Tamdhu distillery

Where to find Tamdhu

Tamdhu Scotch Whisky

Tamdhu  (Pronounced: TAM-doo)
Speyside (Central)
5727'33.40"N, 321'12.68"W
Cardhu, Knockando, Glenfarclas, Dailuaine
1896
Active (Reopened after being mothballed in 2009)
Local sources (Knockando Burn for cooling water)
3 Wash stills, 3 Spirit stills
4,500,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Ian MacLeod Distillers (since 2011)
Knockando, Aberlour, Morayshire IV35 7RR, Scotland, UK
+441340 872200
Yes, in the old Dalbeallie Station.
No
Yes - at least under the previous owners
Below, on WhiskyFun and the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Tamdhu location

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Tamdhu whisky

Tamdhu distillery in the new millennium

2005 - During the past decade the single malt market has been booming, but the owners hadn't really developed the brand name of Tamdhu. As a result, it had ended up on the bottom shelves of many liquorists. In an effort to join the grpwing number of profitable Scotch malt whisky brands, the range was tarted up with 18yo and 25yo bottlings.
 
2009 - to the dismay of many malt whisky lovers the Edrington Group (owners of Tamdhu distillery) decides to mothball the Tamdhu distillery. That probably had to do with the fact that their profit margins on the whisky that is distilled at Macallan or Highland Park are much higher. It doesn't bode well for the quality of blends in the years to come though; this means that they'll probably use even less malt whisky in the recipes - and more corn juice...
 
2011 - The Edrington Group (a whisky investment company which operates as 1887 Company / Highland Distillers as well) sells the mothballed Tamdhu distillery to Ian Macleod Distillers on June 28, 2011. The new proprietors also own the Glengoyne distillery near Glasgow, which they obtained in 2003 - from Edrington as well.
It is still unclear if and when production will actually resume at the distillery though...
 
2012 - Apparently, the Tamdhu distillery resumed production at some point during 2012.
That means that Ian MacLeod have avoided a 'generation gap' between old and new stocks. That's not a big issue if the gap is just a few years, but larger gaps (like with the Glenglassaugh and Glen Keith distilleries) can be more troublesome. Potential changes in the 'distillery profile' of a whisky can't be masked as easily by blending old and new stocks, for one thing. But I guess that this won't be a problem with Tamdhu.
 
2013 - Ian MacLeod officially re-launches the Tamdhu malt whisky brand on May 4th.
 

Tamdhu distillery, Scotland

During the last few decades of the 19th century a lot of distilleries were
constructed in the upper Spey valley, home of the 'Glenlivet' style of malts.
This relatively remote part of Scotland became accessible by the opening of
a railway line in 1863 and during the 'whisky boom' of the time many wine
and spirit merchants were eager to invest their capital  in new distilleries in
the area. Speculation ended at the very end of the 19th century when the
house of cards collapsed, but many distilleries have survived until this day.

The Tamdhu distillery is located north of the Spey river, right next to the
Knockando Burn. It was designed by Charles Doig and built in 1896 by the
Tamdhu Distillery Company (which was owned by a group of blenders). In
the summer of 1897 the very first casks of Tamdhu malt whisky were filled.

Tamdhu distillery profileInteractive whisky distillery mapScotland - whisky distillery informationScotch whisky bottlersScotch malt whisky brandsNew distillery projects
Tamdhu 2013 poster
Tamdhu Scotch malt whisky

The decline in the fortunes of the Scotch whisky industry at the end of the 19th century was known as 'the Pattison crisis' - but since I've already written quite a bit about it in other distillery profiles (for example the Glenfarclas profile) I won't bore you with the details here. Instead, I'll focus on the fortunes of the Tamdhu distillery. One of the driving forces behind the construction of the distillery was a director of Highland Distilleries by the name of William Grant. He appointed Charles Doig to design Tamdhu and made every effort to make sure that Tamdhu would be as modern as possible. That didn't prevent the distillery from running into some legal troubles, though...

By the end of 1897, just months after Tamdhu distillery became operational, competitors took legal action against the young distillery. They argued against Tamdhu's right to extract large quantities of water from various sources (wells and burns) and discharge waste products into the river Spey. After these issues were resolved Tamdhu further strengthened its position by a merger between Tamdhu Distillery Company and Highland Distillers Company (where many of the blenders that founded Tamdhu were involved with as well). At the time the company also owned Glenrothes, Glenglassaugh and Bunnahabhain and was a major 'player' in the industry.

