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Knockdhu (pronounced: nok-DOO) is a charming distillery that for many years was a quiet operator, happy to supply the blenders with excellent quality, robust Speyside make while releasing the occasional bottling. It wasn’t until owners (since 1988) Inver House made some effort with generous and careful marketing of its An Cnoc malts that long deserved recognition was had. An Cnoc’s success goes to show what can be achieved with a great distillate and some genuine belief and efforts on behalf of the owners. It also makes you wonder what other distilleries could be capable of if their stocks and potential were taken seriously.
Knockdhu (An Cnoc) Distillery
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Water Source: Knock Hill
Capacity: 1 Million Litres
Owners: Inver House
1975-Present: Spice, Fruit, Polish And Smoke.
Knockdhu was owned by United Distillers up until 1983 when they closed it, in the intervening years the distillery was sold to Inver House who restarted production in 1989. Throughout the 1990s they took their first tentative step towards marketing Knockdhu as a single malt. Bottlings at 12 and 15yo were released though these initial releases were not quite as distinctively spicy and fulsome as late bottlings would be. They showed a more heathery, soft and frankly MOR profile. However there was a ask strength 21yo ceramic bottling that was released in the late 90s that was a fantastic oily, citrusy, delicately smoky and powerfully complex example of the make. This is quite a rare bottling these days, undoubtedly due to its high drinkability.
The name on the bottlings was changed from Knockdhu to An Cnoc sometime around the mid nineties but then changed back to Knockdhu again around the turn of the millennium. This confusion evidently did the brand no doubt but it seems like it was all practice for Inver House because in 2003 they undertook a massive rethink of the brand.
The whisky was finally released as An Cnoc with a new striking white packaging that was both unpretentious and distinctive. The first release was at 12 years of age closely followed by a 1990 vintage 14yo. These new bottlings obviously had much more care taken with their construction in terms of cask selection and packaging. The whisky inside was warm, spicy and fruity with great balance between classic Speyside characteristics and some much stronger smoky aspects that lent it great distinction.
In 2005 a 30yo 1975 was launched that remains one of the only aged expressions of Knockdhu in existence. It was a fantastic bottling that can still be found at great prices. It benefitted from carful cask selection that focused on a fine balance between bourbon and sherry casks. The result was a big, spicy, resinous, polished, highly concentrated dram that was full of Christmas cake, vanilla, honey and spicy/smoky notes.
Bottlings of An Cnoc continue today with the same consistency of quality and full flavoured profile. There are regular 14yo vintage expressions and recently an excellent 16yo was added to the range. Hopefully this streak of excellent, honest and unpretentious whisky making will continue at Knockdhu for a long time. They have managed to build a reputable and stong brnad without the use of gimmicks, silly finishings or shock value, over priced bottlings. It has been done off the back of good quality whisky, appealing and simple marketing and careful cask selection and stock management. Lets hope it’s a trend that is here to stay.