Situated along the serene banks of the River Bladnoch in Scotland's Lowlands, Bladnoch Distillery is a timeless icon in the world of Scotch whisky.
With a heritage spanning over two centuries, this distillery has weathered the trials of time, witnessing closures, reawakenings, and transformations that have left an indelible imprint on both the whisky industry and the palates of whisky aficionados.
Bladnoch’s rich history dates back to 1817, when John and Thomas McClelland were granted a licence to distil whisky on their Bladnoch farm in Scotland’s Lowlands. Situated in the charming village of Bladnoch, the distillery's name is a nod to the river it stands besides, which means "flower of the moor" in Gaelic. For nearly a century, successive generations of the McClelland family grew and modernised the distillery. At its peak, the site had six washbacks and an annual production of approximately 230,000 litres of alcohol, cementing its status as the “Queen of the Lowlands”.
The 19th century brought sweeping changes to the whisky world, most notably the 1823 Excise Act that legalised distillation and set the stage for Scotland's modern whisky industry. Bladnoch embraced this new era of legal production, securing its place in the annals of Scotch whisky history. The decades that followed saw Bladnoch navigate a path that many distilleries could relate to – one marked by ups and downs.
Over the next 80 years, the Bladnoch distillery changed hands several times and continued to produce fine Lowlands whisky. In 1956, Bladnoch Distillery Limited was created and the stills which had fallen silent during WW2 were recommissioned and the stillhouse expanded to four stills in 1966. More recently, the distillery was owned by Arthur Bell & Sons (which would later become part of Guinness / United Distillers) between 1983 and 1993, a period during which the brand’s distribution increased and a Visitor Centre was established. From 1993, Raymond and Colin Armstrong privately owned the distillery.
In 2015, Australian entrepreneur David Prior acquired the company from Raymond and Colin, and embarked on an extensive refurbishment of the distillery. After two years of renovations under the direction of Master Distiller, Ian MacMillan, Bladnoch Distillery resumed production. David recognised the potential for Bladnoch's revival. His passion for Scotch whisky, coupled with a deep respect for Bladnoch's history led to a commitment to rejuvenating this historic distillery. Under his guidance, Bladnoch underwent a rebirth. The restoration was not contained to the distillery walls, it marked the revival of a legacy and a reaffirmation of Bladnoch's place in the pantheon of great Scottish distilleries.
Bladnoch's renaissance is not merely about resuscitating a bygone era. It is a harmonious blend of heritage and innovation. The distillery's dedication to quality begins with its natural resources: the pristine waters of the river Bladnoch and locally sourced barley. These elements are the bedrock of Bladnoch's character, providing a solid foundation for crafting exceptional whisky.
In 2019, highly acclaimed Master Distiller Dr Nick Savage joined the Bladnoch team, bringing a wealth of experience. The whisky industry's recognition of Bladnoch's accomplishments speaks volumes, with awards and accolades reaffirming the distillery's prowess and cementing its position as a significant player in the competitive whisky landscape. These accolades also serve as a testament to Bladnoch's continuous pursuit of pushing the boundaries of flavour and technique under Nick’s watchful eye.
For those fortunate enough to explore Bladnoch's offerings, the experience transcends consumption. It becomes a journey through time, a taste of history that bridges the gap between the past and the present. As whisky enthusiasts raise a glass of Bladnoch, they not only savour the artisanry of today but also pay homage to the spirit of resilience that defines this remarkable distillery's story. It is a journey, a legacy, and a dram of Scotch whisky history in every sip.
Bladnoch whiskies feature in collections globally and, like everything in the world of whisky, are usually accompanied by a story. Regular Beamish commentator, Diego Sandrin, the Venice-based owner of the largest independent bottler collection in the world (Samaroli, Moon, Cadenhead etc.), shared the following story about the magic of Bladnoch.
“Years ago, I was at a tasting where people brought some serious, and I mean serious, bottles. There were hundreds of Samaroli, Sestante, Intertrade, old Ardbeg and Bowmore dating back to the 1950s and ’60s. The tasting was blind, and everyone was just shocked and speechless when a Bladnoch 10YO Directors Reserve, distilled in the 1970s, came out on top over much more expensive bottles. It’s a real gem, bottled at 60% (or 112 proof), though most of them have now been drunk and so it’s sad that there are so few of them around. You would be looking at close to £1,500 via an online auction to secure one…a bargain! A close second favourite is the 1958 Cadenhead 34YO 75cl US import, and the Moon Imports “The Costumes” is breathtaking on the palate but again so hard to find. I have all three bottles already but if you spot one, buy it or let me know!”
