Cameronbridge was also known as Haig Distillery in the
past - named after founder John Haig who decided to build
Cameronbridge some 40 miles south-east of Perth.
That makes Cameronbridge not just the largest, but also
the oldest grain whisky distillery in Scotland. It used to be
one of two grain distilleries owned by Diageo - but they’ve
closed their Port Dundas distillery in 2009 or 2010.
With a production capacity of circa 100,000,000 litres of alcohol per year,
the Cameronbridge distillery dwarfs all other distilleries in Scotland, both those
for malt and grain whisky. The rivers Leven and Ore flow nearby the distillery
that was founded in 1824 as the ‘Cameron Bridge’ distillery (two words).
That’s not far from the Lowlands - where most grain distilleries are located.
However, Cameronbridge is officially (barely) located in the Eastern Highlands.
In 1826 Cameronbridge became the
very first Scotch distillery to produce
grain whisky in a continuous still.
However, this was not a 'Coffey still'.
At least not yet - instead, it was a much
more primitive version, invented by one
Robert Stein (John Haig's cousin).
In 1877 John Haig & Co. merged with five other whisky companies into the DCL whisky giant,
the Distillers Company Limited (a predecessor of Diageo). Until 1929 the Cameronbridge
distillery used a combination of pot stills and column stills, allowing them to produce both
grain whisky and malt whisky at the same time.
This version of the continuous still was
just a series of pot stills that were
arranged consecutively. The Irishman
Aeneas Coffey was the inventor of the
column still design depicted above.
One could whine about such cynical developments, but why would one?
Plenty of profits are being made off whisky drinkers, but through various sales taxes
some of that sinful spending at least helps to counteract some of the negative effect
of alcohol on society. And over the past few decades the economic developments
have made whisky accessible to more people than ever before - at least blends...
The major innovation of the Coffey still was the fact that the analyser and the rectifier were installed side by side.
So, Aeneas Coffey improved upon (and then patented) Stein's design. This newfangled contraption allowed the
Scotch distillers to produce much more ‘whisky’ - much quicker and at lower cost.
As luck would have it, good taste hadn’t been invented yet in the early 19th century.
Many of the people at the time actually preferred the ‘softer’ blended whiskies over the rough
malt whiskies of the period. So, between 1830 and 1850 over a dozen malt whisky distilleries
were already converted into grain whisky distilleries.
After 1929, Cameronbridge shifted to the production of Scotch grain whisky exclusively.
The current column still house of Cameronbridge was constructed during the 1960s,
and so were 2 new column stills. A third still was transferred from the old Carsebridge
distillery in Alloa when it was closed by United Distillers in 1983.
The portfolio of spirits they were able to produce at Cameronbridge was expanded
once more after a big renovation around the year 1990. The distillery was enlarged
further between 1992 and 1999. Besides grain whisky, Diageo now produces other
spirits at the site as well, including Smirnoff, Gordon's Gin and Tanqueray.
The grain whisky from Cameronbridge end up in dozens of different blends.
So, if you have drunk your fair share of Scotch whisky blends (or perhaps even more),
the odds are that you’ve unwittingly drunk whisky that was distilled at Cameronbridge.
With that in mind, bottlings as a single grain whisky are surprisingly rare.
When I passed the ‘5000 malts mark’ a few years ago, I had also sampled a few
hundred grain whiskies from active and silent grain whisky distilleries. Oddly enough,
only three or four of those grain whiskies were distilled at the largest grain whisky
distillery in Scotland. Below you can find my tasting notes on two expressions;
Cameron Brig NAS (40%, 'Specially Selected Choice Old Scotch Whisky', Bottled +/- 2000)
Nose: Restrained and pretty flat. Sweetish, malty and grainy. Dish soap. Very MOTR.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet and fruity at first. Strong centre. Not bad at all, it seems.
It starts off remarkably pleasant, but drops off quickly. Shallow, superficial finish.
Score: 39 points - It loses points in the finish. It lasts for quite a while but leaves your tongue numb.
Cameronbridge 1979/2005 (59.9%, Duncan Taylor, DTC-5/013, Bottled 8/3/05)
Nose: Smells like a very old, light rum at first. Molasses and coconut. Lovely sweetness.
A beautiful profile. Not a lot of complexity or development, though. Hint of smoke? Thai food?
Ten drops of water brought a nuttier side to the foreground. Then some faint otiental spices.
Taste: Very sweet start, followed by a beautiful bold and fruity centre. Liquorice all sorts.
It drops down for just a moment after +/- 15 seconds but makes a short comeback again.
Score: 84 points - recommendable, but not as well composed as some old Duncan Taylor Invergordons.
Distillery Data Overview - a list of active (and recently closed) malt and grain whisky distilleries in Scotland.
Whisky Industry Ownership - all active Scotch malt whisky distilleries and the companies that own them.
Scotch Whisky Bottlers - the companies that bring us the whiskies the industry can’t deliver.