Toast the Immortal Memory in style

By Michael Jackson
Saturday 25 January 2003 01:00
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It would seem appropriate to toast the Immortal Memory (the traditional tribute to the poet Robert Burns at any Burns Supper) with a single malt from Bladnoch, the distillery nearest to Burns Country. Now back in business under private ownership following a ten-year closure, it has been distilling for 18 months or more, and is one of a growing band of new-style "micro" distilleries.

Bladnoch is geared to produce only two batches a week, primarily for bottling as single malt. It sells in its own shop, local bars and hotels and through specialist merchants.

Scotland has almost 100 distilleries. Six or seven international groups between them control the industry. Until recently, only one distillery, Glenfarclas, was wholly independent. In the past five years, however, another four distilleries have been sold by international groups to small private companies. The renowned whisky merchant Gordon and MacPhail bought the Benromach distillery on Speyside, formerly owned by United Distillers, and re-equipped it for smaller-scale production. Another Speyside distillery, Tomintoul, was sold by Jim Beam to a private owner, who has thus far maintained a low profile.

More significantly, Jim Beam also sold the Bruichladdich distillery, on Islay, to a group of investors assembled by the London wine merchants La Réserve; and Scotland's most westerly distillery is building a very high profile. At the moment it is unusual for a distillery to make more than one style of malt, but I believe that will become a typical feature of micros like Bruichladdich.

Another tiny distillery to watch is Edradour, the smallest in Scotland, bought from Pernod-Ricard by Andrew Symington who has hired Iain Henderson from the Islay distillery Laphroaig. And the Isle of Arran distillery, established in the mid-Nineties, looks set to be overtaken as Scotland's youngest. Plans for a new, farm-style distillery on Islay seem to have foundered, but similar projects are afoot in Fife and Shetland.

In Fife, the planned Ladybank distillery hopes to produce batches from the barley crops of identified local farms. Some months ago, the same notion was put to me by Bladnoch's owner Raymond Armstrong. His new spirit is more flowery than I remember, but still has a year or two before it will be whisky. The following are available:

* Bladnoch 10-year-old: Candyfloss sweetness on the nose; cinnamon spiciness; biscuity balancing dryness in the finish. (£33-£35)

* Bladnoch 13-year-old, cask strength (54.9 per cent abv), bottled by Cadenhead: more herbal and fruity, with a suggestion of lime peels. Sharper, drier. (around £35)

* Bladnoch 22-year-old, 50 abv, bottled by Douglas Laing. Fruity, with a good balance of acidity and juicy, syrupy, sweetness. Peppery finish. (£55-£58)

* Bladnoch 1974, 50.8 per cent abv, bottled by Signatory: Fragrant, oily, piney. Big enough to wash down tonight's haggis and tomorrow's late breakfast. (around £60).

Stockists: The Wee Dram, Bakewell (01629 812235); Royal Mile Whiskies, Edinburgh (0131 2253383) and London (020-7436 4763); The Whisky Chaser, St Annes on Sea (01253 781200); Vintage House, London (020-7437 2592); Cadenhead Whisky Shop, Edinburgh (0131 5565864) and London (020-7379 4640). Mail order from The Whisky Exchange (020-8606 9388, www.thewhiskyexchange.com)

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