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Edradour (pronounced: ed-ra-DOUER) has long since prided itself on individuality. Tucked away in the Perthshire hills outside Pitlochry, a close neighbour of Blair Athol, it likes to emphasise itself, like all the independents, as separate from the rest of the industry. This is fairly justifiable, being one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland and micromanaged by Andrew Symington, the man behind Signatory, and ex-Laphroaig boss Iain Henderson. It is not a spirit to everyones taste, many distillations under previous ownership during the 70s and 80s were downright wacky but under the new ownership things are moving towards the spectacular nature that they should be from such a charming distillery.
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Water Source: Mhoulin Moor
Capacity: 90,000 Litres
Owners: Andrew Symington (Signatory)
1970-2003: A Fearless And Wacky Distillate
Edradour is one of Scotlands best preserved distilleries in terms of its old style equipment. It still uses worm tubs, wooden washbacks and has the last operational Mortons Refrigerator employed to cool the wort as it drains from the mash tun. A trip round is well worth it just to get a feel of how a distillery would have been in decades gone by. This adherence to small-scale operation and old equipment is almost certainly a big reason behind Edradours legendary inconsistency. At its best Edradour distilled during these past decades can be earthy, farmy fruity and beautifully old school, tasting exactly like whisky from a small highland distillery should taste (in the rose tinted view at least). At its worst it can be the most disjointed, soapy, crazy and cardboardy spirit imaginable. Bravely eccentric would be the kindest way to describe it.
There are some very basic rules to picking out the soap from the soot with Edradour bottlings. Official bottlings from around the early eighties seem to be very nice. Sherry matured examples at ten years of age are vigorous, oily, fruity, honeyed and slightly phenolic. This means that early seventies distillations seem to have been pretty good, a theory given furhter weight by the official 30yo bottlings that hail from this time. Bottlings, either official or independent, from the early seventies and late sixties are best avoided by the drinker, there seems to have been real batch/production inconsistency at this time. The same goes for many of the official bottlings during the nineties.
However, there are some stunning, stand out examples amongst all this. The official 1973 30yo bottled by the new owners in 2003 is Edradour at its best, oily, farmy, herbaceous, waxy and beautifully concentrated. The same can be said of some casks distilled in the early eighties, particularly 1981. Official expressions from this year that were finished in Port Pipes show a real lush fruitiness and excellent concentration of flavour. The finishing also hinted at Edradours future.
2003-Present: Rebirth and New Ideas.
Under the new ownership of Andrew Symington Edradour changed the way it presented its whiskies. Many bottlings were still released under the Signatory label, many of which are pretty good if you like very earthy sherried malts that often show a slightly dirty side. However, the official expressions were changed from big batch releases to a broad spectrum of small batch and single cask bottlings. The vast majority of which were finished in all manner of wine casks. This is often frowned upon by many whisky lovers, myself included more often that not, but with Edradour it seems to work quite well. Not all examples are good, the Tokaj and Chardonnay releases spring to mind here, but many work extremely well. The Chateau dYquem, Madeira and Port examples are all excellent drams that show good distillery character with plenty of balanced fruit. This process of micro bottling their malt and a vast array of finishing has had an odd effect of hiding the distillery character to an extent, more so even than at Bruichladdich with their similar ACE programme. This is probably temporary and we will more than likely see more standard bottlings again when the spirit produced under new ownership comes of age.
The best news since the change of ownership though is the regular production of a peated variant known as Ballechin. Peated to around 50ppm and filled into all manner of casks, from Port to Marsala by way of traditional Bourbon and Sherry, for full term maturation, early batches have been spectacular. In terms of a peated malt it is excessively farmy in style with little coastal influence, which is rare these days. Each batch has been matured in a different type of wood so there are distinct differences between them but typically they are farmy, citrusy, oily, resinous and quite medicinal. They are already great malts and will undoubtedly be spectacular given another 10 years of aging. If I had my way Edradour would produce Ballechin full time. The quality and determination at the distillery show that its darker days are well and truly behind it and that consistency and quality are unlikely to be problems in the future.