Ep. 13 - Will Pitchforth of Bladnoch Distillery

LOWLAND SCOTCH // A historic distillery and a region get a breath of new life.

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Show Notes

This interview pairs nicely with the Whiskey Lore Story Episode: What's in a Name?: Corryvreckan

Join me as I chat with Will about this historic Lowland Scotch Whisky that has seen mothballing several times in its history. Recently it was purchased by Australian David Prior and Dr. Nick Savage has joined as master distiller (after his time at Macallan). We'll talk about that transition and I'll get to taste a couple of their expressions - Bladnoch 10 and Samsara, which utilizes casks from California.

In this interview we discuss:

  • Bladnoch as a tourist attraction and event center
  • First Australian to own a Scotch distillery?
  • Lowland as a region
  • Regionality and its diminishing influence
  • Moving beyond light, triple distilled, and grain reputation
  • Comparing the Irish whiskey revival with Lowland whisky's revival
  • Bladnoch in the 19th Century through Bells, Diageo, and the Irish brothers
  • The rarity of Bladnoch
  • The special challenges of recovering from mothballing a distillery
  • Changing master distillers from Ian McMillan to Dr. Nick Savage from Macallan
  • Understanding wood
  • A tasting of Bladnoch Samsara
  • California red wine casks and a quick drive to Cali
  • The move from Macallan and the tossing of Sherry for the barrels
  • Portland and Washington hipsters and sherry
  • Tasting Bladnoch 10
  • The great variety of tasting notes
  • Tasting like Christmas Cake
  • Connecting to other senses beyond flavor
  • Getting rid of these tariffs

Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on Spotify, Apple or your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore: The Interviews." The full transcript and resources talked about in this episode are available on the tab(s) above.

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DREW: Welcome to Whiskey Lore: The Interviews
I'm your host Drew Hannush - Amazon best selling author of the Whiskey Lore Travel Guide to Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon and welcome to an encore interview I recorded via Zoom back in 2020 with the Head of Commerical at Bladnoch Distillery, Mr. Will Pitchforth

Of course being in the middle of pandemic, we weren't able to meet face to face, especially since Will was in Australia at the time. But we didn't let the distance get in the way and during this conversation I was really wanting to get my finger on the pulse of Lowland whisky in the 21st century.

Bladnoch is south of Glasgow in a region that has long been known for producing grain whiskies, blends, and triple distilled scotch. But as you'll find out in this interview, that isn't necessarily what you're going to find at Bladnoch.

With a new Australian owner David Prior and former Macallan Master Distiller Dr. Nick Savage at the helm, this 203 year old distillery has been given new life after being mothballed several times in its existance.

Thanks to the team at Bladnoch and Mash and Grape, I received a bottle of Bladnoch 10 and Samsara and I'll be tasting both of them during this interview. We'll cover a lot of the distillery's history as well and Will is going to confirm a rumor I had heard about the sherry casks that are used in finishing whisky.

So lets jump into the conversation, where was asking about Bladnoch's recent history as a tourist attraction. Here is Bladnoch's own Will Pitchforth.

WILL: You're right that especially in the last kind of 20 years, 20 30 years of Bladnoch the the distillery was open a lot more for a sort of a tourist attraction and like you say they've been space that that you know I mean a lot of people have quite fond memories of Bladnoch either you know they've been to an event there or it was really quite a you know quite an open door. And actually last year when we opened our visitor center you know, we've got a lot of of course international visitors but also a lot of locals who've headed to Bladnoch and I want to look around and see the renovations that we've done. And and you know David might have brought Bladnoch out of kind of out of administration he might have you know rebuilt it but it's a 203 year old distillery so, you know the the story of Bladnoch goes much further back than than our company kind of owning it and that's been great to sort of connect with all the people who who have this long kind of history with with distilleries.

DREW: So let's talk about David right up front this is kind of the end of the story getting to the to the tail end we'll go back into the history here in a bit but is he the first Australian to own a scotch whisky distillery?

WILL: Look as as far as we know yeah he is the first the first Aussie you know it's one of those things that that scotch distilleries you know even in the you know well of the past have been kind of these sort of globally coveted things to own is that there's been people from all around the world that have that have bought great scotch distilleries. And you know the the 130 or so distilleries are pretty tightly held and there's not a lot of independent transfer of ownership of scotch distilleries. And you know when the opportunity came up for David you know it was it was pretty exciting the opportunity to have an old beautiful scotch distillery you know to to kind of rebuild and to reinvigorate. There's a lot of new distilleries being built even you know some of them are kind of resurrecting old names you know rose band because on the way back you've got you know Lindores Abbey you've got new brands like Nc’nean and Annandale and there's a lot of green field type projects where they're sort of creating a brand new distillery but to to buy an old distillery and kind of continue this legacy but doing it from an office in Melbourne is yeah it's pretty different so.

DREW: So Lowland whisky is an interesting concept because Lowland whiskies I think going back in history you think of Lowland whisky being used more for blended scotches back in the days when they were trying to compete with the Irish distilleries and the the single malts were probably more coming from the Speyside and Highlands regions. So describe Lowland scotch because I know there'll be a lot of people going well I've heard the term but I don't know a lot of distilleries. What would you say is a characteristic of Lowland scotch.


