Whisky Advocate

Tamdhu opens its doors (for one day only!)

April 17th, 2013

Ian Buxton, Whisky Advocate contributor, takes a look at Tamdhu: the past, the present, and a re-opening.

Tamdhu. It’s not a name that comes easily to mind, or trips off the lips of even a hard-core malt enthusiast. Which is a shame because this classic Speyside distillery, located close to the River Spey, near-neighbor to Knockando (and, not so very far away, Cardhu and The Macallan), probably deserves to be better known. But its luck is changing.

We haven’t heard very much about it in recent years, apart from the bad news of its closure.  That’s because this Speyside malt was, for the most part, operated by its previous owners Highland Distillers to provide fillings for their blends and to exchange in the market for other whisky they needed. Then they decided that their priorities had changed and decided to mothball it.

That was in April 2010.  To my knowledge, several potential buyers expressed an interest in taking it on.  But, one by one, they dropped out: the distillery was too large for one group to operate cost-effectively and the old dark grains plant represented a problem; another would-be buyer got close to the finishing line but couldn’t quite raise the finance.tamdhu-distillery

Then, to some raised eyebrows, it was smoothly acquired in June 2011 by Ian Macleod Distillers, an independent, family-owned firm of distillers, blenders, and bottlers until then best-known for reviving the Glengoyne distillery and for their Isle of Skye blend.  Macleod had, of course, previously purchased Glengoyne from Highland Distillers, so perhaps the purchase wasn’t quite as surprising as it seemed at the time.

However, successful though they had been with Glengoyne, Tamdhu represented quite a step up in scale. Glengoyne makes around 1 million liters of spirit annually; a fully-operational Tamdhu can produce around 4 times that, making it a very different challenge. What is more, the brand had less previous exposure than Glengoyne, giving them less of a foundation to build on.

But Macleod’s blended business is in good shape and, with pressure all round on stocks, it made commercial sense for them to secure a second source of supply to ensure their continued independence.  In January 2012, Tamdhu was quietly brushed up; eight full-time employees taken on and the distillery made ready to go back into production. The plant has been quietly gathering speed since then.  But there was a lot to do: 14,500 maturing casks to evaluate; new packaging to design; distributors to appoint and brief and a relaunch to plan.

That will finally get underway at the forthcoming Speyside Whisky Festival when Tamdhu will open its doors (for one day only; there is no visitor center yet, though given Glengoyne’s success in that field it can only be a matter of time).  That’s on Saturday, May 4 (noon to 4 p.m.), when a Victorian-themed “Whisky Fete” will take visitors through the history from 1897 to the present day.

So what will you see and do? For the technically minded, Tamdhu has a twelve-ton semi-lauter mash tun, nine Oregon pine washbacks, three pairs of stills, and those 14,500 casks maturing in five warehouses. The tours will be led by the distillery workers themselves (no work experience students here) and, best of all, visitors will be given a rare opportunity to experience one-off tastings of some single casks, handpicked for the occasion.

There is, of course, a special Limited Edition whisky of which only 1,000 bottles will be released worldwide (price TBD).  Festival visitors will be the first to taste and have the chance to buy.

With continued growth and increased numbers of international visitors, the Speyside Festival event will certainly sell out.  But, if you’re not lucky enough to snag a ticket, don’t despair; Tamdhu will shortly be available in world markets, giving malt enthusiasts a long-lost chance to add this grand old lady of Speyside to their drinks cabinet.

Once Ian Macleod Distillers get this project behind them, we can only look forward to the next distillery they decide to bring back to life…

17 Responses to “Tamdhu opens its doors (for one day only!)”

  1. Danny Maguire says:

    Not sure how up to date your information is Ian, Highland Distillers ceased to exist some years ago, they were taken over by Edrington Group. Both Tamdhu and Glengoyne were sold to Iam Mcleod by the Edrington Group.

  2. Ian Buxton says:

    Highland Distillers are very much alive and kicking as Edrington’s trading arm. As that is the name generally better known to the public that’s the reason I referred to them here. Edrington tends to have a lower profile and I didn’t want to confuse people.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      Fair enough, but the last time I was there I never saw a dark grains plant, what I did see was the last working salladin maltings in Scotland, pity that had to close.

  3. two-bit cowboy says:

    Nice piece, Ian. The last Tamdhu I had was the 10 yo (for $25) about the time the distillery was mothballed. Delicious stuff. Eager to try Macleod’s take on the whisky.

    • Ian Buxton says:

      Thanks. I have high hopes. I’ll be there just in advance of the public opening and hope to report in a future issue of MA. The distillery seems very confident about the whiskies they’ll be releasing.

  4. Mr Claw says:

    The old Tamdhu 10YO from the 80s was great. Hopefully the magic can return…

  5. patrick says:

    lets get some more of those 14,500 casks bottled, please!

  6. Luke says:

    Ian, just as a matter of interest what was/is Tamdhu’s potential output of spirit?

    • Ian Buxton says:

      Para 5 – “Glengoyne makes around 1 million liters of spirit annually; a fully-operational Tamdhu can produce around 4 times that”
      So I’m going to go with 4m liters!!

  7. B.J. Reed says:

    Good news – and good sign for the industry.

  8. Anyone else going ? :-)

    Steffen

  9. Good news – so glad to hear of any distillery restarting production. I still have the distillery bottled 10 yr old as well as two independents – a G&M MacPhail’s Collection 8 yr old and an A.D. Rattray 23 yr old bottled in 1988. All three are very tasty; I look forward to future bottlings from this fine Speyside distillery.

  10. Good to see you yesterday Ian. It was a great day although I’m feeling a bit fragile this morning. Today should be fun. I can’t wait to hear what people think of the new Tamdhu. Now it’ll only ever be 100% sherry matured. I don’t think any other malts do this eg Macallan does fine oak too. Not for Tamdhu. we’re starting firmly at the top

    • Ian Buxton says:

      Hi Leonard, Thanks for that. I can give the new release an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Plenty of flavour but not at all over-whelmed by the casks. Great stuff!

    • Russel. Nice to meet you at the festival. Why is sherry = top. It is more expensive, but in my opinion not necesarily better than ex-bourbon

      Steffen

      • Danny Maguire says:

        I agree with you that sherry is not necessarily better, it is however very different. Both have a valid place in the warehouse and I wouldn’t say either of them is the top.

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