Edradour used to claim that it was Scotland's smallest distillery, and commentators were keen to point out that if the stills were any smaller they would be illegal. They noted that the weekly output was equivalent to the annual production of most large, modern plants.
With the epidemic of craft distillery creation which is sweeping Scotland, the 'smallest distillery' claim is no longer valid, but Edradour surely still holds the record as Scotland's most photogenic distillery. Essentially, it is a cluster of venerable, lime-washed and red-painted farm-style buildings, grouped around a burn in the hills, a couple of miles from the Perthshire tourist centre of Pitlochry.
Inside, Edradour does not disappoint either. Production methods are very traditional, and feature a small, cast iron open mashtun dating from 1910 and a pair of Oregon pine washbacks, while the two stills are linked to a worm tub which is 100 years old.
Along with Glenturret, Edradour can be seen as the last surviving example of the once numerous Perthshire 'farm distilleries,' and it received its first official mention in 1837, though a farmer's distilling co-operative had been founded in 1825. The farming partners went on to form John MacGlashan & Co in 1841 to formalise their whisky-making operation.
In 1922 William Whiteley & Co Ltd, a subsidiary of American distiller JG Turney & Sons, purchased Edradour to provide malt for its blends, which included King's Ransom and House of Lords. Whiteley renamed the distillery Glenforres-Glenlivet, despite its physical remoteness from the famous distilling glen!
At this point the history of Edradour becomes somewhat colourful, with Whiteley's blends being distributed in the USA during the Prohibition era by Frank Costello, of Mafia fame, and on whom the Godfather films were supposedly based. Indeed, there is strong evidence to suggest that Costello indirectly owned Edradour for a time from the late 1930s, through his associate Irving Haim, via JG Turney & Sons.
In 1982 Edradour was acquired by the Pernod Ricard subsidiary Campbell Distilleries, who introduced a 10 year old bottling hall four years later. But in 2002, they declared Edradour surplus to requirements, following their acquisition of Seagram's extensive Scotch whisky operations.
At this point the imposing figure of Andrew Symington entered the Edradour story. Symington's background lies in the hospitality industry, and seeing signs of growing interest in single malts, he purchased a cask of 1968 The Glenlivet for £2,500 in 1988 and arranged to have it bottled. Ultimately, his Edinburgh based Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co Ltd became one of the leading independent bottlers in Scotland.
Symington had always harboured an ambition to own his own distillery, however, and while he was searching for something suitable, Des McCagherty joined Signatory, bringing with him dedicated accountancy expertise, much of which had been gained in the Scotch whisky industry.
"Andrew had bid on a couple of distilleries, but had not been successful," recalls McCagherty. "We bought Edradour because it came on the market, and it was a perfect fit with Signatory. As a single malt, it also offered tremendous growth opportunities. Just 20 per cent of the output was ever bottled by Pernod Ricard as single malt. Edradour now sells principally in the UK, USA, France, Germany and Holland."
£5.4 million was paid to Pernod Ricard for the Edradour business, and in 2007 Andrew Symington took the decision to move the entire Signatory operation to Edradour. Accordingly, a new bottling hall was constructed, along with a dunnage style warehouse.
Edradour has traditionally been presented as a single malt with a sherry wood profile, and that remains very much the case, though a 'Straight from the Cask' range includes expressions initially matured in ex-Bourbon casks before being finished in wine casks, and there is also a 'Wine Matured' line-up, where complete maturation has taken place in former wine casks.
Perhaps the most significant product innovation of the Signatory regime has been the introduction of a heavily-peated spirit (in excess of 50ppm), named Ballechin, after a long lost nearby Perthshire farm distillery.
Ballechin was first distilled during 2003, and after a series of limited edition releases matured in a variety of wine casks, the brand finally came of age last year, with the launch of a 'standard' Ballechin 10 Years Old. At the same time, the core range of 10 Years Old and 12 Years Old Caledonia Edradours was augmented by a new 15 Years Old Fairy Flag expression, named after the upcoming Scottish feature film of the same name. Des McCagherty says that "We've also released a 2006 Super Tuscan Cask Matured and a 2006 Barollo Cask Matured. Most recently we have done Ballechin Tubar - a 2004 sherry cask-matured bottling to celebrate Edradour's sponsorship of the contemporary drum and pipe band Clanadonia. An Edradour 18 Years Old is planned for some time in the future."
Perhaps the most fascinating news to come out of Edradour is that such is the growing demand for the whisky this has led to plans to copy the current production facilities into a new distillery on the site. According to Des McCagherty, "It's a two to five year project. We will replicate exactly what we have. The capacity will be the same and we will allow for two more washbacks, which means we could double capacity on double shifts.
Edradour may have a colourful history, but it looks as though its future is set to be equally bright.
Edradour Caledonia 12 Years Old, 46%
Nose: Plump and fruit, featuring figs, sultanas and a hint of cloves.
Palate: Rich and full-bodied, nutty and orangey, with plenty of spice.
Finish: Slowly drying, well-balanced.
Malt: Concerto barley, 15% peated to c. 58ppm
Mashing: traditional open mashtun - 1.15 tonnes mash
Fermentation: 2 x Oregon pine washbacks - 5,500 litres each. 4 x 48 hour and 2 x 72 hour fermentations per week
Distillation: 1 wash still - 2,775 litres charge, 1 spirit still - N/A litres charge
Annual capacity:130,000 litres
Pitlochry, Perthshire, PH16 5JP
Tel: + 44 (0) 1796 472 095