Denis visits the village of Blackford in his quest to bring you the next great whisky cask....
Landing in Edinburgh is always a great feeling; it doesn't matter if the sun is shining or the clouds are grey and dampness hangs in the air. The sense of familiarity comes flooding back to me once I step off the plane and head for the arrivals hall. While it's not Cork, I did live in this city for a couple of years before making the big move to Indianapolis and for me, Edinburgh will always be close to my heart; there is something about this city and its people that is so comforting!
Unfortunately Edinburgh would have to wait as we had a full schedule ahead of us, so as soon as my traveling companions and I rented our car we were off (back on the right side of the road, which is the left side!), crossing over the Firth of Forth before heading west in the direction of Stirling, home to one of the largest and most important castles in all of Scotland. But today we were not here for history; instead, we popped in for a quick bite before our first appointment of the week.
The little village of Blackford off of the A9 (the main road that sweeps you into up the Highlands) is home to the Tullibardine Distillery. If you haven't heard of Tullibardine, you are not alone. This moderate-sized distillery, which began production in 1949, has a checkered history. Its main purpose in the 1950s was to produce whisky for blends, with particular emphasis on the once-famous Highland Queen Blend. Over the years the distillery had a succession of owners and some would say a lack of focus, and in 1994 the distillery was mothballed altogether. It was almost 10 years later that the distillery was sold and production restarted, however, the financial crisis in 2009 put paid to any progress that was made and the then-owners sold the business in 2011 to a French drinks company.
This family-owned company, known as Picard Vins & Spiriteaux, has a long history in the wine business in Burgundy, where they own some of the most prized wine estates. They are also distillers, with a strong presence in the French rum and aperitif market and since 2011 they have been quietly coaxing Tullibardine back to life.
Our guide for the afternoon was a sprightly South African gentleman by the name of Gavin Cunningham. Gavin is an old stalwart at Tullibardine and knows the ins and outs of the distillery, and having worked here for many years he was keen to impart his knowledge and his enthusiasm for the brand. As we toured the facility it became quite evident to me that there was a sense of pride in the staff in what has been accomplished to date and an enthusiasm for what is coming down the pipeline in terms of more investment and exposure.
The distillery is quite unique in that they have their own cooperage onsite, meaning that they have complete control over their wood and cask supply, something that most other distillers can only dream about. They also bottle onsite which means complete quality control from barrel to glass. We toured the production end of things, paying specific attention to their rather unique pot stills where an upward-sloping lyne arm (the copper pipe at the top of the stills shown here) creates reflux. This means the heavier vapors that make their way to the top of the stills are forced back down again to be redistilled, creating a lighter spirit.
Having tasted my fair share of pure spirit straight from the still at many distilleries over the years, I can declare that Tullibardine’s is up there with the best of them; it’s light and bready with a touch of fruity yeastiness and a distinctively rich mouth-feel, all good characteristics for aging in oak.
Later in the afternoon, I had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with the entire Tullibardine line-up, which is made up of a non-age statement entry-level malt called Sovereign; three really nice wood finishes known as 225 Sauternes, 228 Burgundy, and 500 Sherry; and a very tasty 20 and 25-year-old. But it is a newly released special limited edition whisky that really caught my eye and encapsulates what I believe to be the best of Tullibardine, and that is The Murray.
The Murray is the second edition (we never saw the first!) in The Marquess Collection. This is a 12-year-old cask strength, non-chill filtered and non-colored expression that celebrates the rich history and heritage of the village of Tullibardine. In this case, the distillery honors Sir William Murray, the 2nd Marquess of Tullibardine, who fought the Jacobites in 1715 and who declared Bonnie Prince Charlie as King of Scotland in 1745.
Aged entirely in first fill ex-bourbon barrels, the use of good wood is evident, as aromas of cantaloupe melon, fresh pineapple and vanilla waft from the glass. The palate is lightly sweet but very juicy along with notes of puff pastry and buttered toast, with the finish of a little toast drizzled with honey. It's excellent at cask strength, but oh boy, when you add a few drops of water the whisky literally explodes revealing even more great flavors on the nose and on the palate. Before I even got back to Indy I was enquiring if this whisky was available and I was told yes, Indiana had been allocated a small parcel which I pounced on, with less than 30 bottles available to us. Tullibardine The Murray 2005 (at just $74.99) can be had by clicking here.
And with that, we said our goodbyes to Gavin and the folks at Tullibardine and headed up the A9 in the direction of Pitlochry, which was to be our base for the next two nights. Tomorrow would be a big day!