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A visit to Tullibardine
The village of Blackford can lay claim to a long history of alcohol production. In 1488, King James IV stopped in the village to buy a barrel of ale from the local brewery, having just left his coronation at Scone. Coincidentally, this is the same James IV who commissioned Friar John Cor of Lindores Abbey in 1494 – the earliest record of distillation in the country’s history.
The dark arts of distilling would eventually come to Blackford in 1798, when William & Henry Bannerman founded the first distillery. Unfortunately they went out of business within the year. A second attempt by Andrew Bannerman in 1814 met with moderate success, remaining in operation until 1837. As many as three breweries were in production at that time but by the turn of the century, these had begun to suffer as well. The Gleneagles brewery, oldest of them all, was the last to close in 1927, seemingly ending the villages ancient brewing tradition.
Distilling would soon come back to Blackford however, re-established through the unlikeliest of sources. William Delme-Evans was born in Wales but spent countless holidays in Scotland. Throughout his youth he developed a fascination with the production of malt whisky and dreamed of one day owning his own distillery. After a bout of Tuberculosis left him unable to carry out the required work on his farm, he gave it all up and headed north to Scotland with a new course in mind.
Alerted to the sale of a derelict brewery in the village of Blackford, Delme-Evans pounced and was soon beginning work to convert the site into a modern, gravity-fed distillery. By 1949 the plant was in operation and the village of Blackford was once again a hub of production, with new employment prospects for the local population.
Many years later, the Tullibardine distillery was mothballed after coming under the ownership of Whyte & MacKay in 1993. The site remained silent until a consortium bought it in 2003. In order to help fund the project, they sold land to the rear of the distillery to a property developer who used it to create the Eagle’s Gate Retail Park. By 2013 however, the Retail Park was up for sale and Tullibardine, now under the ownership of French wine-maker Maison Michel Picard bought it back.
The shopping units were converted into warehousing, storage and a bottling hall whilst a standalone building in the car park was set aside to be made into a cooperage. As a result of this investment, Tullibardine is now one of the most self sufficient distilleries in the country and one of the few to distill, mature and bottle onsite.
The distillery stands on the A9 which is the main road between Glasgow and Inverness, making it perhaps one of the most accessible in Scotland. When I paid them a visit in March of this year I found a well maintained site complete with tranquil pond, trickling burn and ample parking, clearly left over from the days of the shopping centre. Inside is a spacious and bright visitor centre with merchandise and an array of bottlings arranged around the walls. Tours run at regular intervals throughout the day, though I must extend my thanks to the staff for waiting for me after I got stuck in traffic coming through Glasgow.
The distillery proper is something to behold, with mashtun, washbacks and a twin pair of Pot Stills crammed into the same space. Indeed, I can’t think of a more compact setup at any of the distilleries I’ve visited in the past. In the portion of the chamber which serves as still-house, the copper giants are unusually arranged, with two wash facing two spirit stills. Apparently this setup is more convenient when monitoring each run, allowing the stillman to concentrate on one side of the room at a time.
Wandering among the casks in the warehouses, underneath arched roofs thick with black moss, you’d struggle to believe that this site was once a shopping centre, so complete does the transformation into working distillery appear. As for the casks themselves, thanks to the distillery’s French owners, there is an abundance of wine casks, something which is highlighted through their core range of single malts. The 225 is finished in ex-Sauternnes casks, the 228 in Burgundy Red Wine casks and the 500 in ex-Sherry butts.
Despite enjoying a taste of all three however, I was more interested in the latest version of ‘The Murray’, a single malt named after Sir William Murray, 2nd Marquess of Tulllibardine and key figure in the Jacobite uprising of 1745. This latest edition had been finished in a Marsala Cask before bottling at 46% abv and retailing at £55.
Smell: Perfumed Spices, Berries and Forest Fruits, Raspberry Jam, Cherry, Chocolate, Cinnamon and Paprika.
Taste: Berries… Raspberry, Blueberry & Blackcurrant. Orange. Toffee, Caramel, Chocolate Digestive Biscuits. Gentle touch of Oak and a subtle hint of Malt at the finish.
Thoughts: Tullibardine’s three core malts were pleasant drams for sure, but The Murray appeared to be something else entirely. Partly that is due to the exceptional juiciness that the dram has inherited from the Marsala cask and partly it is the advantage of bottling at higher strength.
The Murray Marsala Cask comes in a gorgeous presentation box, something which I rarely mention on this site. After all, I can’t drink cardboard. Good packaging is a nice touch however, especially when the price doesn’t appear to have been elevated to help pay for it.
I enjoyed my short visit to the distillery and would thoroughly recommend a tour should you find yourself heading along the A9 from Glasgow. There may be many delights further north but this quaint little distillery is worth stopping for.