On my recent visit to the Lake District it was suggested that I make a foray across the border to visit the Annandale Distillery (given my interest in whisky) which is the most southerly whisky distillery in Scotland. It is tucked away just outside the town of Annandale in a little valley and would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it.
The buildings have been refurbished at a cost of £14 million (increased from the original estimate of £10.5 million) and they have done a magnificent job of retaining as much of the original structure as possible. The setting is simply delightful and it is reassuring to see wooden casks (used for maturing the spirit) stacked around the yard.
The original Annandale Distillery was built in 1830 by former Elgin-based excise officer George Donald, who named the site after the valley in which it is situated. Using water from the Middleby Burn for the whisky and the Guillielands Burn for cooling and power, the distillery produced single malt whisky for 90 years.
Donald ran the distillery until 1883 when it passed to John S. Gardner & Son, the namesake of which kept cows, pigs and horses on-site, feeding the animals on the draff and leftover grain from the distillery. Under Gardner’s tenure the distillery underwent a modest expansion, and at the height of its production was making 28,000 gallons of spirit annually.
Just 13 years later John Walker & Sons purchased the site, but the now renowned whisky group had grander ideas up its sleeve. Come 1919 the company decided to abandon Annandale to concentrate on developing its signature blended whisky, Johnnie Walker. By 1921 the distillery was closed, its fittings stripped for use elsewhere.
The site passed into the hands of the Robinson family, who were famous for producing Provost porridge oats. What was left of the distillery became a production line for the breakfast cereal brand, while the bonded warehouses were used to house cattle. The remainder of the buildings fell into a state of disrepair.
In 2007, the site was purchased by the Annandale Distillery Company, led by husband-and-wife owners David Thomson and Teresa Church, who also own market research operation, MMR Group. The duo set about painstakingly returning the site back to its former glory over a seven-year period that cost in the region of £10.5 million.
Production of two significant whisky styles began in November 2014, named Man O’ Words after the poet Robert Burns, and Man O’Sword after Scottish warrior Robert the Bruce. Casks of both are available to purchase before the spirit is mature enough to be called whisky. The Annandale Distillery Company put a price tag of £1 million on the first cask filled on 15 November 2014.
A tour of the site is essential and we were fortunate to be taken around by a couple of staff (the two of us were the only visitors for the 10.00am tour) who were incredibly knowledgeable and answered every question we could think of. We concluded our visit in the “Bonded Warehouse” for a tasting.
They have a lovely cafe (above photo) and do visit even if you don’t want to consume anything as the furniture in the cafe is simply staggering. Individually designed and hand built by a local craftsman, the chairs are simply pieces of art that I would put on display. But do stop for refreshments as the service is excellent and the snacks first rate.
Photographs (c) Kindadukish 2018
- I am indebted to scotchwhisky.com for the background history.