Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is Scotland's most southerly whisky distillery 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's name is derived from the ancient Gaelic place name of Blaidzenoch and the nearby River Bladnoch 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 later 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 that 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).
To begin with, old stock from the previous owners was bottled and released, before in 2008 the first single malt produced during Armstrong's tenure was ready. The current range is expanding and includes an eight years old (at both regular and cask strengths), this lightly peated version and some special edition small batch releases. This is bottled at eight years of age and represents a move away from the traditional Lowland whisky style. Bladnoch produces a small amount of lightly peated single malt each year, so this is very limited. It has an alcoholic strength of 58.2% ABV and should cost about £35-40 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 bright golden yellow and the nose is intense and very promising. It has a lovely initial combination of honey, vanilla, cereal grains and a lovely hit of earthy, peaty smoke. These are followed up by some more subtle notes - dried grasses and foliage (imagine hay and leaves) and something floral (think of honeysuckle). On the palate, this is again intense and richer than many Lowland whiskies, which are generally on the lighter side. First comes some distinct cereal grains and this is followed by vanilla, honey and oak. Then the soft, subtle peaty smoke comes through to give a more bitter edge to the palate. It burns away for what seems like ages, becoming more spicy (imagine pepper or chilli) with time. The dried grassy note from the nose is also present but this is more understated now. The finish is extremely vibrant and youthful with a zesty lemon note initially present before giving way to the vanilla, cereals and that peaty, slightly bitter, spicy smokiness. The high alcohol level really allows the characteristics to express themselves. When adding water, the vibrancy was flattened a little with more creamy vanilla and floral notes (that honeysuckle again) prominent. This is also true for the smokiness, which fades with the more water that you add.
What's the verdict?
This is a cracking whisky - it is an almost perfect example of what can be done by introducing a sympathetic peating level in combination with good quality casks for maturation. The balance is superb and this is demonstrated by the fact that you can drink this whisky at its full cask strength (58.2% ABV) reasonably easily. It just doesn't feel like a high strength whisky. Fantastic stuff and probably our favourite of all the Bladnoch's that we have reviewed to date!