WILL: Well the answer I'm going to tell you is probably not the one that you want which is that you know I think that you know geography and kind of regionality is becoming less and less important in the in the scotch world. You're absolutely right that you know traditionally there was a little triple distilled whisky out of the Lowlands there was a lot of this I mean still today is all the grain whisky produced in our region you know so the major grand whisky series are in the Lowlands whether they're your Cameron Bridge making grain whisky Diageo or or Strathclyde or North British you know making making great whisky for big distilling groups. That being said you know I think that the Lowlands category has really been only a handful of players in the last sort of 30 or 40 years and certainly over in the U.S. you know if I go to a liquor store in in the U.S. and you know it's separated by region you know I've got two or three full walls of Speyside scotch and maybe one or two Islay and and Lowlands if we're lucky we might get a shelf right down the bottom there might be like a couple of couple of bottles in the corner and you know Campbelltown's got its own you know designations as a Scottish region which is only got three distilleries, the Lowlands wasn't too far behind to be honest despite being geographically a very very large you know surface area of of the country. And we've got only a couple distilleries down there but you know that really is changing there's a lot of new distilleries in our in our area. As I mentioned Rosebank you know classical owners disability is coming back and it's been rebuilt I've got new disabilities like Glasgow Distillery company which is making some fantastic whiskies. You know Annandale you know another old brand that's kind of being kind of reborn which is only a few miles away from us. So you know there are some some kind of styles coming back but what it's doing of course is it's it's I guess you know showcasing the diversity that you know the whisky can be distilled and produced in that region so you know every so often I'll talk to someone going oh so you're not triple distilled like most Lowlands, I'm like well yeah let's be honest the only lotus you're really seeing any great number you know quantities of Auchentoshan which is indeed triple distilled Glenkinchie which is double distilled and you know and and Bladnoch is is double distilled so the triple distillation thing is kind of something from the past I believe that Rosebank is going to triple distill but Annandale's double distillation yes Glasgow Distillery company there's double distillation. There are a few you know new players there are all double distillations so that kind of like Lowlands you know they used to call them very light and and very kind of soft and kind of elegant very kind of introductory type whiskies I think that that you know certainly Bladnoch but you know many of the other local distilleries that are kind of moving away from that kind of stereotype I suppose those loads was keeping very very light and kind of easy going. Great for blends here it's not to say that that you know it doesn't make a good malt to put into a blend but it's not the kind of primary reason for these Lowland existing anymore because you know a lot of them have got some some great brands and like us we're doing some things with some casks that give them a you know a real bit of heft over and above the that kind of you know light sort of soft you know reputation that they've got.

DREW: What's interesting is that what we're drinking today was produced by the forerunners of the current ownership so it and and this is an interesting thing to me about Bladnoch history and one of the things that I actually want to do a Whiskey Lore podcast around is the the concept of mothballing a distillery and the special challenges that that creates. Because it's happened through the scotch whisky industry over and over again. Some very large distilleries went through some really rough times and there are is this like watching the stock market it's going to be up markets down markets and you have to sort of predict these things out 10 15 years in advance to know what's coming and what's not. So as we kind of roll back through your history and then come forward it started in 1817 under the McClelland family correct? And they owned it for all the way up until 1905. yeah yeah so what's interesting is I did an episode around the Pattison crash that occurred in the 1890s when there was just this over flooding of the market and speculation in scotch whisky and they basically over distilled and then the whole thing the bottom just dropped out in 1900. And so many distilleries disappeared at that time but this distillery actually lasted another five years beyond that and then it kind of evolved from there between going between different ownerships. What were some of the special things that they were having to deal with back then in jumping from one owner to the next? Because your next owner was actually an Irish company that came in…

WILL: You know I think that that you're absolutely right they've been these kind of like booms and busts in the whisky industry that have kind of taken place over the last of two three hundred years sort of since whisky selling was a was a thing and yeah earlier than that sort of turn of the century you know change of course you had yeah the introduction of of licenses and you know distillation taxes on distillation that pushed a lot of loans distilleries out in the kind of 1820s where they they moved north out of the the reach and vision of the tax man. You know of course the Lowlands are close to england and closer to london so you know they were for a tax man looking to collect his excise he was much much closer to the Lowlands sort of shake him down and you know get his quotas so there are a lot to close down in that kind of time and brands like Annandale for example the ones that really shut down in that time. And then of course you you know as you mentioned you had you know lots of kind of challenges throughout the 19th century and then into the 20th century where yeah there was the glut in the market and you know I think also one of the the things to remember is that you know blended whisky was pretty much all there was on the market until you know much much slower than people think I think that there's a perhaps a misconception that you know people in the late 19th century were sitting back drinking a nice glass of single malt, where it really wasn't you know wasn't the style and so you know whiskies that had good consistent production and were you know had good contracts really to produce winter whisky were the ones that kind of kind of weather any storm, because you know there wasn't this sort of you know hype around single malt there is today of people you know getting special releases and things like that I think that it's one of the things that I think surprises people knew to scotch is that actually single malt was not something that was now really the the primary focus we use there is right from the start. And one of the things that helped really Bladnoch survive is the fact that they were used in you know a lot of great blends and that you know their particular distillers character was sought after by blenders you know all the way through into the sort of late late 20th century so Europe so you're right you know Irish ownership in the in the kind of early 1900s lots of periods of kind of the buildings being sold assets being stripped out you know the stills were all had were all kind of completely scrapped and sold a few times. At one stage going to the the set of stills went to Sweden for the installation so you know I think that the the kind of latter half of the 20th century also of course brought some a new kind of focus on Bladnoch when you know Bells and Sons took it over and they were making belle's whisky you know blended blended whisky with a little Bladnock in it you know. In the 1980s and then kind of early 1990s they they you know opened a visitor center at Bladnoch and had people visiting it was all kind of looking pretty good for Bladnoch. And then in the early 1990s there was you know the big sell-off of a lot of distilleries you know or closure levels that are used by at the time United Distillers you know part of a Guinness plc which of course were you know one of the component companies that became Diageo eventually. And there really was and a real contraction in the industry a lot of those smaller distilleries that maybe didn't make so much commercial sense we were shuttered because they thought well let's focus on the on the big produce production sites and and that's where you know that's where the sort of future lies. And of course the benefit of hindsight 30 years later you know a sip of Rosebank will set you back a thousand dollars if you're lucky partly because it's good whisky but also partly because you know of course it's closed down and it was thought no one's ever gonna want Rosebank and you know fortunately for the whisky world there's Ian McLeod you know rebuilding it in the case of Bladnoch however it was sold to be turned into a holiday park 

DREW: So I guess this was around the time Diageo owned it at that point?

