Watch this space is the best outline for Bladnoch distillery. When the Armstrong Brothers partnership was liquidated in 2014, it was a sad end to their period of ownership that promised so much when they revived the distillery in 1994. Situated in a remote part of the whisky Lowland region, Bladnoch distillery attracts a lot of love from enthusiasts. Its style is classic Lowland with a fresh vitality and citrus fruits, that lends itself well to sherry as well as ex-bourbon casks.
Unfortunately, the brothers could not agree the best way forward for the business, which given the current whisky boom seemed an unusual situation. However, Bladnoch itself was in need of sizeable investment and without agreement it was put up for sale later in 2014. The new owner came via an unlikely source via Australia, with David Prior promising sizeable new investment to the site. This has since transpired when he took ownership in 2015 and immediately recruited Burn Stewart master blender Ian Macmillan, who had helped elevate the status of Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory during his tenure. A wise decision, and Ian has overseen the refurbishment of Bladnoch including the production equipment with new stills arriving in 2017.
The distillery itself harks back to 1814, although the official date is 1817, when ironically 2 brothers founded Bladnoch and then became a legal enterprise shortly after the 1823 Excise Act. It remains in McLelland family ownership until 1938 when the distillery closes until 1956, when Dunville & Co Ltd from Belfast take over punctuated by a brief change in owners post-World War 2. The owner merry-go-round continues with a blending firm from Glasgow in 1964 taking over and doubling the number of stills in 1966 to 4. The distillery then passes through the hands of Inver House and Arthur Bell & Sons, before reaching United Distillers in 1985, who take the decision to close the distillery in June 1993 along with Balmenach, Pittyvaich and Rosebank.
The distillery was then supposed to be converted to a heritage centre and the sizeable site with extensive warehousing was a viable option for residential housing. And these alternate options were being considered by the Armstrong brothers who ultimately decided that its best function would be as a distillery and had to negotiate a new deal. United Distillers who were a forerunner to Diageo, had removed aspects of the production equipment and also insisted that production was no more than 100,000 litres per annum. Even when a new agreement had been reached, Bladnoch was nowhere its 1980’s levels of 1.3 million litres and theoretically won’t be until its ongoing renovations have been completed. Production at Bladnoch did not restart until 2000, with the company revenues enhanced by the 11 dunnage style warehouses on site that were used by other distilleries to mature casks.
Under previous owners Bladnoch was destined for blended Scotches however with the Armstrong’s a series of bottlings were released that were distilled by previous owners. These iconic bottlings are adorned with animal or farmyard labels giving Bladnoch a regional and timeless style. The whisky within was always consistently good if not excellent and attractively priced. The distillery shop was always a popular destination to stock up, particularly after the rustic distillery tour and exploration of the picturesque site. For a while the Bladnoch forum was also a source of a series of single cask releases at remarkable prices with bottlings from other Scottish distilleries including Caol Ila, Port Ellen and Strathmill to highlight just a trio. The distillery despite the ongoing renovations is open for tours and makes for an enjoyable daytrip to Wigtown in the Borders.
A similar scenario regarding existing stocks faced David Prior when he took over, with the distillery in an unreasonable state to start producing once again at a worthwhile level. Taking note of the sizeable inventory on site, Ian Macmillan has put together a new Bladnoch trio comprising of No Age Statement Samsara, the 15-year-old Adela and the 25-year-old Talia. These represent a total revamp of Bladnoch with a distinctive bottle design and label devoid of any farm setting, but inside it’s the Bladnoch that many know and love. As production commences to new levels, we’re going to be seeing a lot more from Bladnoch in the coming years and we can expect several surprises including its 200th Anniversary in 2017.