Convalmore is another example of a Speyside distillery built during the 1890’s to meet increased demand for the flavoursome yet approachable style of whisky produced in this region. Built in mid-1893 in the heart of Speyside, on the outskirts of Dufftown, by the Convalmore-Glenlivet Distillery Company, who were a group comprised of Glasgow businessmen eager to take advantage of the booming Scotch whisky industry.
Dramatic increases in demand as market forces dictate can be followed by contractions and ultimately only the healthiest and financially secure companies can continue to exist. Thus it was the case with the Convalmore-Glenlivet company that fell foul to the Pattison Crisis that befell the industry in the late 1890’s. By 1905 the company had gone into liquidation and blender W.P. Lowrie & Company Limited, purchased Convalmore including its stock for a fee of £6000 plus around 12p per gallon of whisky. This period of ownership was extremely short-lived as by 1906 the parent company was acquired by James Buchanan & Company, assisted by his sizeable resources with the increasingly popular Black & White blended scotch.
On 29th October 1909 the distillery was damaged after a devastating fire. It was rebuilt and resumed production in 1910 and during this period Buchanan decided to install a continuous still at Convalmore that was capable of producing 500 gallons per hour. It was a brief attempt, as by 1915 the still had been removed, as the spirit it produced after maturation was felt not to be adequate to the needs of its owner. James Buchanan was a pivitol figure in the industry, not only a Whisky Baron, he helped establish the practice of well-aged whiskies and blends containing a significant amount of malt content. For the distillery, the removal of the continuous still allowed it to focus firmly on producing a single malt for the Black & White label.
Whilst Buchanan passed away in 1935, many of his distilleries were taken over by DCL in 1925, whom in turn transferred Convalmore to Scottish Malt Distillers in 1930, thus commencing the road towards the large companies that endure today with sizeable distillery assets. Its history is fairly uneventful thereafter until 1964 when its 2 existing stills were doubled to 4 to provide an increased capacity, a new mash house was constructed and the warehousing increased. A dark grains plant was added to process by-products of distillation for the distillery and others locally within the Distillers group. The increased level of production was licensed to W.P. Lowrie & Company the following year, supporting its range of blends.
By the early 1980’s the growth in demand for Scotch whisky had evaporated and the industry was faced with a dramatic decline and the difficult decisions associated with overproduction. Aging, inefficient distilleries often with no single malt presence to speak of, were selected for closure and thus this became the reality for Convalmore in 1985. However, the following year the distillery was saved from an uncertain fate by William Grant & Sons who have a sizeable presence around Dufftown. As their spiritual home with the Glenfiddich and Balvenie, with the addition of Kinivie in 1990, Convalmore is only a short walk from this trio of family distilleries.
The dark grains plant was deemed surplus to requirements and was demolished in 1995, but the distillery remains in use today for its traditional style of warehousing. The recent Glenfiddich IPA Experiment was matured at Convalmore and although the internal equipment necessary for distilling whisky has long since been removed, Convalmore still has a part to play for William Grant & Sons albeit that the name itself remains with Diageo.
This distillery is another classic example of the period with its weathered stone exterior displaying a resilience. Whilst it is not possible to tour the distillery internally, one of the excellent Dufftown walking tours for visitors will take you around the outside of the remaining buildings with perhaps a wee dram of Convalmore being poured to pay homage to the distillery. The whisky itself is well regarded and sought after, it has been bottled by Diageo as part of its annual special releases programme and the Rare Malts, but it also receives welcome support from independent bottlers such as Cadenheads and Gordon & MacPhail in recent years.