WILL: Well as I say so it was United Distillers which would have become Diageo in the future but they sold it before they became so diagonal was United Distillers Guinness plc and grand metropolitan that made this sort of mega you know wine and spirits company or beer and spirit of this company and when they sold it as I say they you know they sold that Rosebank and a number of other distilleries at the time and they stopped to sell in 1993 and sold it to these these two Northern Irish brothers the Armstrongs who you know as I say wanted to turn it into like a a bit of a like a tourist attraction. You know holiday park you could go and stay and you were mentioning before you know as an event center and and they were running weddings and various other celebrations were at the distillery. And you know they started off with this great idea that like oh you know it'll be you know an old distillery and there's lots of barrels and it's a great tourist destination and realized pretty quickly that actually where this this opportunity lay was to create whisky. You know they started distilling whisky again in 2000 and it took a lot of backwards and forwards with when it was at the time was Diageo to kind of get the the rights to still distill whisky as Bladnoch and there was a say there was a lot of backward forward and they had a very very strict like literage limit on how much whisky they could produce because you know Diageo in their mind it kind of had been closed down and that was the end of Bladnoch and they were still selling blood knocked into gas and they still had you know 10 the 10 year Old Flora and Fauna is still a very well loved expression I know that's it's releases and as a distillery there's an original bottling out of blackness so you know there was this uneasy alliance to say well yeah you guys can make a bit of Bladnoch but you've got to keep it pretty you know kind of low key and small volume because we don't want you really kind of you know affecting us and and you know there was some pretty robust discussions but from 2000 to 2009 they were distilling you know Bladnoch in small quantities you know at the distillery and you could visit and you could you know how you're wedding there and an active distillery so.

DREW: Yeah that's got to be tough though to be really limited at how much I mean because the question comes up you know why did they end up in 2009 no longer producing whisky and I guess they they couldn't sell it off or they held onto it until around 2014 or so is that? And and and so you're thinking this stuff is just coming to maturity that they were distilling in 2000 and now they have to to give it up how does that happen? 

WILL: Yeah look without going into the gory details personally I'll share with you over a drama best one okay all right it was a family dispute okay there were two brothers and they just did not see eye to eye about the future of blade and one of the brothers wanted to keep distilling and keep making whisky the other brother definitely didn't and when you've got 50 50 ownership you know you need some consensus to do things like buy barley and yeast and casks and maintain the equipment and things like that so it kind of came to a head yeah in 2009 and essentially the kind of dispute played out over the coming years and got to the point yeah in 2014 where I look we've we just need to sell this and kind of go our separate ways. And so you know there wasn't it wasn't any kind of financial distress it really was that there were two owners who just could not agree on what the future of Bladnoch looked like. So yeah what we had of course with Bladnoch was a distillery that hadn't been producing for you know for six years at least and certainly for sort of 30 years of any great volume you know the the early 90s was the last time that Bladnoch was selling casks to independent butlers for example so today if you see a Single Malt Scotch Whisky Society or a Gordon McPhail bottling of Bladnoch it's from 1990 91 92.93 wow because that's the last time they were selling it because that's the last time they had the volume you know when they produced a small amount they were keeping it for themselves so you know Bladnoch didn't have a you know huge presence internationally they're only exporting to a handful of countries. Like you said they'd you know only only been kind of just coming to maturity the stuff that they distilled so you know they had a 11 year old was kind of the oldest that they were they're really you know really pushing they had a few old ones from some old barrels that they bought you know when they bought the distillery it's pretty limited and so you know what when David bought it in 2015 he had you know yeah I told him three-year-old brand he had 50 acres of you know beautiful corner of Scotland but and and we had some casks but we really had it almost kind of start from scratch again. Beautiful bottles you've got sitting there yeah you know that was a big part of it is you know the the previous presentation of Bladnoch was very very small run you know all hand bottled hand labeled you know. The old bottles that the age statement was a sticker it was the same label they would just put a little 11 year old stuff in there 19 year olds it's like you know you know they were following the rules of course yeah it was definitely you know but like you know you'd have this the sticker and then you'd see the little square on it with like and that's an 18 year old and it was a small operation.


DREW: I was gonna say it's not what you expect of a 203 year old distillery you think that that would probably be happening at a brand new startup craft distillery?

