The written history of Tullibardine Distillery is rather sketchy. The first distillery to use the name Tullibardine was founded in the 1790s. This distillery lay somewhere in the village of Blackford although it is unclear exactly where. Blackford is a small village in Pertshire in the Highlands of Scotland. The original Tullibardine distillery was closed in 1837.
The current Tullibardine distillery also lies in Blackford, and is a converted brewery. Since the brewing of beer has a very long history in Blackford you might say that Tullibardine has a long history as well. For example Tullibardine have inserted the year ‘1488’ into their logo since they use the same spring water as a brewery that existed in Blackford back in 1488. The reason why the year 1488 was chosen is that this year the Scottish King James IV purchased beer from the brewery for the celebration of his coronation. The site of the current Tullibardine distillery has been used for brewing since the seventeenth century.
The brewery that was to become today’s Tullibardine Distillery was only run intermittently in the beginning of the twentieth century, and was also used as a storage facility for at time. In 1947 the brewery was bought by the Welshman William Delme Evans. Delme Evans was an engineer and built a compact and effective distillery making good use of nature when he could and equally good use of science when that was called for. For example, the cooling water flows over the condensers using nothing but the force of gravitation. Also, in order to reduce unnecessary waste he built two condensers to absorb the heat instead of one as is more common.
After two years of repairs and modifications the Tullibardine Distillery began its production in 1949. Unfortunately Mr Evans was forced to sell the distillery only four years later due to ill health. It was bought by Brodie Hepburn who ran the distillery until 1971 when it was sold again to Invergordon Distillers. At this time the annual output was 150 000 litres. The new owners increased the distillery’s capacity by installing two additional stills next to the existing two. At this time a total of fifteen people worked in production at Tullibardine as opposed to today’s three. Tullibardine then passed through several hands and was mothballed by Whyte & Mackay in 1994. The reason for the shut-down is believed to be a combination of tax reasons and overproduction.
After five years of planning, Tullibardine was bought in 2003 by a privately-owned consortium. More than 2 000 casks were included in the purchase. The four new owners wish to run a traditional distillery and will initially only produce smaller amounts of whisky. Tullibardine will only be available at the distillery and through a few selected retailers. The distillery runs under the watchful eye of the new Mater Distiller John Black. Mr Black was practically born and raised at the Cardow distillery and also has extensive experience from several other distilleries. If you visit Tullibardine, be sure not to miss the daily guided tour led by Mr Black himself.
Tullibardine bottlings will not be labelled ‘10 years old’, ’15 years old’ etc, but will be marked with their production year. At the moment Tullibardine offer the ‘Tullibardine Vintage 1993’ together with some older and more exclusive releases. More official bottlings are planned in the near future including cask strength and sherry matured whisky.
Except for the available bottlings Tullibardine have also launched a cask offer in which you may buy a barrel, a hogshead or a butt cask in advance. So far this has been very popular and casks have been sold to customers in several countries. Please see the Tullibardine official website for details.
But there is more to Tullibardine than just whisky. The distillery is also part of a business venture which includes several retail outlets and a restaurant for up to 100 people. Tullibardine has an ideal location from a tourist business point of view; the village Blackford lies right between Stirling and Perth close to the well-trafficked A9 on which seven million cars pass the distillery every year, and an astonishing 2.1 million people may reach the distillery within one hour.
Apart from the distillery’s planned staff of 20 the other businesses will soon employ an additional 100 people. The entire project is budgeted at £12 million. When considering the venture which combines this traditional whisky distillery with the other businesses that surround it, the motto of the new Tullibardine owners seems very fitting: “Heart in the past, head in the future”.
Production at Tullibardine
Production at Tullibardine currently employs three people. Because of the devotion to traditional techniques much of the work is done by hand. The distillery is very compact and it is possible to view the entire process from the middle of the production room. Although the distillery had lay dormant for nine years all the new owners had to do was to repaint the distillery and clean some valves and pumps.
The soft water used by Tullibardine is taken from springs which feed the Danny Burn flowing down past the distillery from the Ochil Hills. The clear water is essentially the same water that is successfully bottled and sold by the local company Highland Springwater. The cooling water does not have to be pumped up since it is lead into the distillery from a nearby mountain.
The malt is bought slightly peated from several of Scotland’s larger malting companies. The malt is ground in a traditional Porteus mill. The mash tun is made from stainless steel and holds a little more than 5 tons. The eight washbacks will soon be reduced to six due to the limited current production. Each washback holds 28 000 litres. The distillery has two wash stills and two spirit stills but only use one of each at the moment. All stills hold 21 000 litres but the wash still is only run with 14 000 litres and the spirit still with 11 000 litres. The raw spirit is stored in used sherry and bourbon casks. The impressive warehouse has a capacity of 4 000 casks. There are no pillars used to hold up the massive roof of the warehouse which allows for an unrestricted and overwhelming view of the 2660 casks that are currently in storage. The casks are stored on three rows of shelves.
A real treasure is hidden in Tullibardine’s warehouse; one of the oldest whisky casks in Scotland. The quarter cask was filled in 1952 and the whisky in it will of course have lost much of its alcohol. In any event, the 40-50 bottles that will come out of this rarity are likely to be extremely expensive.
The new owners believe that a realistic initial production should be about 100 000 litres per year or 2 000 litres every week. This amount was produced during four months in 2003 and production was then halted until October 2004. In spite of these modest volumes, Tullibardine would have no problem meeting an increased future demand; the current production capacity is 2 million litres per year.
PH4 1QG, PA28 6EX
Phone: +44 (0) 1764 682 252
Fax: +44 (0) 1764 682 330
Distillery Manager: John Black
Visitors: Visitors are welcomed at Tullibardine all 52 weeks of the year ever since the opening of the Tullibardine 1488 Shop and the Café 1488 which took place in November 2004. The guided tours are priced at £3 which is partly refunded if you make a purchase in the gift shop. The regular guided tours are short, about 20-30 minutes. There is however also one daily and more extensive ‘connoisseur tour’ which is led by the Distillery Manager John Black. Advance booking is recommended if you wish to attend this tour. In 2005 the owners hope to have established Tullibardine as the most visited distillery in Scotland; the goal is to reach a staggering 800 000 visitors by the end of the year.
Owner: Privately Owned