There are several distilleries within these descriptions at Abbey Whisky that were constructed during the boom period of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. These tended to be rustled up in an industrial and efficient style thereby enabling owners to produce their spirit as quickly as possible. As with most things in life there is always an exception to the rule and amongst these new arrivals the odd one out is Tormore.
As you leave the A9 road and swing past Grantown on Spey and head towards Speyside, the surrounding landscape becomes more dominating and rugged. It seems the perfect environment for illicit distilling, but the true marker – excluding the malt whisky trail signs – comes with the arrival of Tormore. Driving past you’re almost inclined to quickly turnaround and take in this most unusual of distilleries. A picture-perfect setting, this unique distillery was designed and constructed at a tremendous cost is accompanied by sculpted gardens and matching workers houses, which were sold in 2004 and today are private residential homes. Tormore could herald from an era before 1960 or possibly another planet.
In reality construction started on the site in 1958 based upon the then current owners Long John International purchasing the land and then giving architect Sir Albert Richardson carte blanche to design a distillery. Tormore is not open to the public but does occasionally receive guests or throw open its doors as part of the Speyside Whisky Festival. Visiting the distillery highlights the scale of the project and ornate touches such as lead roofing, a wood panelled reception area with specially commissioned carved chairs and other details that would have never made it into reality under other owners. The main buildings are built to endure the variable and harsh Speyside climate being comprised of granite. The iconic clock used to play 1 of 4 Scottish songs every 15 minutes; much to the then workers delight we’re sure. Certainly, there’s not been a distillery like Tormore before or since.
The distillery was created to provide content for its owner’s range of blends and distillation didn’t commence until 1961 with the number of stills doubled in 1971. Very little has been seen of Tormore as a single malt during the initial decade with the most famous example being the Tormore Samaroli distilled in 1966 and bottled at 16 years. Whitbread acquired Long John in 1975 and this marked a series of owners. It also heralded more attempts to establish the distillery as a single malt in its own right. Often described as a Pure Highland Scotch Whisky or the Pearl of Speyside, there have been numerous attempts to establish Tormore as a brand. This lack of consistency and varying approaches means that the official ranges are wildly different. The debut Tormore from the early 1970’s is a polar opposite to the gloriously sherried 10-year-old that followed immediately after it.
The current owners in Pernod Ricard took ownership in 2005 and passed the distillery to its Chivas Brothers division, which currently offers a 14 and 16-year-old as the core range and these tends to be solid if unspectacular whiskies. Of more interest is the cask strength distillery reserve Tormore release that you may find at some retailers. This gives a hint of what the distillery is capable of with a joyous assortment of fruits and confectionary; a classic Speysider that is often gazed upon as you drive past but has little brand visibility. In 2012 a sizeable investment was carried out on site and production increased by 20%, but any improvements on site have to contend with the fact that Tormore has the status of a listed building despite being built only in 1960. The main production area is cathedral-like in its scale and atmosphere, adorned with huge ornate windows raining light down upon the stills that produce the magical spirit.
Today, Tormore continues to provide for its master’s blends with the Chivas Regal being the primary destination. Thankfully the independent sector is a solid supporter of what this distillery can offer. It’s here via many of the main bottlers that you can discover the delights of Tormore that grow in stature if you can track down whiskies at 20-30 years of age. If only Chivas could match the grandeur of the distillery with a suitable whisky accompaniment. Hopefully plans are afoot as the distillery continues to grow in presence thanks to the work of 4 enthusiastic individuals who highlight its whisky delights and a more sustained focus from Chivas itself.