I was introduced to Bladnoch, whilst on a tour/tasting in Dornoch, the very fine whisky shop there; Carnegie Whisky Cellars. Now a friend, Michael has worked in the industry for many years and his knowledge was gained by working in whisky shops and distilleries across the Scottish Lowlands, he pushed me into a bottle some years ago, I never looked back.
Bladnoch (Scottish Gaelic: Blaidneach) is a small village on the River Bladnoch in Wigtownshire, Scotland, located just outside the county town of Wigtown. The River Bladnoch reaches the Bladnoch Distillery sitting on the north side of the river, just west of Bladnoch village. In 1798 this village had 10 or 12 thatched houses. At the south side of the 1728 stone bridge there was a public house which was known for its’ heavy drinking, rowdy behaviour, and fights. In 1743 just before the Jacobite rising, the old innkeeper at “Blednoch Brig” was a man called Sawners McClurg. He allowed rowdy behaviour but no fighting in his pub. If a fight began “he reached for a thick stick which he kept handy, stood up, gave the ground a thump with his stick and said “quietness is best”. He was a strong man and, when he did this, everything was silent. Is this where that big Irishman in the John Wayne films got the idea? Bladnoch is no far from the Irish Sea crossing between Stranraer and Larne. Twice in its’ history its’ owners have come from Northern Ireland. Any reason why I do not like this place? A Celtic blend, more of this later.
The distillery was founded by John and Thomas McClelland in 1817 and during the period 1823 – 1826 produced 28,956 imperial gallons (131,640 Litres) of whisky, an average of 7,239 imperial gallons per annum, and in the year 1826 – 1827 this had risen to 9,792 imperial gallons. In 1878 the distillery was enlarged and modernised, presumably to cope with rising production. By 1887 the site occupied 2 acres with a further 50 acres being farmed by the son and nephew of the founders; the output had risen to 51,000 imperial gallons per annum. No bad at all! During the 1890s “misfortunes” which are not specified struck the distilling industry; these could have been the reduction nationwide in the production of barley, a possible rise in excise duty and the growth of the various temperance movements. The other distilleries in Galloway closed but Bladnoch survived. Between 1911 and 1937 it was owned by Wm Dunville & Co. Ltd, an Irish company (I do like their whiskey by the way and have been to that distillery in Northern Ireland), and on the outbreak of World War II whisky production ceased, but malt continued to be produced until 1949 when the distillery closed until 1957 – under new ownership whisky production began again and continued under a number of different owners until 1983 when Bell’s took over and initiated a programme of modernisation and computerisation. In 1987 the United Distillers Group (later Diageo) took over Bell’s and continued the modernisation as a result of which the weekly production rose to over 8,000 imperial gallons more than 8 times the output in 1887.
A year after it had been closed by United Distillers, the mothballed distillery was discovered by the two Irish Armstrong Brothers whilst on holiday in 1994. After several years spent finding and replacing the old plant and equipment, the distillery reopened for production in late 2000. The first 8 year old single malt produced by the Armstrong brothers – Ray & Colin – became available in 2009. The company operating Bladnoch Distillery, Co-Ordinated Development Services, went into administration on 10 March 2014 after what I am told, the brothers had fallen out. I was chatting to one of the sons whilst at breakfast in Craigellachie one day, who is successful now in the whisky industry by the way. The distillery was purchased in July 2015 by Australian entrepreneur David Prior, who had sold his yoghurt business for £52m in August 2014.Didnee know there was that sort of money on a cows after product! Prior is thought to be the first Australian to buy a scotch whisky distillery. In late 2016, Prior officially relaunched Bladnoch, and announced three new expressions, created from aged stocks by master distiller Ian MacMillan: the no age statement Samsara, the 15-year-old Adela and the 25-year-old Talia. In July 2019, Dr Nick Savage joined Bladnoch Distillery as Master Distiller. Nick has formerly worked for William Grant & Sons (Glenfiddich etc) and as Master Distiller of The Macallan (Edrington). No a bad CV I suppose, he beat me to the job. I do like to try my hand at blending, being one myself helps.
The launch of the 19 year old whisky added another dimension to Bladnoch’s portfolio of annual releases. Extraordinary Pedro Ximénez casks matured at Bladnoch complement the existing range with a beautifully rich and sweet whisky. Me? I love these cask finishes, right up my street! This belongs in a category of its’ own. A taste of perfection that lets you travel to the Scottish Lowlands without leaving home.
DAVID PRIOR THE OWNER purchased Bladnoch Distillery in 2015. His philosophy; “Early mornings. Deep stretches. The crash of a wave. The view from the clouds. The silence of thought. The noise of success. The rules broken. The limits pushed. Good company. And a great drink.”, is what brings enjoyment in his life and under his leadership, Bladnoch Distillery is enjoying a bold, powerful and exciting revival.
NICK SAVAGE THE MASTER DISTILLER Dr Nick Savage joined Bladnoch Distillery as Master Distiller in 2019, hailing from The Macallan. Having spent four years in Australia completing his PhD, Nick has a deep connection with Bladnoch Distillery’s Scottish and Australian roots. Throughout his career, Nick’s unwavering pursuit of perfection has led him to become an industry leader and this same drive ensures the excellence of Bladnoch single malts each day.
Bladnoch Single Malts can be found in 30 countries. The opening of the Visitor Centre represents the final piece of this exciting and rewarding project. Nick Savage played an integral part in launching The Macallan Visitor Experience in 2018 and will now lead the team producing whisky in the heart of the Lowlands. www.bladnoch.com
Bladnoch Distillery’s new Visitors Centre in the heart of Dumfries and Galloway is well worth a visit. The iconic distillery is one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland and features a historical gallery, gift shop, café, and tasting bar serving the entire range of Bladnoch single malt scotch whiskies and Pure Scot Blended Scotch Whiskies. We take the Pure Scot on our whisky tours, it goes doon well, although I do have some trouble here, as I am a blend of Scots (Oban) and Irish (Kilkenny) parentage. I normally spend some time chattin to our guests and like to mention that the Pure Scot drams are exactly what they say, unlike some Japanese drams that say made in Japan, when actually they include Scots whiskies! As of today, no, I havnee made the treck, it’s a long way fae Perth, and most of our tours don’t go the far doon Scotland, we shall have to see what can be done. Maybe now is the time for me to donder along for a looksee. Oh aye, I do like the bottle and art packaging, strikes a chord in my arty background, the bottles (not Pure Scot) make good decanters by the way. PAUL MCLEAN