Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is Scotland's most southerly distillery that is currently in operation. It is located in a remote spot, close to the village of Wigtown, between the towns of Dumfries and Stranraer - it is actually further south than parts of northern England, including the city of Newcastle! The distillery takes its name from the nearby River Bladnoch, which supplies the water for the whisky production, and was founded in 1817 by two brothers - Thomas and John McClelland. The distillery has had an intermittent history and has been closed and re-opened on a number of occasions.
The most recent of these closures was in the mid 1990s. The previous owners (United Distillers, who later became part of Diageo) closed Bladnoch in 1993 and the distillery was purchased by Northern Irishman Raymond Armstrong in 1994. His aim was to help the flagging Lowland whisky industry (at the time only had two distilleries left - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie - having previous had over 30). However, following legal problems with Diageo, Armstrong was not allowed to begin production until 2000 with production capacity capped at 100,000 litres per year (full capacity is around 250,000 litres per year). Initially, old stock from the previous owners was bottled and released, before in 2008 the first single malt produced during Armstrong's tenure was released. The current range is still expanding as more stock reaches maturity.
Details of this new whisky
This whisky was released in April 2010 and is taken from the old stock inherited from the previous owners. It was distilled in January 1990 and bottled in February 2010 at the natural cask strength of 52.4% ABV. The whisky was matured in ex-bourbon casks and should cost around £45 per bottle (a bargain for a cask strength whisky of this age) from specialist retailers. It represents the oldest distillery bottling of Bladnoch currently on the market, although older ones are available through various independent bottling companies. We thank Sue at Bladnoch for the opportunity to sample this whisky.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is a pale gold and the nose is enticing, becoming even more so with time in the glass. The nose has an initial mix of vanilla, honey, stewed fruit (especially apples) and cereal grain notes. There is also a zingy, zesty lemon note that appears, along with something floral (this is hard to pin down but is reminiscent of a flower such as honeysuckle) and a distinct grassy aroma (imagine dried grass or hay - this element also increases with time). It is a promising and very interesting start. On the palate, this is light, fresh and vibrant - these characteristics can be lost as whisky increases with age. The palate reflects the order of the nose very closely with initial sweetness coming from vanilla, honey and cereals. Then comes the fruit with tangy lemon zest being followed by the softer, sweeter stewed apples and a touch of brown sugar. The cereal notes increase and join with the late developing dried grassy character to add balance and finish things off very nicely. There is also just a hint of some spicy ginger and a tiny pinch of nutmeg. The finish is long, fresh and very enjoyable with honey and vanilla combining well with cereals and dried grass notes.
What's the verdict?
This Bladnoch 20 years old is lovely. It is as simple as that! The quality of the spirit shines through, as does the sympathetic use of good ex-bourbon casks. The alcoholic strength leads you to want to add water and it is still very good - the sweetness and grassiness really comes through, the alcohol and zingy citrus sharpness are softened but it still retains some vibrancy. This would be an ideal light, fresh summer dram or as an aperitif. It has certainly gone done well here in London's mini 'heatwave'!