The Insider’s View
Beamish International recently signed to be the exclusive partner with Bladnoch for private client sales. We are delighted that distillery CEO, Glen Gribbon was able to share his thoughts on what made the distillery so special and its future plans.
You were recently appointed CEO at Bladnoch after changing the whisky landscape through your time at The Macallan. What resonated so strongly about Bladnoch that helped you make the move?
“There were really three reasons:
Firstly, the people. I have worked with Dr Nick Savage, who makes Bladnoch whisky, when he was Master Distiller at The Macallan. I thought he was an exceptionally creative whisky maker and built up a close working relationship with him. Working with Nick again had a lot of appeal. I also connected with David Prior, the owner of Bladnoch. He has an incredible passion for the distillery and brand, and this comes across as soon as you meet him.
Secondly, the whisky. The whisky, like The Macallan, is excellent. Nick is very much a “taste first” whisky maker. He starts with a target and then combines very different casks to achieve it. The diversity and the quality of casks impressed me. The casks Nick is using are 90% first fill, which again like The Macallan, allows for natural colour. The different products in the portfolio all deliver very different tastes and I like this diversity. A lot of whisky makers like to land the different products in the portfolio in a similar space – but Nick is much more “unconstrained” in his approach.
And finally, the brand. There is a compelling brand story to be told that dates back to 1817 and a distillery that was referred to as “The Queen of the Lowlands”. The brand is still at a relatively early stage on its growth journey since David acquired the distillery in 2015 and I thought it was an exciting time to get involved in helping to tell what I think is a captivating brand story. When you work in marketing as long as I have, you can instinctively tell when a brand story has depth and creative potential, and Bladnoch does.”
The Bladnoch ethos is “Still, in flow.” Can you please expand on what this means?
“It is a great line. What is evident to me is that since 1817 the distillery and business has had a passion to survive and thrive and in doing so, protecting a whisky making legacy in Dumfries and Galloway. Like many distilleries, it has been through several owners and has perhaps not always had the love and investment it deserves. The line “Still, in flow” recognises the resilience that the distillery and the team have shown, and of course is a nod to David Prior’s acquisition of the distillery in 2015 and the turnaround in fortunes it has seen since then. I do think “The Queen of the Lowlands” has an important part to play in championing whisky making in the Lowlands region. There is a vibrant whisky community in the region now and Bladnoch can play an important role in putting the Lowlands firmly on the whisky map.”
What is the strategic direction of the brand and to whom are you trying to appeal?
“We have several brands in the portfolio, but we are very clear that Bladnoch is the priority for growth. Bladnoch is very much positioned at the premium-prestige end of the single malt category and that is very much where we intend to stay. Our job is simple from a consumer perspective and that is to increasingly break into the repertoire of established Scotch whisky consumers; by being more interesting from a brand and whisky perspective than anyone else. From a market perspective, we are seeing good traction in Asia right now which is very encouraging.
Our portfolio combines age statement releases (11/14/19/30 years) and non-aged statements (NAS). Over the next three years, our focus is very much on growing the NAS range of products. Each product - Vinaya, Liora and Samsara is built around the “Twin Cask” concept, where Nick brings together two different cask styles to create the particular taste for which he is aiming. Samsara for example combines ex-Bourbon with ex-Californian red wine casks.
There is also a strong innovation pipeline, especially in the £100 - £150 price band, which I see as the focus for innovation. However, the launch of the Samhla range signals our ambition in ultra-prestige single malt and there will be more releases to come.”
You recently supported The Distillers' One of One Charity Auction, generating a record sale price for a bottle of Bladnoch. Has this given you momentum for more ultra-premium releases for general sale?
“We were delighted to be part of One of One and to see the Bladnoch bottle secure a high price, with the proceeds of course going to charity. We definitely see ultra-prestige as an important part of our brand-building approach. The Samhla Collection, launched in this year, is an excellent example of this. The Collection has three ultra-rare single malt whiskies, that symbolise three generations in vintage form: 1966, 1990 and 2008. We are, of course, limited by stock availability, making these products incredibly rare. There were only 12 bottles of the 1966 vintage, called The McClelland, after the founder of the distillery in 1817. My experience as Marketing Director on The Macallan, prior to Bladnoch, told me that whilst ultra-prestige is very important, you also need to do the hard work with the core range - it is a question of balance. We have some incredible innovations like the recently launched Peated Collection in the £100 - £150 a bottle space, which I see as a sweet spot for Bladnoch in terms of innovation.”
