Balmenach distillery

Where to find Balmenach

Balmenach Scotch Whisky

Balmenach  (Pronounced: balMEHnach)
Speyside (Livet)
5719'32.5812 N, 331'59.7684 W
Braeval, Drumguish ('Speyside'), Royal Lochnagar
Balmenach Burn (at least in the past)
Six stills
2,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Pacific Spirits > Inver House (since 1997)
Cromdale, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, PH26 3PF
+441479 872569
Not really (although sometimes 'Deerstalkers' appear)
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

GPS location:
Water source:
Production capacity:
Telephone number:
Visitor centre:
Official bottlings:
Scores & tasting notes:

Trivia about Balmenach

1) In 2005, Balmenach was one of only fourteen distilleries using 'worm tubs' (a.k.a. 'worm tanks'). The other thirteen distilleries still using worm tubs are Benrinnes, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Edradour, Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie, Mortlach, Oban, Pulteney, Royal Lochnagar, Speyburn, Springbank (on the wash still only) and Talisker.

2) In the past, some independent bottlings of Balmenach were sold under the name 'Deerstalker'.
However, please note that this name has been used for other whiskies too, including Braeval and some blends.

3) Roughly one third of the total production of Balmenach is sold to other companies.

4) The focus of Inver House Distillers is on blended whiskies rather than on single malt whiskies.
Two of their most famous brands are MacArthur's and Hankey Bannister.

5) Balmenach distillery has three dunnage warehouses with a total capacity of almost 10,000 casks.

6) As luck would have it, this distillery profile was discovered by Frank Taylor, who's father worked at the Balmenach distillery for thirty years. He was kind enough to share some other trivia about Balmenach;

"I grew up in a distillery house within a hundred yards of the distillery. Reading about the old place has awoken many memories. My dad George (Dod) Taylor was employed at Balmenach as a stillman, from 1950 until he retired at age 65 in 1980. The end of the name "Balmenach" is pronounced as if you are saying ahhh and clearing your throat at the same time; 'Ach'. Much like the Scots word och as in och aye the noo or as in Loch, the Scottish equivalent of a lake.

You also mentioned the worm tubs. These tubs were known by the workers as worm tanks. It is just a continuous length of pipe, containing vapours released in the distillation process, within a tank of cold water fed from the Balmenach Burn and overflowing back into the burn. As the vapours condense, they run back through a sealed spirit safe within the stillhouse into a collecting tank below from which the whisky casks are eventually filled.

The saladin box used for malting at Balmenach was a pretty dangerous bit of equipment.
I cannot recall the name of the individual involved but a workman at Balmenach while working nightshift, managed to get himself ensnared in the large rotor blades. (The moving bit of the machinery really looked like the rotating part at the front of a combine harvester) and he was tossed about inside the machine for most of the night to be found by another workman coming on to shift in the morning. I'm sure he survived. 

Another workman, actually a cousin of mine, had a hand on one of the rails the machinery ran on and managed to have his hand crushed. Another workman, Dair Riach, whilst trying to jump over an open grain elevator, (not anything to do with the saladin box) slipped and his leg became entangled with the screw of the elevator. He was very lucky not to lose a leg.

In the older days, when the distillery was coal fired, my father who was a stillman, while raking the burning coals under one of the stills, dropped a huge steel poker on his foot and broke several bones. Dangerous places to work. Not trivia but I'm sure of interest. A bit of trivia now though; in the burn which ran behind the still (as we called the distillery) the water was warm on discharge from the worm tanks. The eels in the burn grew to be as thick as a mans wrist in the warm water. As children, we never fished in the burn preferring instead to fish in the Balmenach dam for trout. I can't even remember why I was looking at Balmenach related items on the internet, but I was moved to share something about its history."

Balmenach single malt whisky

Balmenach 1979/2012 (53.1%, Maltbarn, ex-Bourbon cask, 209 Bts.)
Nose: Mellow, starting with grainy and fruity notes and something more nutty after a few seconds.
A dash of water releases some lighter traits. Chalk? Perhaps the faintest whiff of smoke in the background?
Taste: A bigger punch than the nose suggest, settling down on a big sweet centre. Very pleasant.
Towards the finish the sweetness evolves into a nice coffee-like bitterness. Just the right balance.
Unfortunately, the palate doesn't respond very well to some water. Hold the water with this one!
Score: 84 points - which is very decent for the oldest expression of the Balmenach single malt whisky I've ever tried. This maked it to the top 3 bottlings of Balmenach I've ever tried. Besides, Balmenachs are getting rare.