WILL: No in fact quite the opposite you absolutely expected to be in a 200 year old surrey you don't expect that to be in a new distillery where they're like at least a wide print you know a new printer or they'll work with some you know they'll work with some sort of design company. But these guys you know they were really really really in-house and a couple of the team actually worked for the old owners and we always you know laugh at in stories about them like sitting there on a on a Friday night like peeling the stickers off and sticking out. But you know it's a very you know it's a good story and the great thing is of course is that you know it gave the message to people who were you know real whisky lovers, hunt out a Bladnoch and find it because you know it's once you get your hands on it it's it's a rare thing and you know that's kind of continued now into the ownership of Bladnoch but what we wanted to do is to really just lift the presentation and to you know recognize the fact that there are a lot of barrels of Bladnoch out there. You know you've got two two products there you've got the 10 year old the Samsara Samsara is a consistent product for us but 10 year old there's no more tenure being produced. We have already emptied those barrels yeah and it is done and you know our 17 year old now is out of stock in the U.S. because it's because it's globally us was the last market we sold our last case of it in October and there's no more left. You know the 15 year old we saw their last case we saw a few cases around the us you should find in a retailer but you know when we bought these barrels you can't even do them twice you know the barrels that we've got when we bought the place those are the ones that have to last us so our age not Bladnoch expressions are rare and and pretty special and unfortunately you know the quality is still is very very good despite the fact they were putting the stickers on the bottles the whisky they were making the casts they were using were really great.

DREW: I might be slow on drinking these then I have a rare bottle here. That's and so that's really the challenge when you have a distillery that's been mothballed. There's two things that I would think would be issues one would be you're changing distillers so does the philosophy does the character of the whisky change from company and and master distiller to another master distiller when there's such a wide gap between the years?

WILL: I think that you know when we we rebuilt the distillery we refurbished the mill that you know grow that crushes the barley built new washbacks and we went from a single pair of stills to two pair of stills and completely rebuilt. So I think that probably makes more difference than change the master distiller because you know the shape of the stills is pretty immutable. That being said one of the things about the old owners of Bladnoch is that they used to sell and and commercially a new make spirit okay so you could buy like it's right still some some people call it cleric but basically it's you know fresh off is still cut down to sort of you know cask strength for putting in a cask. And so we had some good examples to sort of understand what the traditional you know the the old Bladnoch used to taste like and it doesn't mean that we didn't make some adjustments but it meant that we could kind of you know at least compare and contrast the whisky that was being made you know in the last 30 years to what we're making now in terms of the master distiller you know we've had two master distillers you know Ian Mcmillan joined us from distel where he was nice of the stiller of you know Bunnahabhain and Tobermory and Deanston and he really was responsible for the kind of the build and creating all this new equipment. And then he's now now a consultant and he's working on you know a lot of you know again new distilleries and he just announced that he's part of the team building the new Wolfcraig distillery in Sterling and, kind of he handed over last year to to Nick Savage who obviously from the Macallan had also just been through a pretty big renovation. What I think Nick's doing really well and you know Nick's got a it was funny when I heard that Nick was joining I was talking a few industry people and like this guy is he knows his wood you know and that's his real passion you know Nick's a Nick's an engineer he's got PhD he's a he's a bright guy. But I remember when he joined and we it was with us in our office in Australia he got the blackboard out and he got real deep into like like the molecular structure of lignan and you know and like the sort of tertiary or effects of of of aging and you know the guy. So he's drawing when he's drawing some organic chemistry symbols of like and you know here's the here's the the strength of these bonds and yeah our marketing team's going I'm not quite sure how we can put this onto a person you're going right brain to left brain all of a sudden yeah our marketing's going yeah this is it's not very sexy put this long chain out you know your hydrocarbon on a poster but you know the guy's got this this really deep understanding of the launching effects of wood and I guess that's what he's really brought is he's thinking really really you know into the future of Bladnoch. You know we're sitting here going you know I can count the number of casks still remaining from the early 90s you know pretty much on two hands. You know we've almost got names you know what I mean like these these casks are like family members and unfortunately a slaughter a family member a bottle of 30 year old whisky. You can't replace them and we want to be in a situation where Bladnoch has the the strength and it has the the stocks to be able to really build a big strong future because it's been through this you know like you said that there's been a real up and down period over the last 200 years that, you know it has it hasn't always been so clear that it wasn't going to survive so you know where Nick’s really brought all those expertise is less on the distilling and more and they're like what do we need to put down what's in the future for Bladnoch and let's make sure that you know we're not a situation where we're basically you know Bladnoch has to be kind of restricted so that people kind of can't buy it. I mean one of our biggest complaints is that you know we get on on our social media oh look I live in you know Minnesota or I live in you know in Australia control states you know utah well South Carolina where I'm at is probably a challenge and I can't get ahold of it because you know and you know when in the U.S. we're sort of looking at you know a few thousand bottles for the whole country because that's all we made then you know we want to we want to bring more people to Bladnoch and the only way we're going to do that is by really kind of hunkering down and laying down whisky for the future so that we can keep growing.

DREW: All right so I'm going to stop torturing myself right now because I've been smelling this whisky the entire time and I know there's there's probably people who are going how do you hold on to whisky that long without you know go this far in. It shows you how much of a history geek I am so this is my first chance to really kind of nose and taste this one so this is Samsara so go ahead and if you could kind of describe what this is. Because this is a this is a non-age stated whisky correct?