Tamdhu whisky by Gordon & MacPhail

Tamdhu distillery was closed between 1911 and 1913. Between 1920
and 1925 the output increased considerably, but in 1928 (just before
the global depression broke loose) Tamdhu was mothballed yet again.
The distillery remained closed for two decades this time, only reopening
after the Second World War in July 1948. Two years later, in 1950, the
floor maltings was replaced with Saladin boxes. Tamdhu was the last
Scotch whisky distillery that still used this 19th century French invention.

The Tamdhu whisky distillery enjoyed another two relatively uneventful decades until the
1970's, when the production capacity was increased significantly and their product was
introduced as a single malt Scotch whisky for the first time. In 1972 the number of stills
was doubled from two to four and three years later in 1975 another pair of stills was
added. In 1976, Tamdhu was introduced as an eight years old single malt whisky.
 
In recent years the label of the youngest official bottling didn't carry an age statement
anymore, but several sources claim it was still around eight years old. I'd say that makes
sense because Gordon & Macphail also released this whisky at this age when they used
to carry a semi-official bottling in their MacPhail's Collection series (depicted at the right).

Tamdhu malt whisky logo

During the 1990's the affordable Tamdhu official bottling without
an age statement didn't make a big impression on me, but later
on it became one of the best value single malts on the market .
 
Unfortunately, the 'value' segment of the whisky market is not
something the Edrington Group has a lot of interest in, so it came
as no big surprise that Tamdhu distillery was mothballed in 2009.

At that point, some whisky lovers were in doubt whether or not Tamdhu
distillery would ever be re-opened. After the credit crisis hit the whisky
world, the steady increase in demand for single malt whisky that had
started in Europe and the USA in the early 1990's finally came to an end.
For the first time in many years the whisky industry could be faced with
excess production capacity, but it seems that rising demand from Asia
compensated for the slump in the Western world.

2009: TAMDHU DISTILLERY IS MOTHBALLED

2011: TAMDHU IS SOLD TO IAN MACLEOD

When Ian MacLeod (owners of the Glengoyne distillery) announced that they
had purchased the Tamdhu malt whisky distillery, this came as a pleasant
surprise to many people. They had done a great job with putting Glengoyne
on the map again after they bought the distillery in 2003. The brand is now
much stronger than it was a decade ago and they've released some great
bottlings since they took control. In a way, their success story resembles that
of Billy Walker & frieds who revived first Benriach and then Glendronach.

2013: THE TAMDHU BRAND IS RE-LAUNCHED

I've received word that the Tamdhu whisky brand will be officially re-launched
on May 4th, 2013 - and that the mothballed distillery will open its doors for
this special occasion. But I thought that Tamdhu was still mothballed?
 
Apparently not! I haven't figured out exactly when Ian MacLeod actually
fired up the stills again, but I guess that it must have been early in 2012.
That means that the owners will still have to rely on remaining stocks for a
few years to come. The new spirit that they produced themselves hasn't
matured long enough yet to be called 'whisky' (the legal minimum is 3 years)
and it will probably need a few more years in oak before it is ready for
bottling as a single malt whisky on its own.

Trivia about Tamdhu

1) Tamdhu is one of almost two dozen malt whisky distilleries that were founded over a century ago during the 'whisky boom' of the late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. The other survivors include Aberfeldy, Ardmore, Aultmore, Balvenie, Benriach, Benromach, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glenrothes, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn and Tomatin.

2) Most of the production from Tamdhu distillery is used in blends like Famous Grouse, J&B and Cutty Sark.

3) The barley that is used for Tamdhu (Cellar, Optic & Golden Promise) generally comes from the East of Scotland. Tamdhu distillery processes circa 44 tonnes of barley on any given working day.

4) Tamdhu distillery has nine Oregon Pine washbacks with a capacity of over 50,000 litres each.

5) In 1966 the malting capacity at the Tamdhu whisky distillery was doubled.
 

