Thursday, June 27, 2013

Whisky Review: Gordon & MacPhail Bladnoch 13 Year 1988/2002

Bladnoch has a number of distinctions - southernmost whisky distillery in Scotland, one of three
remaining active Lowland distilleries, one of the smallest in terms of output (though this is due to contracts, rather than physical capacity) - that make it a very interesting place.

© Bladnoch Distillery
The distillery was founded in 1811 by the McClelland brothers and remained under family ownership until 1938. Its location a short hop across the North Channel from Ireland meant that it received a lot of influence from Irish whiskey distillers, with stints of ownership by the Royal Irish Distillers of Belfast. So it used to operate very much like an Irish distillery, using unpeated malt and triple distillation. The distillery closed during WWII and was revived by new owners at the end of the 1940s, only to suffer further sporadic closures and transfers of ownership.

The distillery was closed in 1993, seemingly for good, during one of DCL/Diageo's periodic rash of closures of their stock of malt whisky distilleries. However, the distillery was once again saved by the Irish, this time in the form of Raymond and Colin Armstrong, who purchased the shuttered distillery as a holiday home. Though their original contract stipulated that the property would never again be used for distilling, they were able to finagle a renegotiation that allowed them to start up distilling again in 2000. However, there was a clause that they would not produce more than 100,000 liters of spirit a year, despite the distillery cranking out 1.3 million liters a year during the 1980s.

One of the most interesting features of the distillery is their whisky school, which lets amateur's learn how to operate a distillery over the course of a few days. I really wish I could do this myself, though it does tend to be a bit on the pricey side. Even if I won't get to do more than take a tour, I'm really looking forward to visiting the distillery this summer during my tour of SW Scotland.

In an effort to get to know the distillery from afar, I trekked to the Highland Stillhouse to try an old bottling of their pre-closure whisky.

G&M Bladnoch 1988/2002 13 Year

Nose: rich honied malt, lightly fruity (berries, grape, banana, raisins), floral (roses, violets), vanilla, almost undetectable oak, bubblegum. After adding a few drops of water, a lot more vanilla comes out, the floral and malt notes merge, it becomes creamier, and the sherry influence is more clear.

Taste: honey vanilla malt and light sherry influence throughout, a burst of grape near the front, floral tangy oak with a lot of creaminess mid-palate, then big black pepper near the back. After dilution, the flavors become more integrated/less distinct, but the sherry becomes more apparent with a bit of sourness and strawberries at the back.

Finish: malty, milk chocolate, light oak, grape, black pepper, a touch of salt?

Despite being bottled at 40% and probably having sat open for years, this whisky was full of flavor. This is exactly what I want a Lowland whisky to be - fresh and malty, a bit fruity and floral, with just enough oak influence to keep it in balance. I could drink this for ages, but sadly one dram will have to do. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for more Bladnochs, if this one is any representation of what the distillery can do.


  1. Small correction, there are five active Lowlands distilleries (not counting the ones making grain whisky). Daftmill and Ailsa Bay distilleries now have legal whisky (product over the three year mark).

  2. I've only had a G&M choice ex-bouron 40% Bladnoch and the flavor is incredible and so rich. I got more a confessary licorice but as if it was homemade and just baked with a cramy pie filling mouthfeel. And the G&M is the one with the weak cask. Just think what the new bladnoch's are like in fresh ex bourbon and Sherry cask!!! There just so expansive to buy online. Then each one comes in like 3 strenghts.

    1. There aren't a lot of options for Bladnoch within the US. I reviewed one, but it couldn't hold a candle to this G&M bottle.

      The Party Source has a few reasonably priced bottles, but they don't ship any longer. K&L Wine brought in a few as well, but you have to trust their picks.