WILL: Sure so you know we've been talking for a while about the history of Bladnoch and how we stopped the ceiling in 2009, so it doesn't take a math genius to work out that even though it's thrown on an age statement we haven't got any whisky that's any younger than 2009 and in fact you know for...here's a bit of a bit of a kind of a behind the scenes look exclusively on Whiskey Lore is that in 2009 the only whisky we produced was a very short run of peated whisky. Let's say we was a previous owner yeah so there's none of that that goes with the Samsara so the the youngest it could possibly be as 2008 and of course some of it is older than than that but you know the future of Samsara you know we will be bringing some younger whiskies in. You know the non-age statement is an interesting one because of course there's this real obsession with a number of years on the bottle and again it's about that you know the cheese story I'm telling about yeah you know age doesn't mean that it's exceptional but it it's helpful for people to know okay how you know how old is this whisky that I'm drinking to kind of give them a bit of a bit of a steer. In the case of Samsara though the important thing about it is that it is Californian red wine cask is the flavor that's that's sometimes all about. You know Nick calls them character-led whiskies and maybe that sounds like a marketing guff but the point is is that what makes Samsara so interesting is that California red wine red wine is a becoming more popular I would say as a as a cask finish or as a kind of a maturation you know story of using red wine. California red wine is pretty unusual and unusual for a couple of reasons one is that it's very far from Scotland. You know you think that well you live South Carolina because you're a little bit closer but a little bit yeah from California coast to just Scotland is a pain and I'm buying some caskets at the moment and I'm like surely there's a cheaper way to do it. So if you want to make it you want to make a make the drive over to over to Napa with your your hatchback and you want to put a half a dozen casks in I'll I'll reward you in whisky because it's nice a real fight and a butt to get to get casks that far and the second thing of course is that you know the the style of it especially if it's an American Oakland your Californians are and American you know it's quite a sweet style. You know the the the winemaking techniques are still you know much more diverse in California than they are and you know if you take a Bordeaux cask or a aura like a Rioja or a I mean even I've seen some some so turn casts being used as well for for aging so there's definitely a sort of disincentive to search further afield than Europe when you're looking for wine casks but we're really happy with the Californian story. And we've got some great partnerships with great winery and in fact we've got a I've got a good friendship with the team at a winery in California called Samsara Wines as well just happy to be the name of the winery is the same as the name of our whisky and you know they're you know I send them some Samsara whisky which they love and they enjoy it it's quite a good little coincidence and so I think that for me the connection to California white is is definitely a point of difference. And for me the the flavor in the whisky is something that for me anyway you line up all the Bladnochs and I will be able to tell you which one's Samsara and you'll be lying to hour with a whole other whisky's that's the one I'll pick. You know something really 15 year old you know I might be able to pick it I mean I could pretend that I could always pick it in a blindfolded in a in a thunderstorm but yeah Samsara I'm sorry's got such a you know a special and unique nose to it that. Look it's it's not for everyone that's a great thing about whisky you know there's a lot of single mops out there but that nose is is quite unusual it's quite creamy it's almost got that like again maybe I'm imagining it like a malolactic kind of nose to it where you've got that kind of soft creaminess to it which you know my brain connects it to the fact that it's in a wine cast but really it's it's a little bit about the whisky. It's a very I won't say a sweetness but it's like the the sort of I get the impression of sweetness out of this out of this whisky rather than and then some which are. Ffor example I don't know if you tried the Glenmorangie Tale of Cake which is into kayaks you know there's a real like raw really forward sweetness to that to that whisky whereas I'm sorry is it a little more subtle yeah but you know it's Californian wine it's syrah mellow it's not you know big cabernet it's not heavily tannic and like really structured in terms of the flavor it's you know it's still pretty soft so it's a nice whisky I think. Also worth mentioning of course is that we don't chill filter any of our single melts we don't need any color so you can see really clearly in the shot we've got here just how different the color is between our 10 year old and our Samsara there is no e150 there's no there's no caramel coloring it is how it comes out of the barrel. So you know 46.7 percent no color added non chill filtered you know it's a really we don't need to mess around with it we only make a small amount of Bladnoch so you know it kind of it's pretty good as it comes. 

DREW: Is this one of those that's then destined to disappear for a little while and then come back? 

WILL: The fortunate thing about Samsara is that yeah because it's character led what we need is the California red wine not necessarily the age barrels now we've got a choice right you know we have to use old barrels because that's all we've got but in the future as we start to bring some more younger whiskies online, we'll combine the the older whisky's with some of the younger ones so that we can keep you know producing Samsara and that's the that's the thing for us.

DREW: Makes a very interesting and unique flavor as you say it it doesn't remind me of any other whisky that I've that I've had I get some of the apple in there and. But it does kind of have a little bit of a wine character to it it's almost like I won't say it's vinegary but because there's a sweetness there but it's it's almost like when you have wine I can sometimes connect closer to a vinegar kind of a thing in some some particular wine so. It's and it's also interesting because there's been such a trend for such a long time to go to sherry barrels and I know sherry barrels are extremely expensive and now you have a situation where you know they're producing this the sherry and they're just dumping most of it because nobody's buying it but they the casks are worth worth more. And then you bring in a master distiller who worked for a distillery that works heavily with sherry barrels so it's interesting to see is is he kind of reinventing himself moving from Macallan down to to a much smaller distillery obviously, maybe with some more flexibility in it is that is that kind of what the the idea was  behind his move and why he's kind of maybe pushing to these new directions?


