The furthest south
Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is Scotland's most southerly distillery that is currently in operation. It is located in a remote spot, close to the village of Wigtown, between the towns of Dumfries and Stranraer - it is actually further south than parts of northern England, including the city of Newcastle! The distillery takes its name from the nearby River Bladnoch, which supplies the water for the whisky production, and was founded in 1817 by two brothers - Thomas and John McClelland. The distillery has had an intermittent history and has been closed and re-opened on a number of occasions, mainly due to its remote location. The most recent closure was in the 1990s.
The distillery is reborn
The previous owners (United Distillers, who later became part of Diageo) closed Bladnoch in 1993 and the distillery was purchased by Northern Irishman Raymond Armstrong in 1994. His aim was to boost the diminishing Lowland single malt whisky industry (there were only two distilleries left at the time - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie - and this number had previously been over 30 in boom times). However, following legal problems with Diageo, Armstrong was not allowed to begin production until 2000 with the production capacity capped at 100,000 litres per year (full capacity is around 250,000 litres per year). Initially, old stock from the previous owners was bottled and released, before in 2008 the first single malt produced during Armstrong's tenure was released. The current range is still expanding as more stock reaches maturity.
Details of the 'Beltie'
This whisky was one of the first to be released that was made by Armstrong's regime, rather than using old Diageo stock.. It is bottled at eight years of age and at the cask strength of 55% ABV. The whisky has been matured in ex-bourbon casks and should cost around £4o per bottle (a bit of a bargain for a cask strength whisky) from specialist whisky retailers and www.bladnoch.co.uk. It is named after the 'Beltie' or Belted Galloway, which is a rare breed of Lowland cattle found near to the distillery and they feature on the label. We thank Sue at Bladnoch for the opportunity to sample this whisky.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a vibrant golden yellow and the nose is fresh and fragrant. There is an immediate floral aroma (think of honeysuckle) and loads of vanilla. These are followed by a lovely combination of sweet notes - honey, almonds, marzipan and rich white oak - and some more bitter aromas (imagine dried grasses or hay and cereal grains). More vanilla and almond comes out the longer that the whisky remains in the glass. On the palate, this is again fresh and feels creamy in the mouth despite giving a hot sensation due to the high strength of the alcohol. Once this starts to soften, other notes start to come through - a distinct zesty and pleasantly acidic citrus note (think of lemon zest especially), plenty of vanilla, honey, almonds. These are again backed up by the more bitter cereal and dried grass elements. The finish is fairly short, zesty and refreshing. The finish lacks any real sweetness and remains enjoyably crisp and dry. With the addition of a few drops of water, the nose becomes more grainy and grassy. The same happens on the palate, where the balance is tilted away from the sweeter vanilla and honey elements. It takes plenty of water to lose the heat from the alcohol, although by this stage the whisky is becoming very bitter and drying on the finish.
What's the verdict?
This Bladnoch is very enjoyable and would be great as an aperitif/refreshing whisky. It has pleasant sweet, almost delicate elements that battle with the high alcohol percentage and the balance is just about maintained. With water, it seems to fall apart a bit but is easier to drink and still very pleasant. It may be a little dry for some palates but is an excellent example of this style of whisky. This is one tasty dram.
To compare this eight years old 'Beltie' with the regular eight years old bottling (released at 46% ABV), then read our recent review by clicking here.