"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

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Tormore Distillery, Advie

Continuing south down the A95 through Speyside and once more crossing the ‘Avon Avon’ the road then rises up the side of the Spey valley above where Cragganmore distillery nestles.  A little further along and we come to one of the most non-distillery looking distilleries in Scotland, at least from the outside.

Tormore Distillery
When Charles Doig was designing Glen Elgin distillery in 1898 he is reported to have predicted that there would not be another new distillery built in Speyside for 50 years.  His prediction was made not long before the Pattison crash at the end of the year, and it came true.  Tormore distillery was the next one to be built 60 years later in 1958 (although Glen Keith, founded in 1957, might also be considered the first 20th century distillery in the current Speyside region).

Tormore has a bold architectural design that is far removed from the less aesthetic industrial designs of Doig’s time.  Doig had reused and adapted an E shape design for a number of his distilleries but Tormore is architecturally unique as a distillery, a bold and picturesque design by Sir Albert Richardson.  I have heard some still houses being described as ‘cathedral like’ and that would certainly be an apt description for the huge, lofty internal space of this distillery with its tall arched windows flooding light in at either end.  Even the on-site generator house is in a matching building with an ornate cupola and clock above it.

Tormore Distillery and generator house, Craggan More rising behind
Tormore was built from scratch on a flat open field on the side of Craggan More hill.  The walls are white harled with granite dressing stones and the painters were freshening up the whitewash when I stopped by.  The main distillery building has a copper roof with verdigris set in, as if trying to camouflage this robust monolith within its setting beside Tormore wood and the surrounding farmland.  A number of new distilleries were built across Scotland in the 1960s and 70s but none of them quite matched the architectural statement made by Tormore.

The name Tormore translates as Big Hill, although Craggan More only rises to 476m so I’m not sure it is really fitting of the description within this mountainous area, and Ben Rinnes is not visible from here.  The river running through the grounds is recorded as the Allt an Torra Mhòir (Burn of the Big Hill) and it flows from springs on the slopes of Craggan More, so the water would be the obvious and very apt influence for the distillery name.  They actually record their water source as the Achvochkie Burn which is the name the Allt an Torra Mhòir becomes after it passes under the road and carries on down to meet the Spey.

The distillery was completed in 1960 and its founding company was Schenley International (MWYB 2011), a name not often heard around the whisky world today but once the owners of the Long John whisky brand, itself a name that once boldly adorned the front of the distillery.  Today it is owned by Pernod Ricard through their whisky subsidiary Chivas Brothers.  Tormore is not open to the public but Chivas tell me that the distillery has 8 stainless steel washbacks, a stainless steel full lauter tun, 4 wash and 4 spirit stills and an annual capacity of 3.7m litres of spirit.  Their malted barley is unpeated and the whisky is matured mainly in bourbon casks in a mixture of racked, dunnage and palletised warehouses in the grounds behind the distillery.

There were originally just 4 stills but this was doubled in 1972 (MWYB 2011) and all the stills have purifiers attached for a lighter spirit.  The still necks are bolted onto the bases by way of a collar rather than a continuous curved design and they have relatively short horizontal lyne arms to shell & tube condensers inside the still house.  Almost all of Tormore’s production has been used in blended whisky and there is only one OB currently produced, a 12yo that first appeared in 2004 which I am certain I have never tried.

Tormore Distillery Gardens
Tormore has never had its own malting floors and there are no fake pagodas on show either, not in keeping with the bold modernist design I guess, but there is some ornate topiary, landscaped gardens and a pool with fountains beside the main road.  All very picturesque and this stretch of the A95 probably doesn’t need speed cameras as many travellers slow a little to view the distillery as they pass by on their way to Chivas’ more historic and visitor friendly distilleries at Glenlivet or Aberlour.

Richardson Road, named after the architect, is set back from the A95 and includes a row of whitewashed distillery cottages and a community recreation hall that was added just after the distillery was built.  The cottages were built for distillery workers but are now privately owned; the original Manager’s House stands separate on the other side of the distillery.

A time capsule shaped like a pot still and containing barley, water, oak staves and a large bottle of Long John whisky was buried in the distillery grounds, to be opened in 2060 a century after the distillery opened.  Many times on this journey I have seen scant remains of where distilleries used to be but Tormore should certainly still be standing in 2060 as it is a category B listed building.  It is also one of four Chivas distilleries set to be expanded after they announced new investment in production capacity in May this year, so hopefully it will still be in production then as well.  If all else fails then a detailed ‘working’ model of the distillery is on display in The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh.