Firstly, to avoid confusion we should tackle the name of Knockdhu. Nowadays you’ll see this bottled as anCnoc, which is Gaelic for Knock Hill that resides near the distillery. The change which came about in 1990’s sought to avoid further confusion with Diageo’s Knockando distillery, which goes into blends and is very popular in France. Despite the name change the confusion continues today even though these 2 Speyside distilleries are quite some distance apart.
Knockdhu was established by the Distillers Company Limited in 1893 as the rising demand for Speyside whisky and content for blends, prompted a widespread surge in distilleries across the region. By 1894, the distillery is in production and supports the Haig blends amongst others. It has a relatively quiet existence in distillery terms, avoiding the usual hazards of fire or closure until 1930 when ownership is transferred to the Scottish Malt Distillers and its output is licensed by James Munro & Sons of Ledaig. Things settle down once again and Knockdhu continues to produce its content until 1983 when it is one of several distilleries selected for closure across Scotland.
Such a decision by its owners was fairly easy as the distillery was in the 1980’s relatively unknown and with only 2 stills – which remains the case today – it was an aging and small contributor. Thus, this quaint unspoilt distillery closes its doors and the rest of Speyside moves on. Things change in 1988 when Inver House distilleries purchases Knockdhu with the intension of reviving its fortunes. Production doesn’t resume until the following year and in 1990, Knockdhu releases its first official single malt in a distinctive white style box with ornate writing that is rarely seen nowadays. Shortly after this and in 1993, the change to anCnoc followed and the bottle style was kept intact with only the name being changed.
At the turn of the millennium, Inver House, are purchased by Thai group Pacific Spirits, today called Thai Beverages Plc, who remain as owners and let the small team at the distillery focus on producing whisky. Since the change to anCnoc the distillery has built up a strong reputation for quality and age statements with a series of core expressions commencing with the 12 but rising to the delightful 24-year-old. Older statements have been released, as have a series of peated expressions called Rutter, Flaughter, Tushkar and Cutter. These each feature different levels of peat and revive the Speyside tradition of using peated malt as part of the production process. More recent is a peated bottling known as Stack and an exclusive collection for the travel retail market.
The distillery itself has been kept fairly intact and from the outside it seems very little has changed since the 1890’s with the stone buildings and dunnage style warehousing. Most of the modern changes have been kept out of public eye, as they’re around the back of the distillery and keep the traditional exterior intact. Currently there is no visitor centre at the time of writing, but there are plans to establish a new building to welcome visitors attracted to this rising Speyside distillery.
Tours do run at the distillery currently and it’s well worth a visit. Whilst technically the production side can be controlled by just a single person, most of the traditional features such as the kiln area, floor maltings and outer builds remain and are on the tour. One of the highlights is the use of worm tubs that sit outside and these are worth the climb up from the still room to see such a traditional feature in operation. These form an important part of helping establish the Knockdhu character and the wash still also has a condenser, which the distillery manager suggested works extremely hard to keep up.
Annually the distillery produces a modest 2 million litres and most of this was intended for blends but nowadays a growing percentage is laid down for its single malt presence, which continues to grow year on year. A quarter of this annual output will be for its peated malt range. Very little of Knockdhu reaches the independent bottlers with only a couple of bottlings being released in recent years. A notable release was the 10-year-old from Cadenheads in 2017 which highlighted its sweet and cereal based flavours to great aplomb.