stats: single malt Scotch, Highlands, 46%, $70
My whisky purchases usually involve much planning and forethought, but every once in a while I do pick up a bottle on a whim. This is one such case. After having become enamored with the Edradour distillery while drinking the flagship 10 year old and researching their Morton’s Refrigerator, making my way there for a tour become a top priority for my next visit to Scotland, whenever that may be. The picturesque distillery is located near the geographic center of the country, roughly 60 mile north of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Of course if you’re planning to drive out to the center of Scotland just to visit a distillery, it’s only logical to visit a few others along the way. Looking at a map of the country, there are five distilleries running in somewhat of a north-south line, spread across 25 miles of the Central Highlands. Edradour is at the north end and Tullibardine is at the south end, with Blair Athol, Aberfeldy and Glenturret lying between them. Daydreaming of such an adventure kept these distillery names fresh in my mind, prompting me to pick up this 13 year old bottling of Tullibardine in spite of the fact that I knew very little about their whisky or where it was made.
That was a little over three years ago. While official distillery bottlings from Tullibardine did exist at the time, they were sort of hard to come by. I have, however, started seeing Tullibardine on store shelves with some frequency more recently. Let’s take a quick look at the brand’s history.
First, lest there be any confusion, there was a distillery named Tullibardine that operated from 1798 to 1837, which was also in the village of Blackford, but not in the same location as the current distillery. The modern Tullibardine distillery was constructed in buildings that had operated as a brewery dating back to the 12th century. There are records of King James IV of Scotland stopping here to purchase beer on the way to his coronation in 1488. That year is sometimes associated with the current operation even though work on the distillery began in 1947 and spirit first flowed in 1949.
That start date is actually pretty interesting. After a spate of distillery construction in the late 1800’s, primarily in Speyside, Scotland’s whisky industry entered an exceptionally long bust period. This was primarily caused by World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II. With a single exception in 1938, no malt distilleries were built in the country between 1900 and the post-World War II boom period. Tullibardine was the first of this expansion phase for the industry, but it was way ahead of its time. All of the other new distilleries constructed in that period came online between 1957 and 1975.
The original owner, William Delmé-Evans, sold the distillery to a Glasgow based whisky broker, Brodie Hepburn Limited, in 1953. That firm was taken over in 1971 by Invergordon Distillers Limited, who increased capacity by adding a second set of stills in 1973. In 1993 Invergordon was acquired by Whyte & Mackay, and by the end of 1994 they had closed Tullibardine. The distillery was finally purchased by a business consortium in 2003 and they had it up and running again by the end of the year.
While an official 10 year old bottling had been available in the 1980’s and 1990’s, most of the distillery’s output was sold to blenders during that period. The new owners switched to a series of vintage dated bottlings and non-age stated wine cask finished bottlings. The cask finished single malts started off with distillate from 1992 and 1993, but eventually they had to switch over to younger whisky made after the nine year period of non-production. This happened once the whisky made after 2003 was at least 5 years old, and there was a coinciding price reduction.
Finally, the Tullibardine was sold in 2011 to its current owner, Picard Vins & Spiritueux; an independent French company which also owns vineyards and four distilleries in France. In 2013 the entire range was relaunched with six new bottlings.
The example of Tullibardine from Gordon & MacPhail that I’m tasting tonight was distilled in 1993, bottled in 2007 and carries a 13 year age statement. Judging from the color I’m assuming that it was aged exclusively in former bourbon barrels.
The color is pale golden straw.
The nose is delicate and quite grassy, with a subtle hint of clay. The aromas seem mature and well integrated, but not particularly oaky.
There’s some weight on the palate; it has a respectable amount of body. Hay and fresh-cut grass are the most obvious notes on the palate. Cereal grain, nuttiness, honeysuckle and dry oak notes all surface to a lesser degree, rounding it out with good complexity.
Warming, exotic (perhaps middle-eastern?) spice notes come into play on the finish.
This is an interesting whisky; it has a Lowlandesque flavor profile, but with a density more characteristic of the Highlands.
Most of the official distillery bottlings currently available go in one of two directions; nearly twice the age of this bottling, or non-age stated (but said to be less than half as old) and with various wine cask finishes. I’d be curious to taste any of them.