WILL: Well it sounds like you need a follow-up interview with with Nick and I'll talk to him tonight and let him know he'll he'll watch to make sure you have no hatchet job on me on this and something that I didn't mean but look we'd love to connect you. So I won't speak too much to why he moved to Bladnoch other than to say that he's he's really public about the the fact that he moved because he had that freedom like you said he was a lot more given a lot more he's given a lot more creative control of Bladnoch to kind of tell that story. And you know that for anyone who's a who's a sort of an artisan you know, let's be honest you know whisky making is as much an art as a science there's there's a lot of attractiveness in being given kind of keys to the keys to the distillery and saying kind of go nuts. So sherry cask is a really interesting one you know you bring up a good point and it's one that I think is probably not well understood by people outside the industry is that there's kind of a misconception that there are sherry there are Bodegas and in Jerez that are making sherry and the byproduct of it is casks and they're making sharing and they're selling it to like you know elderly English you know aristocrats to drink sharing with the in the day or hilariously very cool hipster bartenders in Portland. You know the most exciting interesting someone about sherry as I went to Seattle recently or last year of course brewery covered and I went to Seattle and and our distributor there in Seattle is as fantastic. The guys have done American northwest are an amazing distributor up there and they they kick ass for for Bladnoch and a lot of great whiskies. And the person who took me around was like she was in her twenties and she was very cool and she had the like you know the big network of bartenders and her big passion was sherry, I'm like you're just like like no I'm not talking sherry cask I'm talking like you know and PX and junior about I know this she knew way more than I did about sherry and um she was like oh yeah sherry I'm like yeah that's that's very Washington you know like there's a lot of love for for really weird and wacky categories. And yeah the bartender doesn't matter for sherry and they've got like you know always bars 100 different sherries I was like yeah that's a that's a a really kind of funny sort of connection because I mean for me I mean I went to school in the UK and and you know I always remember you know what we we had and again this is very British but you know we had a like end of end of the school like semester and lunch with the headmaster. And we all you know got a glass of sherry at the end of it you know. This is and he was a very it was very old-school you know headmaster and you know he was like yeah we'll have a we'll have a sherry and and you know talk about the talk about the full-term past and for me that's what sets my mind is like that's the time to drink sherry with a whole lot of very kind of you know everyone in a certain time and sitting at a 300 year old in a study - and or in a cool bar in Seattle you know when it was sherry so. To get back to the whisky world though the barrels that we and all of us will get are not barrels that are left over from sherry production they are barrels that are made for the whisky world. So they are seasoned specifically should be sold and the the the Bodega obviously is making sherry for drinking but they're primarily making sharing a lot of them so that they have like a seasoning agent almost to put into the barrel to season them because like you say they are very expensive. And so the sherry don't really care about although again if maybe if if a few of them went on holiday to Seattle they might be a bit more excited about it these guys are making sherry casks basically and they are seasoning them and we have to order them years in advance you know because they need to really give a good bit of seasoning. But it's not like it's a it's not the sign of symbiotic and I think there's a bit of sometimes a marketing fluff about you know the cherry world and whisky world working in tandem where you've got like you know all these Bodegas making sherry and you know they all the leftover barrels get used, because you'll remember that you know the moisture is made in the solara system where the barrels sit in the solera for you know up to 60 or 70 years so there's not like an ongoing supply of ex solara barrels that are ready for use to make whisky and we do get them occasionally and and they are great you know the goods good stories and and so forth but you know primarily you're taking a new European oak barrel filling up the sherry for a couple of years dropping the sherry and then you know it goes off to the scotch whisky industry. And the sherry that's left over is so heavily oat because of course it hasn't been in the still area as a fresh barrel that it's usually distilled down to make like food alcohol or vinegar or you know they use it for other things. It's not like it's a the casks are a byproduct the sherry is a byproduct of cast production.

DREW: That's fascinating well thank you for being the the person who actually solidified that that notion of mine because I'd heard hints about that but sometimes you get hearsay and you you hate to repeat it because you're not quite sure but yeah thanks for the confirmation on that. So let's talk about the 10-year this oh man that smells nice. 

WILL: So 10 year was a product that we launched in 2018. it wasn't censored one of our first whiskies we launched back in 201 you know it's a short amount of time for platinum but in 2017 we released Samsara we released a 15 year old sherry cask and a 25 year old port pipe which is what you sold out. There's only one place you can get port pipe in the U.S. and then the universal world which is Texas we're in specs liquor down in texas and they they're pretty much out wow our last last hold out with the very last few cases of port pipe played knockers down and. But we released the 10 year old when it turned 10 as I said in 2018 and it was a really good opportunity for a lot more people to discover Bladnoch because you know hey at the end of the day we've got to talk about price at the end of the day people still shell out their hard earned money for a bottle of whisky so 10 year old was our chance as I say to get more people into Bladnoch because it was price certainly not the cheapest whisky on the shelf but you know the the MSRP of a 10 year old is 65 and it ranges depending on how friendly your state is towards taxation between 50 and 70 and it really was the chance for us to to grow the Bladnoch awareness globally not just in the U.S. So one of the other great things about the specific 10 year old that we've bottled here is that it's 100% bourbon cask what it means is that not only is it you know is that a you know that's a great kind of classic you know whisky cask story but it's also what Bladnoch was probably best known for for the the real aficionados who knew that that underlying kind of flavor of the whisky of of Bladnoch of old I suppose, and you know you mentioned quite rightly that this is we didn't distill you know we bought the barrels and we were bottling it but unlike something about wine finishes where we've re-wrapped the whisky and given it some different finishes this one really is like basically barrels that have been selected and vatted and put into the bottle and it's a great bridge I guess between the old Bladnoch and the new Bladnoch. And you know next year well currently it's it's everywhere but the U.S. because unfortunately Americans insist on 750 ml bottles unlike Europe.

DREW: We want a little extra. 

WILL: Yeah a little bit of a top up yeah and so those fingernails mean that unfortunately we can't ship our new products to the us we have to make them specifically for the market but next year the us will join the rest of the world and get the 11 year old which is actually still bourbon cask and it's just obviously a bit older and it's the kind of the vetting that's been selected by Nick Savage to to kind of be the new kind of first age statement to play that's that's out there. So this one here as I say it's the like I wonder it's the purest but it's the it's the classic Bladnoch and it's one that's got us a lot of love around the sort of the world of whisky reviewers they really really enjoy that Bladnoch 10 and and I think they'll do 11 because it's from the same stock. And I think that there's there's a lot of people who've discovered Bladnoch through the 10 year old and then they moved their way up to you know to the other whiskies. Where maybe if they hadn't heard a blade not they weren't going to jump on a bottle of Adela for kind of 120 yeah but once they're trying to attend they're like okay I understand what these guys are making and then they kind of they go on that journey and so they can discover some of our other expressions.


