"Having long been possessed with an ardent desire to see the Distilleries of Scotland...", Alfred Barnard, 1885

"O Thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink", from Scotch Drink, by Robert Burns

Monday, 25 April 2011

Invergordon Distillery

Three miles east of Dalmore is the Invergordon grain whisky distillery.  It was established in 1959 by Invergordon Distillers Ltd and started operation with one Coffey still in 1961.  A further two stills were added in 1963 and a fourth large Coffey still added in 1978 and they have an estimated annual production of 40m litres (Udo, 2005).  Invergordon is the only grain distillery in the Highlands, the others all being lowland operations.  This large industrial plant also has extensive warehousing on site and is understandably not open to the public.

In 1965 the Ben Wyvis Distillery was built within the Invergordon complex to produce malt whisky.  It had six cast-iron washbacks and two pot stills of 10,000 litres each, and produced a non-peated spirit until it was dismantled in 1977 (Udo, 2005).  The name Ben Wyvis had been used by another distillery for a time, also known as Ferintosh and visited by Barnard in the town of Dingwall a little further south, but it closed in 1926.  I will cover that one in the report after next but we have heard briefly about this more recent one before – the stills had remained here after it closed until they were moved to Campbeltown and installed, with some adjustments, in the new Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery in 2003.

Invergordon Distillers have also owned other distilleries in the past.  They built Tamnavulin in 1966 and bought Bruichladdich in 1968, Tullibardine in 1971 and both Glenallachie and Isle of Jura in 1985.  Glenallachie was sold just two years later and then Invergordon were bought by Whyte & Mackay (also owners of nearby Dalmore) in 1993.  Bruichladdich was closed in 1995 until it was sold in 2001, Tullibardine was sold in 2003 and the Whyte & Mackay group was itself taken over by current owners United Spirits in 2007. (Details here with help from Malt Madness).

The town of Invergordon has also been heavily involved in the North Sea oil industry.  Many oil rigs were built in the huge fabrication sheds at Nigg to the east of here, before being assembled in the waters of the Cromarty Firth and towed out to sea.  Full scale commercial oil extraction began in the North Sea in the mid 1970s and from this ‘black gold’ and Invergordon’s ‘liquid gold’ the industry in this sheltered haven has made a substantial contribution to the UK economy over the last 50 years.  The yards at Invergordon have more recently been used to repair or decommission oil rigs and those at Nigg have been used to build wind turbines.

Oil rigs in Cromarty Firth
I wonder what Barnard would have made of these monstrous tower rigs?  In the latter half of the 19th century the heavy industry of iron forges, textile mills, ship building, steam powered machinery and even distilleries such as Port Dundas all operated on a massive scale that has been in decline ever since.  I think that the machinery required for oil extraction at sea might therefore not have been too out of place to his eyes, even if the level of technology was.

Not having toured inside I have nothing to add beyond my experience of the whisky in a glass.  Invergordon Single Grain was the first of that style that I ever tried, some years ago.  I think it was a youngish release and I recall warm peach and vanilla flavours covering a light spirity edge.  The occasional drams of older independent releases that I have had since have been quite enjoyable too - generally with a wonderful depth and with glorious vanilla and coconut notes enticed out of ex-bourbon casks.  There does now seem to be a renaissance in appreciation for some grain whiskies which I am happy, for those flavoursome reasons, to be part of.