Inchgower - one of the most overlooked Speyside distilleries
4 months ago
Our Fellow, Dr. Heinz Weinberger from Whisky-Connaisseur, has written this guest blog for us which delves into an independently single malt single cask bottling of Inchgower distillery...
There are Scottish Single Malt Whisky distilleries which are highly regarded far beyond the borders of Scotland and which every Whisky lover knows. Then there are distilleries that only very few people are aware of. Although it is certainly not one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland with an annual output of 3.2 million litres of alcohol, its Single Malt bottlings are extremely rare in number. We are talking about the Speyside distillery Inchgower. Perhaps one reason for this is that Inchgower is different from most “normal” distilleries in Speyside. While their Single Malts can be classified as fresh, light and flowery, Inchgower produces a quite heavy spicy Malt with a distinct coastal salinity – almost like a Whisky from the Islands.
Situated between Fochabers and Buckie, just on the edge of Speyside, the distillery has an eventful history. The Inchgower distillery was founded in 1871 by Alexander Wilson. But its roots go back another 46 years when Alexander's uncle, John Wilson, built the Tochineal distillery in 1825. After his uncle's death, Alexander took over the management of Tochineal. However, when the owner of the land doubled the rent, Alexander was forced to close the distillery. He simply packed all the equipment and moved 10 kilometres further to the coast, where the rent was lower, and Inchgower was born in 1871. Alexander Wilson died in 1913 and his company went bankrupt in 1936. Fortunately, the takeover by Arthur Bell & Sons in 1938 secured the future, and – apart from an extension by two more to now four stills in 1966 – the buildings remain largely unchanged to this day. Bell & Sons was taken over by Guinness in 1985, thus Inchgower is now part of the Diageo Group.
Only about 1% of the whole Whisky production is bottled and sold as Single Malt. Inchgower was released as Single Malt in the Flora and Fauna as well as in the Rare Malts series of Diageo. The very individual 14-year-old Single Malt of Diageo’s Flora and Fauna series, with the Oyster Catcher on the label, reveals the coastal location of the distillery and is described as aggressive, which is usually the case with Islay Malts. The rather robust character of the new make spirit, which Dave Broom described as tomato sauce-like, spicy and slightly salty, results, among other things, from the fact that Inchgower chooses an unusual middle cut, which starts at 70% abv and reaches down to 55% abv. This robust and nutty-spicy spirit is the perfect signature Malt for Bell's Blended Scotch Whisky.
By far the largest part of the distillery's production goes into whisky blends such as Bell's, White Horse and Johnnie Walker. Fortunately, besides the rare owner bottlings, Inchgower Single Malts can also be found in the assortment of independent bottlers such as Douglas Laing, Gordon & MacPhail or Signatory. The independent bottlers play an important role in the Whisky business by increasing the variety of bottlings with their innovative expressions. Single Malts from distilleries in which the owner decides not to put any or very few bottlings on the market are made visible and drinkable for the Whisky connoisseurs by the independent bottlers.
Douglas Laing, in particular, has regularly launched first-class Inchgower Single Malt bottlings, making the potential of this Speyside distillery more accessible to a wider public. Inchgower Single Malt and for the most part even single cask bottlings from various in-house series, such as Premier Barrel, Clan Denny, Provenance, Old Particular or Director's Cut (which is no longer produced), have been released by Douglas Laing over the years. Their most recent example is a 22-year-old Inchgower Single Malt, bottled exclusively for the German market. Distilled in 1996 and bottled in 2018, it has been matured for a full 22 years in a lush single sherry butt (DL 11920) and was bottled at 51.5% abv. This Whisky with the eye-catching black label is an outstanding one. On the nose there is a fine smell of crystallised ginger, dried fruits, sweet sherry flavours, dark chocolate, cinnamon and oak spice. It offers a delicate sweetness and fruitiness on the palate, along with intensely warming spices – cardamom, cinnamon and oak – before Demerara sugar and prunes come to the fore. Finally, the taste of syrupy fruit, honey, sugared almonds and a whiff of salinity remains for a long time. The outturn of 610 bottles is already sold out in Germany. This is a powerful demonstration that Single Malt lovers have discovered and appreciate the enormous potential of this unusual Speyside distillery.