The Bladnoch distillery is Scotland's most southerly that is currently in operation. It is located in a remote spot of Dumfries & Galloway, close to the village of Wigtown, and is actually further south than parts of northern England, including the city of Newcastle. Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is derived from the ancient Gaelic place name of Blaidzenoch and lends its name to the nearby River Bladnoch, which supplies the water for the whisky production. Bladnoch was founded in 1817 by two brothers - Thomas and John McClelland. The distillery has had a chequered history and has been closed and re-opened on a number of occasions. There have been various financial reasons for this but most closures have ultimately been attributed to Bladnoch's location.
The most recent closure was in the mid 1990s. The previous owners (United Distillers, who were later to became part of Diageo) closed Bladnoch in 1993 and the distillery was later purchased by Northern Irishman Raymond Armstrong in 1994. His aim was to assist the Lowland whisky industry. This only had two distilleries left at the time - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie - having previous had over 30. However, following various legal battles with Diageo, Armstrong was not allowed to begin production until 2000 and even then the production capacity was capped at 100,000 litres per year (full capacity is around 250,000 litres per year).
New ranges of whisky
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 expanding and includes an eight years old, a lightly peated version and some special editions such as this small batch release of whisky matured in sherry casks. This is bottled at eight years of age and represents stock that has been distilled since Armstrong took control. It has an alcoholic strength of 55% ABV and should cost about £40 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers. We thank Sue at Bladnoch for the chance to sample this whisky.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a deep gold and the nose is very tempting indeed. It has a sumptuous feel and offers plenty of dried fruit (think of sultana especially with some orange peel) and cinnamon/nutmeg spice notes initially. This gives an aroma reminiscent of hot cross buns. A strong toffee and butterscotch aroma begins to come through, as do notes of cereal grains, dried grasses (imagine straw and hay) and delicate honeysuckle with time. These are all counterbalanced by the strong, prickly alcohol which gives a sharp freshness. This alcohol is what leads the palate and makes it zingy, hot and citrus-like. Once this sensation dies away, other notes quickly replace it - plenty of dried fruits and cereals (think of sultanas, orange peel and malty flour), wood spices (the cinnamon and nutmeg again with some oak), sweet honey, dried grasses and a hint of sulphuric coal smoke (this adds an extra dimension and depth of flavour to the whisky rather than being a negative note as it can be in some sherry cask whiskies). The finish begins sweetly (the honey and sultanas especially) before becoming much drier with the dried grass, cereal and oak notes prominent.
What's the verdict?
The aromas and flavour characteristics above are all battling against the high alcohol presence in this whisky. The addition of some water helps with this and makes a good whisky in to an excellent one. With the alcoholic strength reduced the grassy and cereal notes come to the fore and balance well with the now softer toffee, sultana and honey notes. The balance is very good and it maintains its intensity without masking the more delicate flavours. This is arguably our favourite Bladnoch that we have tasted and reviewed to date. A great example of how sherry casks can be sympathetically used to mature whisky.