#11.1 Birthday in the Borderlands

Away to Galloway: Bladnoch Distillery (Day 1)


Another trip to discover distilleries in the Lowlands on a special occasion: Teresa’s birthday

(Want to read the whole story? Go to Day 2 or Day 3)

There was one trip we aimed to do back in 2020, but because of you know what, we postponed it: Dumfries and Galloway. We heard this is a lovely region and, very important for us, home of two single malt distilleries, Annandale and Bladnoch.

This year, Gianluigi decided to catch up with this trip, and the perfect occasion was Teresa’s birthday, in March. He organized the trip as a surprise, so on that Friday morning when we ignited Cliff’s rowdy motor (thanks again Justine!), Teresa had no idea where we were going. As we left the city and didn’t take the Fifth of Forth bridge, Teresa recognized the landscape of the M8 towards Glasgow, so she narrowed down her guesses to two: Arran or Galloway. As we turned south towards Ayrshire, she got the correct guess. Smart lady! The distillery visit of the day was at Bladnoch. Their 1817 Tour is only available on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11.30, and because Gianluigi wanted to drive on the Ayrshire coast (which is a bit longer route), we had an early start.  

Ayrshire itself is now home of at least three whisky distilleries in two production sites. One is the huge Girvan complex, owned by Willian Grant & Sons (the same company owning Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie, in Speyside) and including the Girvan grain distillery and Ailsa Bay (and for gin lovers, this is the place where Hendrick’s is produced). We briefly stopped to take a picture and snoop around the site.

Nosing around Girvan…in the wind.

The third one is a new small farm distillery called Lochlea, who released their first whisky in early 2022. They don’t have a visitor centre, but in some interviews on podcasts and on an article on the Whisky Magazine, they seemed to suggest they could welcome small groups of visitors, if contacted by time. That was very far from the reply they sent to Gianluigi’s email, which was polite but categorical in saying that, because it is a farm distillery, there is zero chance of welcoming guests (to be honest, that was not the case when a few weeks ago it was showed on social media that they actually had bloggers/podcasters, but hey ho!). Along the coast we also drove past Cairnryan, where the ferries to Northern Ireland leave, and the nice town of Stranraer, which we pictured much smaller.

Since the day was cloudy but not rainy (yet…), we decided to park the car in Wigtown and reach the distillery on foot. Wigtown is a very cute village and the Scottish capital of books. The place is in fact full of bookshops where you can find both new and second-hand books. In the afternoon, after the distillery visit and lunch, we took advantage of it to enlarge our collection of Ian Rankin novels and whisky books. The walk from the village main square to the distillery was about 20 minutes long on a very quiet road through a rural landscape which we’ll find very characteristic of the area.

Tour and tasting…we’re coming!

As we crossed Bladnoch’s doors we realised how new the visitor centre, shop, restaurant are, and we checked in right away with our tour guide, James. He used to work as a chef, until he decided to join the Bladnoch team part time as a guide for their tour and, occasionally, to prepare meals for business visitors. When the tour started he told us how everything changed when the distillery was bought by Richard Prior in 2015, in particular the distilling plant (stills, washbacks, etc.). So, it is basically a new 200 years old distillery! We moved to the mill room, where he showed us how the shuttle box is used with a scale to check that the mill grinded husk, flour and grist at the correct ratio. We made a brief stop at the closed steel mash-tun, and moved to the room with 6 wooden (Douglas Fir) washbacks. James and the operator showed us how to measure the alcohol content of the wash, before and after fermentation (very similar to what we did in our timid attempts to brew beer at home, actually).

Very sophistcated equipment…

We moved to the still room, where four shiny copper stills (two wash stills and two spirit stills) were actually working! It was very nice to see the liquid been distilled through the wash still’s little window.

What a beautiful still room!

Once in the courtyard, we could admire the old distillery building including the malting floors, that are now used as offices. James also showed us the water source, just behind the old buildings. We spent a while inside the dunnage warehouse (where we couldn’t take pictures, except from outside the door). The new make spirit is maturing in a variety of casks: quarters, lot of sherry hogsheads, lot of wine barriques, bourbon, etc.

Birthday girl and the old malting floors.
Casks, casks, and…more casks.

We finally got to the tasting room, adjacent to the shop, where 5 drams were waiting for us: the new make spirit (nice surprise!), and four of their core range expressions (see summary below). Because most of the whisky they are currently bottling comes from the previous owners, at this point in their journey they want to showcase what they can do with the range of casks available. In our opinion all the four drams were all very cask-forward and enjoyable, although not mind-blowing. The two stand-out were the 14 y/o matured in ex-oloroso sherry casks, and the 19 y/o matured in ex-PX casks, of which James gave us a wee taste at the bar. A shame the price of both was a bit too steep. After the tour we stayed for a quick meal at their nice café: a plate of smoked duck and salmon, very good!

A (not so) wee taste of Bladnoch.

On the way back to Wigtown it started raining (sad trombone sound), so as we got into the village we sought refuge in another café (that was Gianluigi’s excuse to get another cake…). After leaving Wigtown (with a few more books in the trunk) and driving around a bit we directed ourselves towards our place for the night: the Waterfront Hotel in Portpatrick. This is a quite spectacular village on the Rhinns of Galloway peninsula, right in front of Ireland (which we couldn’t see because of the clouds). Our room was very ‘cosy’ (not to say tiny), but the staff was nice enough to give us one with a spectacular sea view. We had a delicious meal at the Connor’s restaurant, where we could also taste a couple of discontinued Bladnoch expressions: the 10 y/o (which Ralfy talked a lot about…and in fairness, it was one of the best we tried) and the 17 y/o.

Despite not bringing any bottle with us, we were very happy to have visited Bladnoch distillery. This experience was an example how the guide’s enthusiasm and knowledge can really “make the tour”, which otherwise could have been a very ‘standard’ one. So, to James, Sláinte!

Bladnoch 1817 Tour & Tasting

Price: £50.00 pp + £5 per transaction (March 2022)

Tasting: Bladnoch new make spirit (63.5%), 11y/o (46.7% , NCF, NC, ex-bourbon casks), Samsara (46.7%, NAS, NCF, NC, California wine and ex-bourbon casks), 14y/o (46.7% , NCF, NC, oloroso sherry casks), Alinta (peated, 47% , NAS, NCF, NC, 1st fill ex-bourbon and 1st fill ex-sherry casks)…and the glencairn to take home

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: a bit pricey but the in-depth tour made up for it

Highlights: the very enthusiastic guide James and the possibility of tasting extra drams

Distillery Exclusive: single cask 2007 vintage (55.9%, ex-port pipe, NC, NCF, £170) and 2002 vintage (48.4%, ex-sherry butt, NC, NCF, £400)

Link: https://bladnoch.com/

Author: Dramming Around

A pretend-to-be-young Italian couple on a quest to discover whisk(e)y distilleries and their golden nectar

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