Grain distilleries are too easily dismissed by many whisky enthusiasts as industrial producers supporting the huge range of blended Scotches that form the backbone of the industry. In recent years the number of grain distilleries has been condensed into increasingly larger central facilities and the older more unusual grains such as Carsebridge, Garnheath and Cambus have been consigned to the history books. Grain whisky has risen in prominence and popularity in recent times, thanks to continued support from the independent sector, who regularly bottle single cask grains at increasingly advanced age and the Haig Club. Compared to single malt bottlings, grain is often cheaper and occasionally a match for, or even surpasses, single malt releases. However, grain whisky is not for everyone, with some enthusiasts highlighting its limited portfolio of flavours and leaning towards a sweeter palate.
You would envisage that grain distilleries are secretive places without too much to report other than the sizeable levels of production, but you’d be wrong. Despite being a relatively new arrival with Invergordon only established only in 1960, it already has a colourful history. Situated in the north of Scotland, on the outskirts of Invergordon, the distillery is well placed to take advantage of an abundance of land, harbouring a widespread farming community growing a variety of grains. With malting being performed nearby in Inverness on an industrial scale, the distillery is able to feed its appetite for raw materials with relative ease.
During Invergordon’s early years much needed investment was sought to expand its capabilities by increasing the number of column stills and today it can produce a huge amount of grain whisky and a neutral spirit for other alcoholic beverages. Following trends of the period, when owners tried to create sites where all production requirements were met i.e. Dumbarton distillery, Invergordon also played host to a malt distillery. This was established in 1965 with a couple of stills providing blending stock as and when required. The distillery took its name from the nearby town of Dingwall that played host to the original Ben Wyvis distillery until 1926. The Invergordon component was a short lived experiment, as the malt distillery closed in 1977, making Ben Wyvis one of the rarest single malts ever released. Very little of it was made or remains in existence and this explains why its stills were in such fine condition when they were purchased by Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown to produce it’s Kilkerran whisky at the turn of the millennium.
As Invergordon is owned by Whyte & Mackay who became owners in 1993, before they were acquired by Emperador Distillers Inc., almost all of its output is destined for their range of popular blends. The location also offers reasonable access to another company distillery in the form of Dalmore, which is just along the coastline. Further afield but still within a reasonable drive are the Fettercairn and Tamnavulin distilleries.
Invergordon distillery has recently been the subject of massive investment from its new owners. A local dispute is ongoing regarding the proposed installation of a biogas plant at a cost of £16 million that would safeguard the site and remove its reliance on its 1970’s dark grains facility. This would allow it to renew energy and sell it back to the national grid, fuelled by spent wash and pot ale from not only Invergordon but also Dalmore and Tamnavulin. Unfortunately, the coastal town since the foundation of the distillery, expanded and enclosed the site with residential housing, which adds to the difficulty of any refurbishment. However, it’s a double edged sword with a biogas plant meaning less traffic in and out of the distillery. Yet the likelihood of redundancies with the biogas plant being automated and the removal of the onsite cooperage, filling store and cask shed. With recent council approval for the plan, there is some speculation as to the future of Invergordon.
The distillery itself offers a multitude of independent bottlings that mainly consist of ex-bourbon and sherry casks, often released at their natural strength and without colouring. Unusually for a grain distillery there was an official 10-year-old expression released in the 1990’s that highlighted its inoffensive and sweet nature. This bottling was only available for a handful of years but any shortfall is made up by the sheer abundance of regular options currently available.