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In 1806 a disused mill on the River Deveron was converted to a distillery by John Moubray. Originally designed to produce malt whisky, the operation took a change in direction in 1836 when Moubray installed a pair of column stills, used to make grain spirit instead. The Cambus distillery was very much a family affair for the majority of the 19th century, passing first to John’s son James and then to grandson Robert. The family oversaw a dramatic expansion of the site in 1851 which made it one of the largest grain distilleries in Scotland, an impressive complex that sprawled across some eight acres.
In 1877 Cambus was one of six Lowland grain distilleries behind the creation of the Distillers Company Ltd (DCL), along with Port Dundas, Carsebridge, Cameronbridge, Glenochil and Kirkliston. Though formed with the intention of allocating proportions of grain whisky production and setting prices, DCL had become a listed company by 1894 and would go on to play a definitive role in a pivotal moment in the history of scotch whisky.
The rise of the grain distillery was not without complications however with many a malt distiller protesting its inferiority to their own product. As DCL continued to absorb more and more distilleries, they gained effective control of the supply of grain whisky provoking some malt distillers into taking a stand, declaring that only malt spirit from traditional Pot Stills should be legally defined as scotch whisky. The confrontation culminated in the prosecution of two merchants for selling whisky “…not of the nature, substance and quality demanded.”
Realising the importance of this test case, DCL threw their weight behind the defence and took out a front page advert in the Daily Mail that proclaimed their 7 year old Cambus “Pure Grain Whisky” as mild and mellow without “a headache in a gallon”.
An appeal proved inconclusive until the Government announced in 1908 that there would be a “Royal Commission on Whiskey…”. After 37 sittings, the eventual result in 1909 was a complete victory for the grain distillers. The commission concluded that any spirit distilled from grains in Scotland could be called scotch whisky, regardless of the percentage of malt used in the recipe. The result emboldened DCL, who would continue to grow, through a series of mergers and takeovers, into the behemoth that is Diageo today.
Cambus meanwhile went on producing grain whisky until 1993 when it was closed as part of the parent company’s £100 million reorganisation. Today it is the location of Diageo’s cooperage and adjoins their massive Blackgrange warehousing complex.
The Cambus dram I’ll be enjoying here was released by James Eadie, a relative newcomer to the independent bottler scene. Eadie himself was a brewer and bottler of scotch whisky who passed away in 1904, coincidentally around the same time the battle between malt and grain whisky was reaching its climax. His name was revived by great-great-grandson Rupert Patrick and now features on a series of really interesting single cask and small batch bottlings.
This single grain whisky was distilled in 1993, shortly before Cambus ceased production for the last time. Matured for 26 years in a sherry butt, it was bottled at 55.4% and retails around £90 a bottle.
Smell: Old sherry. Oak tannin. Burnt toast. Toffee and chocolate raisins. Currants. Caramel. Red berries. Coconut and almond.
Taste: Quite a dramatic arrival with a flash of chilli heat before beautiful sherry notes follow… Juicy raisins and prunes. Berries. Orange peel. Dark chocolate. Walnut. Spicy oak finish with a touch of coffee.
Value for Money: I was quite excited to try this one because £90 for a whisky that’s been 26 years in a sherry butt has great potential. Even more so when you remember that this is a closed distillery, something that usually inflates the price. Fortunately, the liquid in the bottle is good enough to live up to its immense promise.
Sadly you don’t see grain whisky in sherry all that often. I say sadly because it’s a combination that seems to work really well (see my New Year Dram from 2018 for another great example). When single grain gets to this kind of age it can offer every bit of the depth you’ve come to expect from single malts and are often an excellent way to add age to a whisky collection, without having to remortgage the house.
I’ve tried a few drams from James Eadie and thus far I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve found. Happily this 26 year old Cambus continues that trend. It carries impressive age without tasting like licking a plank, there’s a big sherry influence yet the spirit still manages to come through and the overall depth of flavour is hugely satisfying. These guys are fast becoming one of the most interesting independent bottlers on the scene.
For more on James Eadie, visit here.