Bladnoch (pronounced: BLAD-nok) is a success story with a great deal of charm about it. Ignored for many years and eventually closed like so many sadly missed Lowlanders, it has nevertheless found a new lease of life in private ownership and is now a popular favourite...
Bladnoch (pronounced: BLAD-nok) is a success story with a great deal of charm about it. Ignored for many years and eventually closed like so many sadly missed Lowlanders, it has nevertheless found a new lease of life in private ownership and is now a popular favourite amongst whisky aficionados the world over. If you've never tried it, its distinctive Lowland elegance is one of the more distinctive tastes in malt whisky and is well worth exploring.
Founded: 1825 Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit Water Source: Loch Ma Berry Capacity: 1.5 Million Litres Owners: David Prior
1960s-1993: Changing Hands and Closure
Bladnoch struggled to find a contented owner for a long time - the distillery's history is littered with many ownership changes, and even into the 1970s it was shifting around until United Distillers (forerunners of Diageo) acquired it in 1983. Despite this rather hectic game of pass the distillery, Bladnoch managed to get expanded in 1966 with two extra stills and the usual production process modernisations. It steadily produced spirit at the rate of roughly 1.2 million litres per year up until its closure in 1993, whereupon the plan was to convert it into a heritage centre.
Bottlings of Bladnoch from this era vary in style and availability. There are several from the eighties and onwards, these are excellent examples of the classic Bladnoch style, full of fresh butter, herbs and very pronounced citrus notes with clear cereal and malty elements as well. Bladnoch is often overlooked as a whisky but it can be exceptionally distinctive and flavoursome while still retaining an elegance and lightness that only seems to be found in certain Lowland distillates. This is an extremely hard feat to pull off and one that makes it a very unique and charming whisky.
In terms of older expressions, there are examples from the 1960s and even 1950s by Cadenhead's and G&M. There is a 1958 26-year-old by Cadenhead's that is truly stunning. These bottlings tend to show a much more oily, traditionally old style of malt whisky. They can be drier, more minerally, fruitier, waxier and more metallic - an official bottling from the mid-seventies that still crops up is a good example of this old style of Bladnoch, from an era when the distillery character was not so far removed from the more vigorous stylings of fellow Lowlander St. Magdalene.
1994-Present: New Ownership and New Distillate
In 1994, after much negotiation, Bladnoch was bought by Irishman Raymond Armstrong, who set about restoring the distillery buildings with the intention of turning the site into holiday accommodation. At first no distillation was permitted, but after the restoration was complete Armstrong decided to try and recommence production at Bladnoch. He eventually managed to secure permission from Diageo to resume distillation, with the proviso that he was not allowed to produce more than 100,000 litres of spirit per year. As a result Bladnoch went down to only two stills and became one of Scotlands smaller, almost seasonal distilling operations, supplementing the business's income with a series of independent bottlings and the provision of warehousing facilities for other distillers.
Production at Bladnoch resumed in 2000 and was done in much the same style as it had been in the early nineties, albeit on a much smaller scale. Armstrong also produced a peated variant from the beginning and some of these casks have since been bottled.
The first examples of the new distillate were bottled in 2006 with a peated version, a classic version, and a sherry matured version all available. The new Bladnoch whisky was slightly fuller than the classical style but otherwise retained many similarities. The Armstrong-era bottlings were extremely good value on release - Raymond Armstrong was quoted (perhaps apocryphally) as saying that no whisky was worth more than £50 - and can still be found at auction at very reasonable prices.
Sadly, strategic disputes within the business led to problems for the distillery, and production at Bladnoch ceased once again in 2009. With no resolution forthcoming, and despite being financially viable, the business was placed into liquidation in 2014. The following year Bladnoch distillery was bought by the Australian businessman David Prior, who brought ex-SWA chief Gavin Hewitt onto the board and set about refurbishing and expanding the distillery once again.
Under Prior and Hewitt's stewardship, Bladnoch was relaunched in 2016 with a major packaging upgrade and three new expressions comprising a no-age-statement entry-level bottling finished in red wine casks, a 15-year-old sherried edition and a short series of long-aged bottlings. Distillation was recommenced in 2017, Bladnoch's Bicentenary year, with the equipment restored to four stills and a production capacity of 1.5 million litres; a small amount of heavily-peated spirit is still produced each year.
In 2018 a 10-year-old Bladnoch was introduced, but gaps in the distillery's production history have necessitated a degree of flux in Bladnoch's official bottlings; at the time of writing the core range consists of an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 19-year-old, alongside a series of limited editions and single casks.
A new visitor centre was opened at Bladnoch in 2019, and is well worth a visit - Bladnoch remains one of Scotland's most charming distilleries, with a raft of great bottlings from each of the various periods of its history. Let's hope it continues to produce excellent Lowland whisky for many years to come.