Tamdhu single malt whisky

Tamdhu 8yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, MacPhail's Collection, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Malty and quite gentle. Sweet with traces of honey and roasted barley. Grain factory attic aroma's.
A classic profile, but a little nondescript. Very faint spices and organics in the background. Touch of smoke?
Taste: Malty and smooth with some liquorice underneath. A powerful burst of tannins in the long finish.
Score: 78 points - a classic malty profile, which is rare these days. Too dry in the finish for the 80's.

Tamdhu 25yo 1984/2010 (50.1%, Whisky Doris, Refill hogshead, C#2834, 270 Bts.)
Nose: Exotic and spicy with metallic and farmy notes. Sorrel. Expressive. Organics after some ten minutes.
And just when I wanted to add water after fifteen minutes I stopped because a new, flowery side emerged.
After I added water the spices returned to the foreground for a while. Wow, this was really an unique cask...
Taste: Smooth and sweet, growing much harsher in the gritty centre and dry finish without any tannins.
Oh, wait, after 25 or 30 seconds the tannins finally kick in. That's mighty interesting! A novelty effect ;-)
Score: 88 points - and it wins quite a few of those points based on complexity. A rather unique whisky.

Tamdhu NAS (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008) - still the most affordable good malt whisky in my local corner shop.
Nose: Starts off fruity, followed by grain attic and dust. Fresh dough. A beautiful round profile.
Taste: Fairly weak start, needs some time. A little chalky. Nice, solid centre - but weaker in the finish.
Score: 76 points - this expression has remained affordable for over a decade and just got better.
It really is the exception to the rule that dictates that every drop of profit should be drawn from a distillery.

Tamdhu 13yo 1994/2007 Madeira Finish (46%, Dun Bheagan, C#90341, 756 Bts.)
Nose: Shifty start. Hint of oil? A weird profile - and I can hardly pick up the madeira finish in the nose.
Taste: Rough and nondescript. Feels weird - strange fruit. Aspirin tannins in the finish. Too one-dimensional.
Score: 64 points - this seems like an example of a 'photo finish'; it didn't lift the quality of the whisky it seems.

Tamdhu-Glenlivet 10yo (58.9%, Cadenhead's, Bottled +/- 2003, 18.75cl)
Nose: Honey sweetness. Slightly oily. Lemon. Dried apples. Cinnamon! A bit like apple pie.
Not very expressive. A little more spices and organics after some water. Something fishy?
Taste: Dry, short and flat at C/S. Woody. Beer-like bitterness in the grainy finish.
Smoother with hints of cinnamon and liquorice with water. Still not very exciting.
Score: 74 points - let's give it time to breathe for a bit before I give this Tamdhu another go.

Tamdhu 1961/2000 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail's)
Nose: Fruits & dust. Refined and incredibly complex. Only needs a minute to make a lasting impression.
Taste: Smoky, serious and austere. A surprising contract to the nose that enhances the overall appeal.
Score: 90 points - so once again it's the very best expression from this distillery I've tried so far.
And not just that; its also the sixth! That means I can cross the Tamdhu distillery from my to-do list.

Tamdhu 1988/1997 (60.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, D. 14/12/1988, B. 06/1997)
Nose: Humh.... Feels young and a bit herbal too, just like the North Port. That's too bad...
I like to think I'm open-minded, but I just can't make myself like this oily / eucalyptus style.
Taste: Again, quite similar to the North Port. Oil? Mainly herbal with an odd, cloying sweetness.
And while the North Port showed some improvement after a long time, this one didn't. Bugger...
Score: 54 points - once again, it's definitely not my type of whisky. I'd go for the NAS OB myself...

Tamdhu 12yo 1984/1996 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl, distilled 27/1/84, bottled 3/96, Cask #169, 410 Bottles)
Nose: Flowery, slightly oily and a little bit grainy - but not unpleasantly so. Plenty of character.
Taste: Smooth and malty. Sweetish, but with a bitter undercurrent.
Rating: 74 points - I suspect it would have scored considerably higher if they would have kept it in the cask for a few years more. Now it's not worth the extra 20 guilders compared to the OB; it only shows that the official NAS version offers pretty good value at 45 guilders (+/- 20 Euro's) a bottle.
 

And there's more to tell about Tamdhu...

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Tamdhu Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Tamdhu page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Tamdhu expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.) 
 

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