whisky that had been distilled entirely under Raymond Armstrong, with other expressions hitting the shelves occasionally in the following years, including a 12yo and a 22yo. Apart from them, there has been a substantial number of independent expressions on the market.
At present (August 2016), renovation work is being carried out at the distillery, and new equipment is being fixed. It is planned to install four new stills, which would mean doubling the plant’s capacity. New tubs, new washbacks, etc. Production is planned to recommence in the spring of 2017.
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