DREW: So it's interesting because I actually my dive into scotch I started watching Ralfy.com and and and he, it's very rare that you see him get giddy about a whisky talking about a whisky but his his video review on 10 was, he was quite happy with it. 

WILL: Yes in fact even a couple of weeks ago he said here's my three best whiskies of 2020 and he included blade up 10 we're very very honored to be considered to be one of the best whiskies because there's a lot of great whiskies out there and some just always putting some fantastic juice out there. But yeah you're right and look we don't make whisky just for reviewers and we're obviously always very grateful to get you know get good reviews but we yeah we want people to buy it and to enjoy it and to you know add to their their love and knowledge of scotch whisky by putting Bladnoch on the shelf. Ralfy doesn’t like everything that we made he's he's not a big fan of our 15 year old Adela but you know that's a wonderful thing about scotch is that it's a subjective thing. There's no there's no hard and fast rule about right you know what what whisky should be for for you know a particular palette. And we know we're certainly proud of all the whisky that we put out and we know that everything that we put out finds a finds an audience that does love it. 

DREW: But you bring up a great point and actually when I started my whisky journey I spent a lot of time watching Ralfy for scotch and I started watching other reviewers and what I learned after a period of time was that everybody's palate is different. Everybody's going to have certain things that they're drawn to I like the the flavor of licorice in a whisky that that draws me or I can be drawn in by you know apple I love the the taste of apple in a whisky or I love peat in a whisky but there's different types of peat and some are ashy and some of them are earthy and you kind of some are herbal you so as you get past that initial point of just sipping a whisky here there and just saying it tastes like whisky - once you start getting into that mode where you're actually paying a lot more attention, I do see especially when I do video reviews that it's more important to say here's what I'm picking out of it and not to necessarily say this is a score of this or a score of that or this is a good whisky or this is a bad whisky, but instead to say this is why I like this whisky or you know here's what you may find appealing in here or you may taste it and you'll taste something completely different. Because one of the things I see in reviews is that you can go through six different review websites on the same whisky and they will have completely different tasting notes. 

WILL: I always laugh when people you know when I'm doing a trade show you know a lot of trade shows well up to this yaer I used to do a lot normally at all trade shows and you're right the diversity of of tasting notes and flavors and things like that you know you almost think that are you drinking the same whisky you know what I mean like short of big obvious ones like and currently none of our range is peated so if someone says oh I can really taste you know smoke and the sea and salt and brininess must have a dirty glass but other than that is a big variety you know I've had everyone say yes I'm sorry it's a good example from yeah whiny kind of you know like soft fruits and things like that through to it tastes like clotted cream or you know there's a there's so many things because you know again yeah flavor and and aroma is very emotional and it's very like depending on your experience and yeah I think a great example of when we're talking about flavor notes as Nick, so it's very easy to see if you read the taste you know it's all the blood notes that he produces that he has a sweet tooth the guy loves candy yeah and sometimes he'll give a note I'm like what the heck is that I'm gonna google it and it's some British candy. I'm like we can’t put this on a bottle because like a whisky drinker in in china is not going to understand what this like right like regional British candy is so we have to like ask let's come up with something else. I mean hey look it's it's tough enough saying this tastes like Christmas cake because you know one of our biggest markets actually for Bladnoch and certainly for pure squad is Israel I'm not tan is Kosher the distillery is kosher certified and pure both Pure Scots are Kosher certified now saying something tastes like Christmas cake does not connect in Tel Aviv so we've got like really think carefully about how we need flavors to make them not generic but make them as as understandable by people but I've heard some crackers at trade shows I've heard you know I've had people put their nose in it and go yeah this this smells like at five minutes past dawn on a northern field I'm facing east I've had a one cup of tea and you know it's about it's about 40 degrees and, I'm like where are you going yeah but what they're talking about of course is how they feel when they drink whisky and that's that's cool. You know I think that's great. And there's you know one of one of the the greatest restaurant experiences they ever had was at El Celeroca which is in Spain from Barcelona. And it but it's usually one of the best restaurants in the world I went years ago. And their tasting experience actually you went to a little room and they're like, and it was a wine it was a wine tasting at the time and then you know sherry as well, and what they did is they say okay you drink this wine was it was it you know Pinot Grigio or whatever you're drinking while he's like now and he they took off the the the the like tablecloth and underneath it was a big bowl of like like silver marbles. Like put your hands in it and we're like this is crazy Spanish place and he's like this is what I feel when I'm drinking this this wine. You know the feeling of these silver balls in a bowl I mean it was completely mad and we thought it was really funny and we were laughing away but it was fun but he got it in one which is that drinking something and experiencing something emotionally it can activate other senses than just flavor. And sometimes you know doing other sensory experiences will will kind of trigger some other kind of memory when you're drinking whisky when you're drinking a wine. And I think that you know again I think there's a there's a midpoint between this tastes like just tastes like good scotch and you know let's go swimming in a bowl of marbles yeah there's somewhere in the middle you know and I think that when people say stuff like oh it reminds me of standing in the Scottish field what they're telling you is how they feel when they drink it. I think that's that's really cool even if it's not necessarily the most relatable tasting note that we're going to put back.

