It’s not often I find myself thinking about bottle design when it comes to whisky. For me, the majority of the time it is all about what is inside the bottle that counts the most.
But, then sometimes something takes you by surprise. Which is exactly what happened when I met the new bottle from Tamdhu distillery.
As soon as I saw it, I wanted to hold it. To pick it up. To examine it. It was beautiful. Pure and simple.
Here’s a bottle shot to whet the appetite.
Tamdhu and I met in May when the distillery at Knockando was just reopening to the public during the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival. I’d arrived for the opening day, to head behind the scenes at the distillery and try a dram or two…or three. When the new bottle design was revealed in the freshly regenerated train station on site (now the distillery’s visitor centre) I was awe-struck. I then spent much of the afternoon either holding the bottle or declaring my love for it.
Here’s another shot of the heavy base for your viewing pleasure:
But let’s rewind just a wee bit to before the big reveal, on the off-chance you’re wondering what Tamdhu is exactly.
As background, the distillery was first established in 1897 when a group of whisky investors pulled together with the aim of building the most modern distillery of the age.
Built by preeminent distillery architect of the time – Charles C Doig – it was a powerhouse: big in size and scope, a giant looming within the Speyside treeline. It even managed to have its own train stop on the Strathspey Railway (Dalbeallie station) to help bring in the barley and take out the whisky. It took water from Tamdhu Spring, just off the River Spey (and continues to do so to this day) and used a lightly peated malt in its production.
When writer Alfred Barnard visited in 1898 he deemed it: “The most modern of distilleries…perhaps the best designed and most efficient distillery of its era.”
Tamdhu laboured away producing malt for blended whiskies under the ownership of Highland Distillers throughout the 20th century, bar a silent period from 1910-1913 and another from 1928-1948. New stills were added in 1972 and another two in 1975 to up production, and the company launched its own single malt in 1976.
But then, in 2010 the owners – Edrington Group – decided to mothball the distillery and it fell silent.
This is when the current owners Ian Macleod Distillers stepped in. Having already purchased Glengoyne from Edrington back in 2003, the ties had been forged for this purchase when it came up. In 2011, after six weeks of negotiations, the company fell into the hands of Ian Macleod and a renovation occurred until the reopening in May this year.
At the opening, Leonard Russell – the current MD of Ian Macleod – said the team made a great discovery after the purchase.
“For the last ten years, Edrington had been investing in very good sherry casks and we discovered we had a rich vein of sherry casks up to ten years of age, many of them first fill,” he explained.
With nine washbacks and six stills, the distillery currently has the capacity to produce three million litres a year. There are 14,000 casks stored on site and a new warehouse area, which was being built during my visit, is due to completed by early next year to allow for the storage of 90,000 casks on site.
And so, back to the bottle. That beautiful bottle and the liquid inside of it.
Curious to find out more, I spoke with Neil Boyd, the UK commercial director for Ian Macleod, about it. According to him, the unique design was decided on for two reasons: out of a desire to stand out and a desire to celebrate the past.
“We wanted to be different in a very competitive market. When we were doing research, one of the things that stood out for us was original soda siphon from the Victorian era. It had quite a unique look and feel and in trying to evoke some of the spirit of that age of optimism, when the distillery was established, we realised it could work for us,” he said.
The only downside? On a shelf, it is actually in a tube. While the tube is attractive as well – it’s black and taller than others, with ‘Tamdhu’ emblazoned on it in bright white lettering – it’s only when you pull the bottle out of the tube that you realise how different it is from other whisky bottles on the market.
“We’ve had a really positive reaction to it,” continued Neil. “Barmen have told us it has a tactile feel that makes you want to pick it up and pour from it because it’s got a waist-line effect.”
This 10-year old is one of two whiskies currently available since the re-launch. While the 10-year old comes from 100% sherry casks, there is a second special edition which has been limited to 1,000 bottles and which has liquid comprised of solely first-fill sherry casks, making for a richer, darker dram. It is only available on the website, however, and costs £100. The regular 10-year old, meanwhile, is available in the UK in Harrods, Selfridges, at independent distributors and – on the supermarket side – exclusively through Waitrose for the first year. It is priced at £33.99.
According to Neil, the whisky will also be pushed into 10 lead markets such as Russia, France, Germany and Japan, in September.
Now, besides the whisky bottle, what does the liquid actually taste like?
On the nose, I picked up notes of rich toffee apples to begin with – there was a freshness there that could be found lingering amongst the dry cinnamon and spicy sherry scents. It wasn’t overwhelming with either sweet or dry notes but at 40% did have a bit of a kick to it that hit the back of my nose. With water, some more candied, marzipan dusted hints came through and the burn was replaced by a floral delicacy.
The palate, meanwhile, was very mellow to begin but quite creamy. This changed into a burst of thick rich treacle, black licorice, orange zest and brown sugar spiked with nutmeg. With water, I didn’t love the palate as much as I did the nose. It flat-lined a bit for me and an edgy, bitterness along with some rubbery notes poked through.
To finish it was at first drying but then the smoky note came casually rolling through just to say hi. I also preferred the finish without water, finding it a bit flatter with the addition.
When I first tasted the 10-year old and special release side by side, I preferred the richness of the latter. But, as a bottle to have on one’s shelf at home, the former (especially at £34) is one to take a look at.
For me, I think a bottle will be likely in my collection for the future. It’s too beautiful to resist and I give credit to the company for making me have more of a think about design and its importance.