Distillery Focus

Knockdhu: Expressions of Sheer Peat

Shining the light on a hidden gem – Knockdhu
By Annabel Meikle
The day that I visited the small hamlet of Knock it was pouring with rain. It was early June. Despite the rain I left Knockdhu distillery a few hours later with a warm feeling and it wasn't down to sampling the fine whisky as I had a long drive ahead of me. I would like to shine a torch on this little gem for it is really rather special.

A few months earlier I attended the launch of three new peated expressions from anCnoc which is the brand name, and whose house style is soft and honeyed. My interest in this small distillery was piqued as I talked to the manager Gordon Bruce who invited me to the distillery telling me "We like to do things a wee bit differently. I think you'll like it."

He was right, I loved it.

I had stayed the previous night in Keith and drove east the next morning. Knock is deep in Morayshire, a rich rural landscape. The distillery is the main event and there are only a couple of houses and a phone box. It isn't on the way to anywhere and would be easy to miss. Although the distillery isn't officially open to the public they welcome visitors who make the journey. Alistair Reid, the assistant manager, met me with a welcome coffee before braving the driving rain.

My first impression of the distillery was that it was immaculate. Good housekeeping is important. The site had been mothballed in 1983, purchased by Inver House in 1988 and reopened the following year. Alistair has worked here for twenty five years and Gordon for eight. Gordon later explained 'I'm extremely fortunate to work with the best distilling team not just in Inver House but I reckon in Scotland. So rare these days to find folk that look forward to coming to work, really enjoy doing what they do and head home happy.'

We began in the warehouse which sits central to the site. On the 10 January 2010, as Gordon was walking the dogs at shift change at 10pm, one of the warehouses collapsed under the volume of snow that had accumulated. At 3am the second one gave way and the following morning the men of Knock looked in horror at the exposed casks lying in the debris. Out of 2,500 casks only eighteen were lost.

The stone from the two broken buildings was used to create one stunning new warehouse with the first of the Knockdhu quirky touches, two beautifully crafted stained glass windows. The handsome vaulted beamed space was christened with a ceilidh before being filled with the variety of barrels, hoggies and butts which mature the spirit that will be bottled as a single malt whisky.

The distillery lies next to the railway line that was closed in 1964 but had been the artery that supplied the fuel source. Apparently one of the managers ordered the coal pile to be painted white so that if any one decided to help themselves to a few lumps it would stand out. The peat shed is also still standing which may have been the inspiration to introduce peated barley into production in 2004 to replicate earlier styles of spirit.

Ian Dingwall, who has worked at the site for twenty three years, was mashing in. One man operates the whole site which is conspicuous in its lack of anything remotely computerised apart from a calculator with exceptionally large buttons. The height of the mash tun was raised years ago after a manager noticed the men having to stoop when clearing the draff. Fermentation takes place over 45 hours in the tun room creating delicious aromas of pineapple and banana. The wash then receives an additional sixteen hour period in one of two newly built fermenters and produces a liquid at 9 per cent ABV. This is then transferred to the still room populated by two swelling stills reminiscent of toffee apples before being condensed using a traditional worm tub.

The rain had eased off by the time we left the warmth to see the recently planted reed beds which are processing the spent lees. This environmental system gravity feeds the liquid through the plant beds which absorb a variety of nutrients and deliver it back, purified, into the burn. 20,000 plants have created a haven for birds, bees, insects which I could only imagine as the rain trickled down my back.

The whiskies are not chill-filtered, bottled at 46 per cent ABV and have no colouring added. The ppm (parts per million) levels vary and the balance of the distillery character is complemented by subtle smoke. Stephanie Bridge, who managed the project explained that they wanted to produce a style of whisky that would appeal to 'peat aficionados and to drinkers of lighter malts with an interest in finding a whisky that they understand and enjoy.'

Having visited this charming distillery and witnessed the craftsmanship and integrity at work it comes as no surprise that this experiment has been successful. It is time for this one to come out from its bushel and shine.

Tasting Notes

Rutter (11ppm)

Colour: Polished gold.

Nose: Grilled pineapple drizzled with honey and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A briney hit of salted lemons, then more waxy like polished saddles. Greengage and elderflower develop with water.

Palate: Toasted heathery peatiness, with subtle spices and rich toffee apple. It becomes creamier with water with macadamia nut, then freshness of lime sherbet, lime basil and mandarin.

Finish: Crisp and fresh.

Flaughter (14.8ppm)

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Perfumed with the aroma of an Autumnal orchard filled with ripe apples, pears, juicy berries. Water opens citrus peel and the peat packs a punch of spent fire, pigskin gloves.

Palate: Gristy, chewy phenols, with a softer underbelly of fudge. Candied lime peel, shortbread and malted loaf with toasted sultanas.

Finish: Warm, rolling finish.

Tushkar (15ppm)

Colour: White gold.

Nose: Coconut and lime ice cream, then honey cake sprinkled with brown sugar. Fruit beer, mead and apple rings with a gristy finish.

Palate: Soft smoke like pine in a sauna that tingles over the tongue. Woody spice and butterscotch sauce, salted lemons with barbequed meat.

Finish: Sprightly then softens with water.

anCnoc, Vintage 2000 46%

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Baked peach sprinkled with brown sugar, orange and apricot. A light floral emerges like jasmine scented candles with apple rings.

Palate: It has fudge sweetness with orange oil and soft spice, the sherry influence is light handed like amontillado, with a walnut dryness over time.

Finish: Warming and rich.