Inverleven whisky

Inverleven malt whisky by Gordon and MacPhail
Dumbarton distillery Scotland

Inverleven (a.k.a. Dumbarton) was built
relatively recently (in 1938) by the company
Hiram Walker & Sons. It's classified as a
Lowlander by Michael Jackson, but the Loch
Lomond distillery a few miles north is a
western Highlander.
 
The huge distillery complex in Dumbarton is
licensed to George Ballantine & Son Ltd.
and still produces whisky for the Ballantine's
blend to this day. Next to a column still for
the production of grain whisky there used to
be two pot still houses that produced malt
whisky - a conventional still (producing
Inverleven) and a so-called 'Lomond' still
(with a rectifier) that was installed in 1959
and that produced the 'Lomond' malt until
1991.
 
Both malt distilleries on the site were closed
in 1991 and mothballed in 1992. This brought
Dumbarton back to grain whisky distillation.

Trivia about Inverleven

1) The Dumbarton distillery was located right on the border between Highlands & Lowlands.

2) Inverleven malt whisky has always been quite rare, and given the fact that the stills required to produce it were removed in 1991, the whisky will disappear altogether as stocks are sold off in the decades to come.

3) Some of the old pot stills of Inverleven was sold on to Bruichladdich shortly after the distillery re-opened, along with a lot of second hand distillation equipment. The stills were destined for the Port Charlotte distillery.

4) The blue flag of Scotland with the white cross is known as 'the saltire' (or St. Andrews Cross).
 

Inverleven single malt whisky

Inverleven 26yo 1977/2003 (57%, Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Peerless, Cask #3095, 108 Bottles)
Nose: Light and a little sweet. Some intruiging spices after a few minutes, but nothing else.
Taste: Sweet and a little grainy. Very hot and quite harsh. More herbal towards the dry finish.
Score: 78 points - the high proof gives it some 'oomph', but can't hide the lack of depth.
Some old Lowlanders can reach perfection given enough time, but they need a good cask.

Inverleven 1989/2003 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bulky bottle, bottled for La Maison du Whisky, 70cl)
Nose: Fruity & mellow. Liquorice. Coebergh. Fruity like heart candy or bubblegum. Soap perfume. Tobacco.
Taste: Salt liquorice in the start. Pine? Very fruity and sherried. Not as stupendous as the nose, but quite good.
Score: 87 points - once again the people at LMdW have managed to select a brilliant cask...

Inverleven 24yo 1978/???? (50%, Douglas Laing OMC 0665, DL689, November 1978)
Nose: Rich and creamy, then a very strong sweet and citrussy aroma. Lemon drops!
Very pleasant, especially when it slowly grew more 'coastal'. Subtle smoke and organics.
A very 'substantial' nose; much more depth and character than most other Lowlanders.
It opens up even further with a dash of water; now I get 'freshly broken Prunus twigs'.
Taste: Mellow start, growing sweet and malty in the centre. Hot. What a fabulous palate!
Well, at first - it grows drier and grittier after five minutes, pulling it from the upper 80's.
Score: 83 points - the nose hints at the greatness of the UDRM Saint Magdalene 1979.
Lots and lots of development over time. Too bad the palate loses steam too soon.
Fortunately, it seems a good dash of water improves the palate again.
I'm usually modest with adding water to whisky, but in this case it helps.

Inverleven 1986/2001 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail).
Nose: Light, fruity and grainy start. A tad sourish for my tastes. Apple?
A malty undercurrent reveals itself now and then. It's a bit two-faced.
It doesn't take very long for some 'veggy' off-notes to appear. Too bad.
But after a few more minutes, the vegetables develop into organics.
Taste: Gentle start, developing into a mellow fruity centre. Floury apple.
After a few minutes it becomes too gritty, dry and woody for me. Falls apart.
Score: 73 points - I had it slightly above average for the first few minutes.
This whisky might have performed a little better at a higher proof - 46% or more...

Inverleven 1984 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 1995, 70cl)
Nose: Very soft, some grassy sweetness. Light. Some sherry. Oilier over time, and lasts for quite a while.
Taste: Very warm; becomes extremely oily after a few seconds, in 'mouth feel' too. Long, sweet finish ends dry.
Score: 74 points - this has the 'oily' characteristics that I often find in 'Lomond' whiskies.

Inverleven 1979 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail License Bottling, IB/EI, Bottled +/- 1990)
Nose: Not as light as many other Lowlanders, even though it's just a decade old. Cardboard?
Taste: A tad sweetish in the start, growing maltier and quite bitter. Marzipan. Not too bad at all...
Score: 71 points - a tad below average but certainly not bad for a young Lowland whisky.