Balmenach 21yo 1984/2005 (57.8%, The Bottlers, Sherry Cask #3056)
Nose: Shoe polish and odd fruits. Brie cheese? A little metallic. A very odd whisky - not really my cup of tea.
It improves a lot from a dash of water, though... Milk. Deep sweetness. A touch of smoke. Spices. Nice evolution.
Taste: Quite sharp. Undiluted I could detect some camphor against a fruity background, but that's it.
With a splash of water it grew notably sweeter. The 'problem' of the sharp start is solved as well.
Score: 85 points - but it needs some time, water and air to get there; it starts out around 81 points.

Balmenach 30yo 1972 (50.1%, Hart Brothers, Port Wood, Distilled January 1972, CVI)
Nose: Lots and lost of organics. Maggi and stock cubes. Rhubarb! Rubber perhaps?
Complex and absolutely wonderful - a match for any sherry casked malt. Good stuff.
Taste: Unfortunately, it didn't do too well on the palate (the nose easily scores in the 90's).
It's extremely dry and woody, although it also has moments of endearing cookie sweetness.
Score: 84 points - but I should add that opinions among the maniacs were divided for this one.
Serge and Olivier didn't like it with 70 and 72 points respectively - probably because it's finished.
Davin, Mark and Alexander liked this Balmenach - just like me - with scores in the lower 80's.

Balmenach 11yo 1990/2001 (43%, Chieftain's, Casks 5414-5417, 1800 bottles, 70cl)
Nose: Restrained. Polished and quite fruity. Chloride. Dusty. Pleasant but superficial.
Organics. now it almost seems like there were some sherry casks in this vatting?
Taste: Smooth start. Opens up quite nicely into a fruity center. Pleasant mouth feel.
It grows sweeter with time. A tad woody in the finish. Dry. A good, solid malt.
Score: 77 points - this Balmenach is better than average, but nothing to go malt mad about...

Balmenach 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, Bottled Late 1990′s)
Nose: Clearly sherried, but not overpowering. Some sulphur. Faint spices and organics. Radish. Antiquity.
Taste: A little uneven. Fruity with some tannins. Grows very woody and bitter in the finish. Too bad.
Score: 79 points – a very nice malt on the nose but the bitter, woody finish pulls it from the 80′s.

Balmenach 10yo (43.0%, Scottish Wildlife, Bottled +/- 1998, code L 1204, 70cl)
Nose: Not very much I could pick up at first. Spirity. Apples? Citrus? Soap? A little nutty.
Relatively restrained, although it does open up after five minutes, growing more interesting.
Taste: Sweet start. Coffee? Bitter chocolate. It's a bit ciderish, almost Irish in character.
The sweetness disappears, though. Bourbon dry. It has a slightly unpleasant finish.
Score: 67 points - a questionable version of Balmenach; definitely not worth seeking out if you ask me.

Balmenach 1974/1998 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice)
Nose: Heavy tobacco. Combination of bakery and farm aroma's. Sulphur? Maize.
Smells almost like a wine finished whisky. Tea leaves. Definitely NOT 'middle of the road'.
Palate: Sweet and smooth on the palate with a hint of smoke. Flat tannins.
Score: 78 points - making it one of the more interesting CC bottlings of the late 1990's.

Balmanach 25yo 1972/1997 (43%, Hart Brothers, Dist. January 1972, Bottled May 1997)
Nose: Herbal. Piney. A little oily? Chloride. Strange, smells more like an East or West coast Highlander.
Taste: Woody. Bitter. Gritty on the palate. Maybe this one has spent a little too much time in the cask?
Score: 70 points - but it might have done better in a smaller line-up; this was dram #20 of the day.

