The road to Tamdhu seemed to be a fairly simple one, even for one who doesn't drive. Train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, change trains to Elgin, then taxi to the distillery. The timings, for once, seemed perfect. I imagined drawing up gently with a crunch of gravel just as the first dram was being poured at the reopening. Time to work on the train, look out the window (which in this game also counts as work), read, listen to music...you get the drift.
The route began spectacularly with a rattle across the Forth Rail Bridge. The we stopped. I gazed at the battleship grey waters. Read the paper. Gazed again, upstream this time. Minutes passed. Then quarters. The river was moving quicker than we were. Seagulls taunted our static situation.
Forty minutes later we began to move again, though by now the connection in Aberdeen would be missed, the taxi lost, the chances of lunch (nevermind the welcoming dram) fast receding.
Then, at Aberdeen, everything changed. The train firm laid on taxis to take folk to their destination stations. I got out at Huntly, met the driver who was going to pick me up at Elgin and, with a crunch of gravel arrived at Tamdhu just as the first dram was being poured.
It struck me that this was something of a metaphor for this distillery.
After all, Tamdhu was a Railway Still, one of the many plants which were built on the right side of the tracks, giving them access to the blending houses of the south.
Tamdhu, like my train, has also had a bit of a stop-start existence. It was built in 1897, in the midst of the last great distillery building era until, well, today. Any number of the stills erected in this surge of Victorian confidence, Benriach, Caperdonich, Imperial, had similarly chequered lifespans. It was closed for 20 years from 1928 until 1948 but was given a boost in the early '70s when, in response to the continued rise of blends was twice doubled in capacity.
The '70s were its glory days. The spiritual home of Dunhill, from whose private rooms you can still imagine the drift of cigar smoke over the Spey mingling with the sweet aroma of the maltings, the hiss of the stills. It was a backbone for Cutty and Grouse. It was a workhorse and never really a single malt; the bottlings showed it to be a shy little beastie.
Then its maltings, the last Saladins in the industry, closed; the distillery following in 2010, only to be grabbed a year later by Ian MacLeod in 2011. Now? New washbacks, new warehousing, up to almost full capacity; the old station waiting room made over into a visitor's centre; and, most importantly, a single malt which, in a homage to the Victorian era, has been packaged in a bottle inspired by a soda
syphon. More importantly it has been reformulated as well.
When Leonard Russell and his team looked at the stock profile, they discovered that for the last 10 years of Edrington's stewardship, Tamdhu had been filled into a mix of European and American oak Sherry butts and those of you who know your whisky will understand that an Edrington Sherry butt is as good as you get. Accordingly, the new soda syphon 10 Years Old is a 100 per cent sherried single malt.
I know, I know. Tamdhu? In Sherry? A single malt which, in all its previous guises has personified Speyside's most evanescent style, in the muscular embrace of quercus robur? This has been a malt which has drifted, springlike, on the ether, not so much whispering as barely audible. Yes, Sherry seems appropriate for this late Victorian theme, but is it too much?
A sip. Instead of sitting on top of the Tamdhu, the depth of the Sherry casks provide an underpinning which allows the whisky to shine. Rather than tannins there is subtle structure, there are fruits, there is sweetness. There is no battle on the banks of the Spey. Finally, you realise, Tamdhu has been allowed to show its previously hidden depths. Sherried casks were its past. Now they are its future, and there's an ever bolder special edition which is worth wrapping your mitts around.
The whisky train has juddered back into life. Full speed ahead? We'll consider that later.