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2020 will go down in history for many reasons, most of them terrible, but in the whisky world it will be remembered, at least partially, as the year the Adelphi Ardnamurchan distillery finally came to life with the release of their first fully-fledged single malt.
The notion of the distillery was first conceived in 2007, a couple of years after Keith Falconer and Donald Houston acquired the Adelphi independent bottler from founder Jamie Walker. For the full Adelphi story however, we have to go back a little bit further…
The original Loch Katrine Adelphi distillery stood near the southern bank of the River Clyde in Glasgow. Founded in 1826, it grew steadily over the years to become one of the largest and most successful distilleries in Scotland. By 1880 the site had expanded further with the addition of a Coffey still that could be used to produce grain whisky alongside malt. Then, in 1903, Adelphi was taken over by DCL – but disaster was on the horizon…
On the morning of the 21st November 1906, a massive wash charger on the top floor burst, flooding the building with pre-distilled beer of approximately 9% abv. The resultant wave destroyed two washbacks, flooding the lower floors, including the draff house, where two men were working to load up carts on the street outside. The men were swept into the street, where an array of farm-hands were waiting to take the draff to their respective employers. Many were thrown across the street and one man, James Ballantyne, tragically died from the severe internal injuries he received in the chaos. The torrent of wash and draff created a glue-like substance that blocked the street and made it difficult for emergency services to gain accesss. A bakery to the rear of the distillery was flooded, with one man pinned to the wall and another four forced to jump from the window of the first floor after the wooden staircase was destroyed.
It’s estimated that the loss of liquid cost the distillery the equivalent of £9million in today’s money, a blow the business would never quite recover from. The production of malt whisky ceased and even though grain distillation continued until the early 1930’s, Adelphi would never recapture its glory years and the distillery was eventually demolished in 1971.
The Adelphi name was later revived as an independent bottler by Jamie, great-grandson of one-time owner Archibald Walker. He would later sell the company to the present owners. With planning permission granted in 2012, the foundations of a new Adelphi distillery were laid in the Glenbeg Estate on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. Distilling began in 2014 and a series of “Ardnamurchan Spirit” bottlings released between 2016 and 2019, granting whisky lovers a wee glimpse at the progress being made as the whisky quietly matured. Now, six years after the distillery began distilling, Adelphi are finally ready to unleash the very first Ardnamurchan single malt to the world. Bottled at 46.8% it will be available from Monday October 5th at a price of £45.
Smell: Lovely nose. Pineapple and melon. Sponge cake and lemon curd. Pencil shavings. Flour and baking spices. Bonfire smoke and seaweed.
Taste: Malty with more of the baking spices from the nose. Digestive biscuits. Vanilla pods. Black pepper. Honey and a little oak. The finish is of a good length with smoke and prickly spice.
Thoughts: Kudos to Adelphi for launching their Ardnamurchan brand at a sensible price when so many other new distilleries consider their product a premium item from the word go. The very fact that they waited a little longer than most to release their first single malt also suggests that they were determined to get it right and the evidence of this sample would indicate that they have done exactly that.
Rather than releasing a young spirit that blinks in the light as it takes its first tentative steps, Adelphi have produced a well-rounded, well made malt that feels a lot like the finished article. In fact I’m struggling to think of another debut that delivered quite as well as this first Ardnamurchan. It has a maturity beyond its years, not in the wood-swamped way you sometimes get, but in the quality of the spirit itself and the nuanced way the casks have been combined. Each sip reveals something a little different and the flavour lingers on the palate in a manner no spirit of this age has any real right to do. Excellent stuff. The Highlands has a new star and I cannot wait to see how this brand develops from here.
For more on Adelphi or Ardnamurchan visit here.