Silent all these years

Gavin D Smithinvestigates the fortunes of Glen Grant No.2 distillery,also known as Caperdonich
By Gavin D. Smith
Unlike virtually all the distilleries featured in this series so far,Caperdonich is not a truly ‘lost’ distillery. It remains essentially intact,both externally and internally, but the chances of it making whisky again are remote.Caperdonich was established in 1897 at the height of the Victorian Scotch whisky boom by J&G Grant of nearby Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside distilling town of Rothes (see p.47). It was designed to supplement the output of Glen Grant and was named ‘Glen Grant No. 2 Distillery.’ It was originally connected to its older sibling by what was known locally as ‘the whisky pipe,’which carried new make spirit across the main road for filling.This allowed the people of Rothes to boast that their streets flowed with whisky! Legend has it that they were also not above drilling holes into the pipe to divert spirit for their own purposes.As regular readers of this series will already know, the good times were not to last,however, and the collapse of the firm of Pattison’s Ltd in 1898 precipitated a crisis in the Scotch whisky industry, brought about by over-production and overly optimistic speculation.Glen Grant No.2 was one of several distillery casualties, and it closed in 1902.According to Dennis Malcolm, current manager of Glen Grant and formerly manager of Caperdonich:“The ‘whisky pipe’was still there until the 1980s, although it was never used again after the distillery shut down in 1902.” The next boom period for Scotch whisky distilling in the 1960s provided the salvation of Glen Grant No.2.After more than six decades of silence, the distillery was resurrected under the Caperdonich name (Gaelic for ‘secret well’) in 1965,being substantially rebuilt and mechanised, and operating under the auspices of The Glenlivet & Glen Grant Distilleries Ltd.Dennis Malcolm points out that “Like Glen Grant,Caperdonich took its process water from the Caperdonich well and it used the same malt, but it produced a totally different style of spirit.The stills were a completely different shape to those of Glen Grant and they had ‘boil balls.’ It was a beautiful wee distillery that originally had its own railway siding.” In 1967, a second pair of stills was added at Caperdonich to cope with the growing global demand for blended Scotch whisky, with almost the entire output of the distillery going into the Chivas Regal,Queen Anne,Passport and Something Special blends.A decade later,Caperdonich became part of the giant Canadian Seagram empire, and in 2001 found itself in the ownership of Pernod Ricard.The French company now had an embarrassment of riches in terms of Speyside malt distilleries, and in 2002 Caperdonich was mothballed, along with the Allt a Bhainne and Braeval plants, though Allt a Bhainne subsequently re-opened in May 2005 and Braeval is due back on stream later this year.Along with Imperial and Glen Keith,Caperdonich is one of Chivas’ currently silent distilleries which seem unlikely to be kickstarted back into life at any time in the near future.As Chivas’Alan Winchester notes,“Caperdonich isn’t one of our bigger distilleries, it can only make 2.2 million litres per annum.Most of the plant is still in place, though we have ‘borrowed’a few bits and pieces for other distilleries, and the condensers have all been removed.” In 1995 Chivas Brothers launched the only official bottling of Caperdonich in its ‘Cask Strength edition’ series.At 16 years of age and with an ABV of 55.8%, this is an attractive, comparatively light-bodied, floral, spicy, malty dram, with honey notes and a discreet whiff of smoke.However, several independent bottlers have also released some interesting Caperdonichs, including a number dating from the heady 1960s period when the distillery had recently been revived.