Inverleven 21yo 1966/1988 (46%, Cadenhead, Distilled May 1966, Bottled February 1988, 70cl)
Nose: Watery and a little 'farmy' at first. Pine and cedar notes. Some salt; a hint of malt, smoke and toffee.
Taste: A bitter disappointment. Short but numbing, with a bitter burn on the tongue. Completely oxidised.
Score: 64 points - since this sample was heavily oxidised, I can't draw any far reaching conclusions.
 

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

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

Where to find Inverleven

Inverleven Scotch Whisky

Inverleven  (Pronounced: In-ver-LE-ven)
Lowlands (sort of...)
5556'32.51"N, 434'2.40"W
Loch Lomond, Littlemill, Auchentoshan, Glengoyne
1938
Mothballed and demolished
Loch Lomond
Unknown
Unknown
Chivas Brothers (until 1991)
High Street, Dumbarton, Scotland, UK
-
No
No
No
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor

Inverleven location

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There was a time when Dumbarton was Scotland's largest grain whisky distillery; it
draws its water from the nearby Loch Lomond. The lake (not too far from Glasgow)
should not to be confused with the Loch Lomond distillery. Within the Dumbarton
complex the Inverleven malt whisky distillery operated between 1938 and 1991. That
first Lomond still was soon replaced by another still that was twice as large. During
the production process the Lomond still was used as the spirit still next to the regular
Inverleven wash still. This spirit still was mothballed in 1985.

The angle of the 'lyne arm' at the top of the still could be modified as well to influence the character of the whisky further. That was exactly what Hiram Walker was trying to accomplish in order to better meet the demands of the blenders. The makers of Ballantine's wanted to be able to use a wider spectrum of malt whiskies without having to build more distilleries. The very first Lomond still was installed in 1956 in Hiram Walker's Dumbarton distillery - the home of Inverlevcen.

Since only half of the stills that were used to produce Inverleven were of the 'Lomond' variety, this wasn't an actual 100% Lomond whisky (as opposed to, for example, the 'Glencraig' whisky produced within the Glenburgie distillery. In that case, both the wash still and the spirit still were of the 'Lomond' type. So, why didn't the Lomond Stills become a success? An important reason was the fact that maintenance and cleaning was very labour intensive. Whenever the still had been in operation for a few hours a thick layer of residue emerged on the rectifier plates; this was very difficult to remove. More importantly, as it turned out there usually was more demand from blenders for the regular malt whisky than for the Lomond variety.

The whole 'raison d'etre' for building those darned Lomond stills in the first place was to better suit the needs of blenders. but apparently the blenders were not that interested. That meant that the space and capital that were required to keep a separate production line going could be put to better use (i.e. more profitable use) by installing regular equipment instead. What's more, the theoretical flexibility provided by the rectifier plates proved to be mostly theoretical indeed. One would imagine that the plates would enable the stillmen to manipulate the character of the Lomond whisky, but it seems to me that the opposite was actually achieved. Maybe it's my imagination, but I found oily notes in many of the 'Lomond' type malt whiskies from different distilleries.

These days, the 'Lomond' era is definitely over - although an 'amputated' Lomond still (without rectifier plates) is still used on Orkney at the Scapa distillery and Mark Reynier has brought Dumbarton's old Lomond stills to Islay in order to use them for his new Port Charlotte distillery. Well, there is ONE distillery that still keeps the Lomond still legacy alive, and that is - fittingly - Loch Lomond distillery itself. Apart from two regular pot stills they have no less than four other stills in operation with so-called 'rectifying heads'. By combining the whiskies that are produced by these six stills in different ways, Loch Lomond is able to produce eight different whiskies they say - all of them fairly mediocre if you ask me. When the Scotch Whisky Association wanted to introduce a bunch of new whisky categories around the year 2007 Loch Lomond asked for a special category for its whisky - and if ANY 'malt' whisky distillery had solid grounds for such a request it's Loch Lomond. However, the request was denied. Interestingly enough, Loch Lomond is not a member of the SWA - which in reality is mostly a lobby organisation for the big corporations anyway.
 

So, the Inverleven distillery never actually existed as a separate set of buildings.
Inverleven was the name of the whisky that was distilled in another set of stills within
the distillery complex. Although Inverleven wasn't wholly distilled in the Lomond stills,
the topic deserves some explanation. After all, the last innovation in this area (the
invention of the continuous Coffey still) was one century old when Alistair Cunningham
and Arthur Warren of Hiram Walker came up with the plan for the Lomond still in 1955.
This type of still had a regular 'pot' at the bottom of the still, but the traditional swan
neck had been modified. Within the straigh pipe there were three adjustable plates,
called 'rectifier plates' which could be cooled separately. By modifying the position
and temperature of the plates the reflux of the 'boiling' whisky could be controlled. 

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