Balmenach 1970 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice Old Brown Label, 12yo?)
Nose: Light and quite subtle. A fairly 'natural' malt that doesn't seem to choose any direction.
Taste: A dull start, followed by a decent centre. Herbal, bitter finish. Again, nothing really stands out.
Score: 75 points – all in all this is a prototypical 'average' malt whisky; hence the 'average' score.

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

These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Balmenach 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 Balmenach page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Balmenach expressions that have been 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.)

2001 - Inver House (the company that bought Balmenach in 1997) was bought by Pacific Spirits from Thailand.
2006 - The owner of Balmenach (Pacific Spirits UK) was bought by International Beverage Holdings.
2009 - An old, second hand gin still is installed in the old filling room of the Balmenach distillery. So far, only small quantities of gin have been produced though - the bulk of their product is still malt whisky (for blends).
2010 - Since production at the distillery restarted in 1998, I sort of expected a new official bottling of the Balmenach single malt whisky by now. However, it seems that the Balmanach will be used exclusive for blends from now on.

Balmenach whisky

Balmenach distillery in the new millennium
Balmenach Flora & Fauna whisky
Balmenach from Connoisseurs Choice

In 1962 the number of stills at Balmenach was expanded from four to six and a so-called
'Saladin Box' (equipment to process malted barley) was installed in 1964 - the same year
they installed one such device at Benrinnes. The Saladin Box maltings stayed in use at
Balmenach until the middle of the 1980's. In 1986 Balmenach was sold to United Distillers
who subsequently mothballed the distillery in May 1993. Eventuallly, Balmenach was sold by
Diageo (the 'heirs' to United Distillers) to Inver House Distillers in 1997.

Dennis Malcolm at Inver House told me the company didn't start distilling at Balmenach
immediately after acquiring the distillery. They had to thoroughly check the entire whisky
production plant before they resumed malt whisky production at Balmenach again in
March 1998. After all, the distillery had been silent for a few years.

In the year 2004 Balmenach produced just under 2 million liters of alcohol and they have
done so since the stills were fired up again. They produce five days a week, from 22 PM on
a Sunday night to 22 PM on a Friday night. When Inver House bought the distillery from
Diageo the deal didn't include the maturing stocks of Balmenach malt whisky.
So, I sort of expected a new official bottling of the Balmenach malt whisky to
arrive on the shelves of various whisky merchants by the end of 2010.
However, I haven't seen a new 'official bottling' of Balmenach - so far.

Not to worry though; now and then independent bottlings of Balmenach become available, like Gordon
and MacPhail's 'Connoisseurs Choice' bottling above or the semi-official Flora & Fauna bottling at the right.

In 2001 Inver House themselves were bought by 'Pacific Spirits', part of the 'Great Oriole Group'. This
group is controlled by a wealthy businessman from Thailand; Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. And that's
not the only Asian influence in the Scotch whisky industry. A few distilleries like Bowmore are owned
by Japanese companies and in 2007 Indian businessman Vijay Mallya took control of Whyte & Mackay.
Isn't today's corporate whisky world an interesting one? While big players like Diageo, Macallan and
Glenmorangie all set their sights on the far east (Taiwan in particular, as a gateway to China), some
entrepreneurs from the far east are investing their money in Scottish distilleries. Don't you love it?

In 2008, Inver House owned four other distilleries; Balblair, Knockdhu, Old Pulteney & Speyburn.
In 2009, the Balmenach distillery moved even further away from the traditional activities of a malt whisky distillery.
They installed a second hand gin still in the old filling room and started to produce gin at the Balmenach distillery.

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Balmenach distillery

Balmenach (also known as Balminoch and Cromdale) was legalised in
1824 by James McGregor, but rumour has it that it operated as an illicit
distillery for quite a while before that. Balmenach stayed in the hands
of various members of the McGregor family for almost a century, until
the Balmenach distillery was sold to a group of blenders in 1922.

In the years that followed the Balmenach distillery repeatedly changed
hands (owners included Peter Dawson Ltd. and SMD), but I won't bore
you with all details of ownership over the years. You can buy a copy of
the 'Moss & Hume' bible (or one of the other books recommended in
the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky) if you're into that sort of thing.
I'll pick up the thread again in the early 1960's...

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