Why have you chosen to exclusively partner with Beamish International for private client sales?
“I obviously know Charles and the team at Beamish from my time with The Macallan. I have always been impressed by their professionalism and in-depth understanding of ultra-prestige scotch. In fact, I am not sure there are many people in the industry who can offer the insights they can. I also think that what they do is very specialist and frankly they are much better at handling private cask and ultra-prestige relationships than we will ever be. I want our focus to be on creating great whiskies via Dr Nick Savage and then bringing them to life. We then want to use specialists in their field- Beamish being a great example- to get the whisky to the right people.”
What advice would you give to someone looking to build their whisky collection and why is it essential to have Bladnoch in it?
“The best advice on collection is if you can - buy one bottle to drink and one to collect! I appreciate that this is not always easy, but it is a path to “collecting joy”.
If you are serious about building a collection of significant value, the best advice I can give is to call Beamish. They can provide the insights, advice, and support in sourcing bottles, that can be so important. I also think it is sensible to build a portfolio of brands, some that might be established and some that are less well known, but longer term have the potential to be the next The Macallan or Springbank.
The reason I am managing Bladnoch is because I think it has that potential. Lowlands whisky is unique, it is different, and I think many collectors are looking for that. There is a reason why Bladnoch, and remember the distillery dates to 1817, was called “Queen of the Lowlands”. I learned a lot at The Macallan about how to get things right and wrong when it comes to ultra-prestige and I bring these insights with me to Bladnoch. Key amongst these is to ensure what you release is extremely rare, and that is what we are doing with both our Samhla Collection and Private Casks. We are also working with Beamish on an exclusive basis.
If you are a private individual wanting to buy a cask or Samhla product directly from the distillery, you need to go via the Beamish International team. This introduces a discipline which is important to collectors.”
If you could take one bottle to a desert island, what would it be?
“It would be a little obvious if I was to say Bladnoch - but a bottle of the McClelland from the Samhla Collection would be right up there. However, since I would 100% be drinking it on my desert island, hopefully not all in the first week, I am going to say The Famous Grouse 30-Year-Old Blended Malt. This product was created many years ago for Taiwan before single malt took off. However, single malt- mainly The Macallan - did take off, so this product had a short life and was quickly discontinued. It is a remarkable dram, created back in the day when the blenders had access to a pool of whisky that was exceptional in its quality. Prior to The Macallan, I managed the blended scotch portfolio for Edrington, which included The Famous Grouse, so I must confess to a soft spot for the brand.”
The Bladnoch Market
In October a bottle of Bladnoch set a new distillery record reaching £27,500 GBP for Charity through the Distillers One of One auction. Bladnoch The Samhla, meaning ‘symbol’ or ‘likeness' in Scottish Gaelic was a one-off creation. The Samhla Collection of three whiskies was released in 2023 to showcase the connections between generations. All three whiskies were built to both celebrate the treasure chest of rich stocks at Bladnoch and embody its heritage. The Samhla, bottled at 44.1% abv, was the final addition, combining all three - The McClelland (1966 American Oak Hogshead), The Prior (1990 PX Sherry Butt) and The Sage (2008 American Oak Red Wine Hogshead). A unique whisky that joins the past, present and future of Bladnoch Distillery together.
Many of the most collectable Bladnoch bottlings have been created by the famed independents. A look at the secondary online auction market shows that Moon Import’s Bladnoch 1965 trades at £1,500 – £1,750. Moon Imports is an Italian importer and bottler renowned for producing excellent and unusual bottlings, often with fetching artwork and packaging. Only 240 bottles were produced and this is certainly under-indexing considering the lowest retail price in the market is £5,000. More modern distillery bottlings would also make great investments (If you can resist the delicious liquid!) Bladnoch single cask black label bottlings are curated from older Bladnoch archived stocks. The 2022 release of Bladnoch, 2001 Single Cask #3244 traded at £1,775 in spring 2022 with seemingly none now in the market since. Just 164 bottles were created, and it was released at £350 GBP showing a very impressive +400% appreciation in price. The 2023 version has a slightly larger production at 315 bottles drawn from a Manzanilla Sherry Hogshead. Delicious to drink or to keep. With a stellar team being assembled at the distillery the quality, vision and dedication will only see this distillery going in one direction…now is the time to get onboard!
Current Stock Availability
Beamish International is delighted to be able to provide our clients with access to the Bladnoch portfolio (Including the Samhla range), direct from the distillery on an exclusive basis. Please contact your account manager for more details, who will be able to advise further on how to secure your order.