GlenAllachie was founded in 1967 by MacKinlay MacPherson, the distilling arm of Scottish and Newcastle brewers. Seeking to secure a reliable supply of malt whisky for their MacKinlay’s blend, the company commissioned William Delme-Evans to build a new distillery on land near the village of Aberlour in Speyside.
Delme-Evans would leave a lasting impression on the scotch whisky industry, second only perhaps, to the famous Charles Doig. Born in Wales, the young William spent much of his youth holidaying in Scotland and developed a keen interest in the distilling industry. As an adult, he trained as an agriculturalist and surveyor before buying a farm in Northamptonshire. Thanks to a bout of Tuberculosis however, his ability to perform manual labour was severely compromised and his thoughts soon turned back to his time in Scotland.
Between 1949 and 1963, Delme-Evans was involved with three distinct projects. First he converted a centuries old brewery in the village of Blackford into Tullibardine distillery before being hired in 1960 to design a new distillery near the village of Macduff on the Moray Firth. Following a bitter dispute with investors however, he resigned from the project but was soon in demand again, this time travelling to the remote isle of Jura on Scotland’s western coast to help bring distilling and therefore employment, back to that island’s dwindling community.
By 1967, he had perfected his design for a low energy, gravity-fed distilling system and was able to deploy all that he had learned when tasked by MacKinlay-MacPherson to build their new plant in Speyside. It was William who sought out the location and found a reliable water supply, piping from one of the many springs which trickled down the rocky face of Ben Rinnes. Everything in GlenAllachie, even down to the Pot Stills themselves, were of his design and the site was soon producing a distinctive, much in-demand spirit.
Over the years that followed, GlenAllachie provided liquid for several blended scotch brands but in 1985 the site came under the ownership of Invergordon Distillers, who deemed it surplus to requirements and shut it down. Production resumed under new ownership, in the form of Campbell Distillers, and when they were taken over by Pernod Ricard, GlenAllachie became part of the famous Chivas Brothers stable. Aside from a lone 2005 release of a cask strength 15 year old however, the spirit as a single malt remained an elusive find, restricted to the occasional single cask released by an independent bottler.
Then in 2017, GlenAllachie was purchased by Billy Walker, Trisha Savage and Graham Stevenson. Walker, an industry veteran of more than 40 years had recently walked away from the BenRiach Distilling Company, after selling it for a whopping £285 million. Trained as an organic chemist, Walker began his career at Ballantine’s in 1971. He later joined Inver House Distillers before moving onto Burn Stewart where he would become production director after a management buyout in 1988.
In 2004, he led a consortium into the purchase of BenRiach distillery, which he later consolidated with the addition of GlenDronach in 2008 and Glenglassaugh in 2013. Under his guidance, BenRiach, and in particular GlenDronach, developed a loyal fanbase across the whisky-drinking world. No doubt this successful brand growth was a contributing factor in the huge sum it took Brown Forman, of Jack Daniels fame, to purchase the company in 2016.
Just as it seemed that Mr. Walker was about to head into retirement with a nice little nest egg however, news broke that he had acquired the little known and less loved GlenAllachie and was about to launch a new core range of single malts, the likes of which had never been seen from this site before. Sure enough, July 2018 saw the release of 10, 12, 18 & 25 year old malts, all of which were bottled at natural colour, non-chill-filtered and at a minimum strength of 46% abv.
At the forefront of the range was the flagship 12 year old, which seriously impressed me at Glasgow’s Whisky Festival last November. I finally got round to picking up a bottle last month and have been looking forward to reviewing it ever since.
Smell: Creamy Vanilla, Honey, Malty Biscuit & Fudge. Green Fruits & cut Grass.
Taste: Butterscotch, Caramel & Toffee, gentle Cinnamon Spice, Milk Chocolate and a touch of Oak. Water brings some Citrus notes with Raspberry and some additional Spice.
Value for Money: There are desperately few Speyside distilleries which bottle at a standard 46%, so any new release which takes that approach will be welcomed by me, especially when it comes at less than £40 a bottle.
A very pleasant mouthful of whisky though perhaps a little one-dimensional? Certainly at first, it is dominated by those Toffee notes. Water unveils a fruitier side to it, though the wonderfully creamy mouthfeel seems to suffer a little.
Still, lack of complexity aside, there is a ton of flavour, the whisky comes bottled at higher strength and it is very well priced. Those details combine to make the GlenAllachie 12 year old perhaps one of the most exciting new arrivals in the Speyside category for quite some time.
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