DREW: Well I appreciate you walking me through the whiskies and the history and getting a whole, I don't get to talk to scotch whisky people as much now since I'm been hunkered down here in the U.S. I've been doing my tours of Kentucky and Tennessee while I've been you know in in this sort of travel limbo. So I'm looking forward to finally being able to get overseas again whenever that opens up

WILL: Well you might be visiting Bladnoch before I do, who knows what the next year's going to bring. So yeah I mean one thing I will say that we are really looking forward to and you know I won't ever bring bring politics into it but boy do we want these tariffs to go from the U.S. Just they're good for nobody and I mean I don't know it's meant to be about you know aviation companies that it's all started but it's not good for us as a producer it's not good for you as a consumer you know it's not that good for the retailers. You know when I'm thinking about releasing a new product you know where Nick and I are talking about you know what some cool new Bladnoch’s we release every discussion has to have the tariffs in there because it pushes the price up and we're kind of like you know if I'm selling it to Germany they don't have tariffs so you know who's going to be first in line. So I mean I don't know if if things are going to change you know post post January 20th but I mean our hope in the industry is like it's it's universal, you'll not find somebody works in scotch… And you know in fact throughout the whole kind of journey of a whisky getting to the hands of someone in the U.S. like nobody wants the tariffs you know people are already starting to see the price creep up on the shelf. Yeah we've done it very big still like keep our prices down as much as we can but we're a small you know a small distillery we haven't got the the deep pockets the big guys do don't eat that cost so. 25 percent is you know it's really substantial so our kind of big hope for 2021 is you know we want to bring all these new products to the U.S. and and you know we want to keep growing the market but we've we've we'll do everything we can to to get rid of these tariffs they're just there's no good for for anyone. And of course in Europe there's a 25 tariff on on bourbon and you know all American whiskies and it looks like they're bringing in one on on vodka and rum and gin from the U.S. as well. So we've got nothing to do with this dispute and we're the ones really suffering from it which seems very unfair but that's what trade disputes are about. It's like you're kicking you where it hurts for us so yeah your followers or or viewers have a have a line to the to the team we want we want your help to get tariffs taken out.

DREW: Believe me I do I preach it I because I love scotch so for me it's it's hard watching this. And it's also hard to go overseas and you know when I'm in Ireland or Scotland and looking on the shelf and I see Jim Beam and Jack Daniels and those the only two American whiskies on the shelf, and then I talk to people over there and they go well you know we don't really like bourbon kind of the same way that people over here go we don't really like scotch like it's a universal thing and every single scotch tastes the same. It's the same sort of opinion that sometimes I feel I get over there and it's like you know there's a whole explosion of craft distillers over here there's such a great variety of whiskies going on all over the world and these tariffs are doing nothing but you know holding people back from being able to experience a world worth of whiskies.

WILL: Yeah I mean I it's been a long time since I've looked at purchasing a Boeing aircraft so I'm just yeah 

DREW: It's just bizarre it's bizarre. Well again I appreciate you taking time today and and walking us through these and you know what how many states are you in right now would you say? 

WILL: We're about 20 states in the U.S. so we're in California Washington Washington state Oregon, yeah Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York we have just got into Georgia okay far from oh you're not far from me yeah I can go there oh yeah she's going to george grant new distributor there it's going to Tennessee as well so the only control state that we're in is Montana somebody from Montana had got in touch with our importer and said we need a lot of inquiries about Bladnoch so you can get better Montana the state liquor store which is pretty cool so nice you know we're we're growing kind of adding a couple of states every month or two so you know our hope is is that you know by the end of next year we can be across all you know all at least the the lower 48 states.

DREW: Very nice and so it'll be probably not the 10-year that we're going to be finding anywhere are you not the 10 

WILL: Yeah so it'll be the the 11 year old new expressions coming out next year obviously Pure Scot, the Samsara you know so you'll see you see a range of releases coming out but you know we we do have on our website you know I'm gonna do a little plug here you can go on our website and you can actually order direct and we work with a partner called Mash and Grape who kind of is the intermediary to manage the three-tier system so you can actually buy all our products on our website. And it'll tell you if we've got it consented to your state and basically it'll kind of manage all of the logistics to get a bottle you know sent straight to you. But you know how a lot of people are buying these days is that you know with all the the restrictions on on retailers you know there's a there's a big push towards people buying online. Unfortunately again I don't just complain about the US today because 

DREW: We forgive you we forgive you. 

WILL: Your three tier system is a massive headache for for us to get around so we've got a good good partner with that and and yeah you can buy all our whisky's online and it'll be delivered from your local liquor store 

DREW: Well thank you very much again I appreciate your time today and now people are hopefully a lot more aware of Bladnoch and they'll start looking at Lowland scotch as a another region that is definitely worth checking out.

WILL: Excellent well thanks very much for having me Drew and I'm looking forward to again having you at the distillery and you know seeing kind of the you know behind the curtain. And you know we do tours at from our from our distillery which you know we're pretty transparent you get a real look at the how things are made and you know you'll see that there are no computers and there's no sort of automation it's still very much handmade. And you know we don't we're really proud of that. So you know one one day when when travel is free again then and we'd love to have you over or anyone else that wants to come have a look at at Bladnoch and how it's made and you know if you've got something great whisky.

DREW: Well, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Will Pitchforth from Bladnoch you can find out more information about them at bladnoch.com. And find show notes and our Whiskey Lore Copita drinking glasses, hoodies, books and more at whiskey-lore.com make sure that you're subscribed or that you follow Whiskey Lore on your favorite podcast app or on Spotify and Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life LLC until next time cheers and slainte mhath.

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