Teaninich is a name that won’t resonate with many whisky drinkers unless you’re on a quest to taste a drop from every distillery and visit each site. Today, Teaninich stands on the edge of an industrial estate that is situated on the outskirts of the town of Alness. The distillery is literally a short walk away from Dalmore, which enjoys a more costal location whilst Teaninich is slightly further inland.
Despite its relatively unknown status as a single malt, Teaninich is one of the largest distilleries within the Diageo portfolio. Capable of producing almost 10 million litres annually, this capacity puts it on the heels of Diageo’s other major producer in the region in the form of Glen Ord, which supplies Teaninich’s malting needs. Externally the site has traditional elements that hark back to its origins in 1817 however in recent years it has been the focus of much investment from Diageo. Work commenced in 2014 and was completed the following year with the addition of 6 new stills and 8 washbacks effectively doubling its capacity.
The comings and goings at Teaninich are of interest and helped shaped what we see today. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, a trend within the industry was to build a more modern distillery alongside the existing unit. Effectively a mirror distillery this was also seen at Glendullan – to highlight 1 example – and generally the units worked alongside each other. The long-term plan arguably would be to close the older distillery when market forces and maintenance costs determined a change was required. In Teaninich’s case the new producer was established in 1970 and fondly called the A-distillery. By 1984, with the downturn in whisky demand and the need to reduce overproduction, the original B-distillery was closed. The following year with no upturn in sight, the remaining distillery followed suit effectively halting production on the site.
By 1991 with the seeds of recovery taking hold, production returned with the reopening of the A-distillery before the B-variant was decommissioned shortly afterwards. Admittedly this is becoming confusing to follow, but the symmetry offered by the recent renovations in 2015 means we have a larger distillery fused under a single name. Legal changes introduced since the 1970’s means that you are no longer able to call a distillery Teaninch number 2 or an ambiguous A or B plant. Each producing example of a distillery should have its own distinctive name. Needless to say, Diageo did have plans for a completely new distillery to replace these existing cohorts until very recently, as there is plenty of available land on the site, but for now these plans are on hold.
With all these changes around Teaninich sometimes it is obscured how far back the distillery stretches. Established in 1817 by Captain Hugh Munro who also owned the Teaninich estate itself, the distillery passes through family ownership until 1850 when it is acquired by Robert Pattison and thereafter goes through an assortment of owners. Eventually in 1933, the distillery is acquired by the growing presence of the Distillers Company Limited, which would herald its pathway to the current owners in Diageo.
There are couple of interesting aspects to the distillery that are worth highlighting. Firstly until 1962 the distillery like so many others was just comprised of a pair of stills. This was doubled thereafter until the arrival of the sister plant in 1970. Teaninich until recently was the only such distillery to utilise a mash filter in its production process. Introduced in 2000, this removes the need for a mashtun and instead a hammer mill crushes the malt into a fine flour without any annoying debris associated with the traditional process. This is then mixed with water and passed through the filters and repeated for up to 3 times in total before filling a nearby washback. The only other distillery to adopt this method is the recently established Inchdarnie on the outskirts of Glenrothes in Fife. The suggested advantages are that this approach is faster and less damaging to machinery, but it remains an obscure and widely ignored approach even with the recent influx of distilleries being built.
Teaninich as a single malt was not seen officially until 1992 when an example was included in the Flora & Fauna series to highlight overlooked distilleries. This 10 year old expression although discontinued is widely available and makes for a solid entry level whisky. A Manager’s Cask followed in 2009, whilst more recently a 17 year old debuted amongst the Diageo Special Releases programme. Thus, bottlings of Teaninich officially are very rare in terms of number, but not in collectability or demand. It remains fairly obscure and a staunch producer towards the Johnnie Walker blends without any sustained single malt presence. It is widely supported by the independent bottlers who do a fine job in sustaining this rarely seen distillery.