Speyside Road Trip Day 2, Part 2: Knockdhu

My love affair with anCnoc has been an accelerated one: for one reason or another, I’d never tried one until I took part in an online tasting with distillery manager Gordon Bruce last month, even though I sort of knew they made my kind of whisky. There are no official tours at Knockdhu and no visitor centre, but Gordon was kind enough to invite me to contact him directly in order to arrange one (incidentally, I did indeed love all the whiskies at the online tasting – particularly the 24 year-old – and will publish my notes in due course).

If you are a dog lover, you should try to arrange a tour at Knockdhu as soon as you can. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but knocking on the distillery office door and being greeted by a group of enthusastic dogs of all sizes was a good way to break the ice. It set the tone for a tour and tasting that was charmingly informal, very informative, and far from the over-produced fare you can get at other distilleries (I’m looking at you, Aberfeldy).

Given that it was a personal tour with the distillery manager, it was tailored to our interests, so there was no unnecessary waffle about the production process. Gordon was a refreshingly honest and direct host. We did get to smell and taste the barley, and Gordon explained that, unlike other distilleries, Knockdhu source all of their barley from the UK, and particularly from Scotland of course as much as possible. The wash was especially fruity and fragrant.

As you can see below, it’s a small distillery – just one wash still and one spirit still, a far cry from big whisky factories like Glenfiddich. Gordon explained that they do a peated run for a few weeks every year, spending a few days afterwards to rinse the peat off the system.

Another highlight of the tour was being taken to the roof of the distillery – how often do you get to see that? Here I won’t repeat Gordon’s story about a certain group of Norwegian visitors.

Unfortunately, our photos at the dunnage warehouse didn’t turn out well, but I will mention that above the entrance, there’s a charming stained glass window with a still. This was a newly-built warehouse – the old one’s roof collapsed during the heavy snow of 2010 (the same snow that was the cause of Glenfiddich’s (un)limited Snow Phoenix). Knockdhu try to mature all casks intended for anCnoc single malt on-site, with casks for blends sent to more central warehouses. They almost exclusively use first and second-fill casks for anCnoc, with further fills used for blends.

The drams afterwards were pretty special – Gordon asked if I wanted to revisit anything from the online tasting and I was more than happy to try the amazing 24-year-old again. Next to it, I tried two bottles from the distillery’s 125th anniversary – anCnoc Peat and the 16-year-old Cask Strength. Gordon said that they use mainland peat, which explains its sweeter character and the lack of the medicinal and antiseptic notes that you get in Islay malts or Ledaig. As was the case with the anCnoc Peatheart at the online tasting, I was impressed by how rounded and fruity this was behind the smoke. The 16 year-old was a fully Bourbon-matured expression – quite sweet and floral, but also with fresh citrus and apple notes, it ran the 24 close for my favourite of the official bottlings I’ve tried. I will also note that Gordon just offered me the bottles to pour for myself – a far cry from the stingy pours you can sometimes get in other distilleries (in group tastings it’s often luck of the draw, with some glasses a lot fuller than others).

At the end, Gordon gave my ever-patient designated driver some samples to take back, and I got to buy a bottle of the 24 year-old at a very good price. All this combined to make our visit to Knockdhu a particular highlight of our Speyside trip, and something I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend if you can arrange it.* My thanks to Gordon for his kindness and generosity.

*I’m not sure if I should be publicising it given that it’s not an official tour, but the amount of people who will read this means it hardly counts as publicity anyway!

After this, perhaps it’s no surprise that I loved that 16 year-old I tried at Strathisla on our way back (mentioned in my previous post). Next up: our final day in Speyside, with a walk in the gardens at Glen Grant, lunch at Glen Moray, and flying visits to Benriach, Glenfiddich and Glenfarclas.

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