In the far north-eastern border of Speyside, Scotland lies a distillery that on the surface looks like many others, but with a name most whisky drinkers are unlikely to recognise. Here, in the small town of Buckie, just 1km from the coast, lies the Inchgower Distillery.
Originally built in 1871 by Alexander Wilson & Co. using equipment from the closed Tochineal* distillery, Inchgower has operated mostly uninterrupted for 150 years.
In 1936 after Alexander Wilson & Co. declared bankruptcy, in a rather strange move, the Buckie Town Council bought the distillery and Wilson family home for a reported £1,000 - making the council the only one in Scotland to ever own a distillery. After operating the distillery for only 2 years, the town council sold the distillery to Arthur Bell & Sons (of Bell's whisky) for £6,000, netting a nice return for the town.
Arthur Bell & Sons operated the distillery steadily through the decades that followed, and based on the growing success of Bell's whisky, the capacity of Inchgower (a core malt in the blend) was doubled in 1966 by installing a second pair of copper stills. In the mid-1980s, after a series of buyouts and mergers, the distillery ended up under the ownership of United Distillers which was the forerunner of present owners Diageo, where it has resided since.
The water used in the production of Inchgower is drawn from a burn in the nearby Menduff Hills, which lies to the south of the distillery. Because Inchgower draws its water from this source, the spirit is technically classed as a 'Lower Speyside Malt'
* Sidebar: Tochineal was built in 1825 in Lintmill, near Cullen, by Alexander Wilson’s predecessor John Wilson, but by 1870 had outgrown its buildings and was in need of major repairs and upgrades. Instead of investing the money on the existing distillery, Alexander Wilson & Co. closed Tochineal in 1871 and repurposed as much equipment as they could at the new Inchgower distillery, 13kms down the road.
Throughout its history, like many Scottish distilleries that are destined for blends and not proprietary releases (often referred to as official bottlings or OBs), Inchgower has remained relatively obscure.
The vast majority (99+%) of the single malt produced at the distillery has been, and continues to be, used in blends, including being an important component in Bell’s and J&B. The flavour profile is considered to be nutty and spicy, with an element of waxiness and a perceived saltiness, all adding richness and body to a blend.
Although there was an official bottling of Inchgower single malt in the 1970s and 80s, available in small quantities in limited markets, releases from the Speyside distillery are few and far between, making them a valuable addition to any collection. The distillery has only seen a handful of official releases:
- 1992 onwards | Fauna and Flora 14yo, 43%
- 1997 | Rare Malts 22yo, 55.7%
- 2004 | Rare Malts 27yo, 55.6%
- 2007 | Manager's Dram 13yo (was never available for public purchase)
- 2009 | Manager's Choice 15yo, and most recently
- 2018 | Diageo Special Releases 27yo, 55.3%
Due to its capacity and use in multiple big-named blends, casks of Inchgower are no stranger to whisky brokers and thus often end up being independently bottled. Because of this, Inchgower can often be found in varying ages and cask types as single cask releases from many independent bottlers (IBs).
Although Inchgower has a production capacity of 3.2M litres of pure alcohol per year, it is only operating a 5-day work week which produces around 2M. Equipped with an 8.4 ton stainless steel, semilauter mash tun which intentionally produces cloudy worts. There are six washbacks of 40,000L, all made from Oregon pine with a mixture of both long and short fermentation time; the short being very short at 39 hours and the long at 90 hours.
There are two pairs of copper pot stills, with the wash stills having a capacity of 12,500L and the spirit stills of 7,200L. The distillation is hard and fast to reduce the copper contact and reflux to avoid fruity esters; the middle cut/heart of the distillery starts at 70% ABV and runs until the spirit is as low as 55% ABV, which also allows the capture of heavier compounds for a robust spirit. The lyne arms are also quite steeply angled to assist collection of these compounds.
The distillery used to have its own floor maltings but nowadays it receives its unpeated malt from a Diageo-owned malting facility in Burghead, 20 miles to the west of Buckie.
New make is tankered offsite to be filled into casks, predominantly refill bourbon, with a fair proportion being returned to the distillery to mature onsite, along with various other Diageo whiskies, across the distillery's 13 dunnage and racked warehouses, which can store up to 65,000 casks.
First published in September 2021.