Distillery Focus

The Last Stills of Brechin

Our man visits Glencadam; keeping distilling alive in Angus
By Gavin D. Smith
Of all the many pieces of legislation that have served to stimulate or supress the Scotch whisky trade, none has been more influential than the 1824 Excise Act, which made legal distillation more lucrative by reducing levels of duty and ultimately shaped the industry we know today.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the Excise Act many new distilleries sprung up around Scotland, and from 125 operational sites in 1823, the total rose to a remarkable 329 two years later. One of those 329 was Glencadam, established in the historic Angus town of Brechin during 1825 by George Cooper.

After changing hands a number of times the distillery was purchased by Gilmour Thomson & Co Ltd in 1891, and the Glasgow blending company owned it until 1954. In that year it was acquired by Hiram Walker (Scotland) Ltd, who undertook a major reconstruction programme five years later.

Through a series of takeovers, Glencadam came into the possession of Allied Lyons in 1987, with Allied Lyons later becoming Allied Domecq.

Allied operated Glencadam - the only distillery left in Brechin after the closure of North Port in 1983 - until deeming it surplus to requirements in 2000.

Three years later, the silent distillery was purchased by London-based blending company Angus Dundee Distillers plc, and thereby came under the care of Distilleries Director Robert Fleming, who also presides over Tomintoul distillery (see WM 110) and is passionate about the heritage of the Scotch whisky industry.

"Angus Dundee had bought Tomintoul in 2000, and as an expanding company went on to look at acquiring another distillery," explains Fleming.

"We had worked quite a lot with Glencadam whisky, so we knew it was good new-make spirit, an excellent blending whisky.

"Glencadam was much smaller than Tomintoul, and the basic 'footprint' of production is the same today as it was in 1825, when the distillery was established. It was the only distillery left in the county of Angus, and for that reason, with my 'heritage hat' on, I thought we must buy it, to ensure it survived." Thanks to Allied's responsible 'mothballing,' it did not take long for the new owners to get Glencadam up and running once more. "We purchased it in May and it was producing spirit by the end of August," recalls Fleming.

Among the work that did need to be undertaken was the replacement of the boiler and four of the six stainless steel washbacks, while Glencadam remains a very 'manual' distillery. "Company founder and Chairman Terry Hillman, likes to see people at work in his distilleries, rather than computers," explains Fleming.

When it came to staffing the distillery, Fleming recalls that "We took on one person from Allied who worked in the warehouses and recruited six other operators, only one of whom had any distilling experience. However, we employed Douglas Fitchett [production manager] early on, and he had worked at Glencadam previously, along with lots of other distilleries. His existing knowledge of the site was a real asset.

"From August to the end of the year we worked a five day week; then from January 2004 we began to operate seven days a week, taking on two more operators, an assistant for Douglas and a warehouseman. We have two dunnage warehouses and two racked warehouses, holding a total of around 22,000 casks, mostly of Glencadam." One significant change made by Angus Dundee at Glencadam has been the development of a 'blend centre,' along the same lines as that installed at Tomintoul in 2003. Most of Angus Dundee's business is in supplying blended Scotch whisky to overseas customers. According to Robert Fleming, "We built the Glencadam blend centre in 2006 and increased capacity two years later. It is now equipped with 16 vats, each with a capacity of 880,000 bulk litres." Glencadam is currently working at full stretch, producing 1.3 mla, and the character of its spirit is influenced by the fact that the lye pipes from the pair of stills are angled upwards at 15 degrees.

The belief is that this helps to create a particularly delicate and mellow spirit, which after maturation yields sweet and fruity notes when bottled.

"The new-make spirit is quite light and fruity, and mature Glencadam has a sweet, creamy texture which lingers in the mouth," says Robert Fleming. "We use quite a lot of first-fill Bourbon casks, so you get the vanilla coming through, too.

It's quite a light, estery whisky, so very good for blending." Of the 1.3 mla turned out by Glencadam, around three or four per cent is retained for single malt bottlings. "The rest goes into our blends, and is also used for reciprocal trading," notes Fleming.

"One of the reasons for buying the distillery was to expand the scope for reciprocal trades within the industry." The amount of Glencadam bottled as single malt may only amount to three or four per cent of output, but since acquiring the distillery, Angus Dundee has worked hard to raise the profile of the brand, steadily increasing the range of expressions on offer.

The first 'house' bottling was a 15 Years Old, launched in 2005, followed three years later by a 10-year-old variant and Fleming says: "Angus Dundee decided to offer single malt expressions of Glencadam that had a point of difference from Tomintoul, so we bottle at a higher strength, 46%abv, there is no added colouring and no chill-filtering.

"Having started with 10 and 15-yearold expressions, we added an oloroso finish in 2009. We take a Glencadam that is just over 12 years old and put it into Oloroso casks and bottle it at 14. In the same year we introduced a port finish, using ruby port casks, which goes in at just over 10 years of age and is bottled at 12. We then brought out a 21-year-old in 2010, and have offered single casks of 30-year-old and 32-year-old." Brechin may have lost one of its two historic distilleries with the demise of North Port, but with strong demand for its spirit for blending purposes and growing single malt sales, the on-going strength of Glencadam looks likely to ensure the Angus town remains firmly on the Scotch whisky map for the foreseeable future.

Getting Technical

Malt: unpeated - Concerto variety

Mashing: traditional rake-and-plough mash tun - 4.9 tonne mash, 16 mashes per week

Fermentation: 6 x stainless steel washbacks - 24,000 litres (one mash) each, 52-54 hour fermentations

Distillation: 1 wash still (17,138 litres capacity)- 12,000 litre charge 1 spirit still (15,911 litres capacity) - 12,000 litre charge

Distillery capacity: 1.3 mla Glencadam Distillery Park Road, Brechin, Angus DD9 7PA

Tel: + 44 (0)1356 622 217

Web: www.glencadamdistillery.co.uk

Visitors by appointment