“When you set forth to buy a Scotch distillery”, whisky entrepreneur David Prior smirked, “you won’t find one. The distillery will find you”. With this remark, the well-spoken Australian referred to the fact that it is incredibly hard to obtain a whisky production site on Scottish soil – even if you have the capital. However, through a series of fortunate events as well as swift acting and skilful business making it happened in 2014 that David “got found” by the then-defunct Lowlands unit Bladnoch. After the purchase, David and his team invested heavily into the plant, which was not in great shape at that point in time.
Today, Bladnoch is back on the market as a force to be reckoned with. Their core range (made from casks that David either bought alongside the distillery or re-purchased from indie bottlers) is getting a whole lotta love from the dramming community. They produce about 600,000 liters of alcohol per year. And the first spirit of the “new era” will come of age (i.e. turn three years old) in 2020. With a workforce of 30 staff, Bladnoch is already the biggest employer in the area and the number will further increase later on this year, when Scotland’s southernmost distillery opens its visitor center. Despite all these successes, Bladnoch still has a long way ahead of itself. It is David’s goal to fully restore the time-honored unit’s former glory and make it a key player in the renaissance of the Lowlands (a region that often tends to get overlooked by whisky fans).
To tell the adventurous story of how he became a distillery owner and showcase his various products, David came to Hamburg on March 8 to host a special Bladnoch tasting. Held in the upper-class Hafen Klub Hamburg, the event was exclusive and nonchalant at the same time. Together with Didi from Bladnoch’s German distributor Alba Import, David led through the evening with knowledge and charisma. The first dram he and Didi had prepared for us was the Pure Scot. This smooth and palatable blended whisky is a favorite of David’s wife Sally. Next up was the 10yo – the most accessible member of the Bladnoch range. It was matured entirely in 1st and 2nd fill ex-bourbon barrels and had a fresh and fruity yet robust character. Glass number three included the debute whisky of the revived Bladnoch brand: Samsara (which fittingly means “rebirth”). Although it is an NAS bottling, all of its ingredients are of considerable age. Made from whiskies that got fully matured in either ex-bourbon or Californian red wine casks, Samsara was delicate and refined but also able-bodied and thick. It had a lot of red currants, strawberries and brittle in the nose as well as baked goods, oranges and cinnamon in the mouth. When gulped down, it became very floral and spicy. I loved it!
After a short break, during which we ate petite snacks with martime themes, we continued with another two whiskies. Adela was fully matured in Oloroso sherry casks for 15 years. I found it to be an intense yet balanced pour of excellent make. It was sweet, delicate and rich with a lovely bouquet full of cherries, brambles, oranges, brittle and burnt cookies. When mouthed, it also offered raspberry pudding, strawberry milk and cocoa powder. The long, warming aftertaste was sweet and spicy and tongue-pleasing. As Bladnoch’s stock of Adela is dwindling, those who still want to buy a bottle should better not wait too long. Speaking of long waits: No less than 27 years went by before our last whisky was ready for bottling! Talia is the current crown jewel of the Bladnoch range. Kept exclusively in bourbon wood, it marked the fruitiest dram in the line-up. It offered pears, oranges, mangos and rhubarb supplemented by fresh, sweet and grassy notes. Again, the whisky was really well made and wonderfully evened out. Though it followed up on the fully sherry-matured Adela, it had enough stature to stand its ground. A grand finale, for sure!
At this point, I must confess that I did not follow Bladnoch’s history and development too closely in the past. I had a sip here and a sip there, but I never delved deeper into the matter or bought a full bottle. This certainly will change! Now that I got familiar with the distillery’s people, story and vision, my curiosity has been raised. And after trying so many top-notch drams by them in such a special environment, I have tasted blood. Thanks a lot to David and Sally of Bladnoch as well as Didi and Corry of Alba Import for having me as their guest that night. I came as a whisky enthusiast eager to learn something new. I left as a Bladnoch fan.
Pure Scot (Blended Whisky / Scotland / NAS / 40% / ~35 EUR)
Bladnoch 10yo (Single Malt / Lowlands / 10yo / 46.7% / ~55 EUR)
Bladnoch Samsara (Single Malt / Lowlands / NAS/ 46.7% / ~75 EUR)
Bladnoch Adela (Single Malt / Lowlands / 15 / 46.7% / ~105 EUR)
Bladnoch Talia (Single Malt / Lowlands / 27 / 43% / ~340 EUR)
*** I got kindly invited to the event by Alba Import. ***