The Balmenach Burn used to be the water source for the whisky
production at the distillery, but I’m not sure if this is still the case.
The aforementioned neighbouring distilleries are better destinations for travellers than Balmenach.
In terms of aesthetics, Balmenach isn’t much to look at. The distillery doesn’t offer distillery tours anyway, so
there is little reason to travel in that direction. There are many accommodating alternatives nearby.
1) In the past, some independent bottlings of Balmenach were sold under the name
'Deerstalker' - but not all Deerstalkers are Balmenachs. This name has been used
for other whiskies as well, including expressions of Braeval and some blends.
4) By 2005, Balmenach was one of only fourteen distilleries still using 'worm tubs'
(a.k.a. 'worm tanks'). The other thirteen distilleries still using worm tubs by this time
were Benrinnes, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Edradour, Glen Elgin, Glenkinchie,
Mortlach, Oban, Pulteney, Royal Lochnagar, Speyburn and Talisker on Skye.
Springbank uses worm tubs on their wash still only.
8) 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."
3) Roughly one third of the total production of Balmenach is sold to other companies.
6) Balmenach distillery has three dunnage warehouses with a total capacity of almost 10,000 casks.
7) The production goes on for five days a week, from 22 PM on a Sunday night to 22 PM on a Friday night.
5) When Inver House bought the Balmenach distillery from Diageo in 1997, the deal
didn't include maturing stocks of malt whisky. So, the new owners had to make their own.
I sort of expected a new official bottling of the Balmenach malt whisky to arrive on the shelves
of liquorists by the end of 2010. However, around that time I didn’t spot any new releases from Balmenach.
2) Inver House Distillers focuses on blended whiskies rather than on single malts.
Two of their most famous brands are MacArthur's and Hankey Bannister.
2001 - Inver House (the company that bought Balmenach
in 1997) was bought by Pacific Spirits from Thailand.
2009 - An old, second hand gin still is installed in the old
filling room of the Balmenach distillery. Initially, only small
quantities of gin were produced though - the bulk of the
outpot of Balmenach is still malt whisky (for blends).
2017 - In this modern day and age, the Balmanach brand and distillery still don’t have a proper website yet.
2010 - Since production at the distillery restarted in 1998, they could have released a new 12yo OB by now.
However, I haven’t seen any new offerings of Balmenach at the shelves of whisky shops for a while. it would
seem that the Balmanach spirit will be used almost exclusive for blends for a while longer.
2006 - The owner of Balmenach (Pacific Spirits UK) was
bought by International Beverage Holdings.
2008 - At this time the Inver House subsidiary in Scotland
owned four other Scotch whisky distilleries - Balblair,
Knockdhu, Old Pulteney & Speyburn.
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 - very decent for the oldest expression of the Balmenach single malt whisky I've ever tried.
This makes it to the top 3 bottlings of Balmenach I've ever tried. Besides, Balmenachs are getting rare.
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 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 malt maniacs were divided for this one.
Balmenach 1974/1998 (40%, G&M 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 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 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.
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.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Balmenach malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Balmenach I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Balmenach.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
In the years that followed, Balmenach distillery changed hands repeatedly.
Owners included Peter Dawson Ltd. and SMD), but I won't bore you with all the details
about the 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....
The Saladin Box maltings stayed in use at Balmenach until the mid-1980's.
In 1986 the distillery was sold to United Distillers who subsequently mothballed
it in May 1993. Eventuallly, Diageo (the legal successors to United Distillers)
sold Balmenach to Inver House Distillers in 1997.
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 stills at Balmenach were fired up again in March 1998.
From that moment on and until 2004, Balmenach produced just under 2 million litres of alcohol annually.
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 plant before resuming malt whisky production again.
In 2001 Inver House themselves were bought by 'Pacific Spirits' - part of the 'Great Oriole Group'. At the time,
the group was controlled by a rich businessman from Thailand; Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi. And that wasn’t the
only Asian influence in the Scotch whisky industry at the start of the third millennium. A few distilleries like Bowmore
are owned by Japanese companies and in 2007 Indian businessman Vijay Mallya took control of Whyte & Mackay.
In the same period, big players like Diageo were trying to expand their presence in the far east. Yeah, it’s odd...
That’s it as far as the history of Balmenach is concerned - scroll down for the more recent developments at the
distillery during the third millennium.
The Balmenach distillery (also known as Balminoch and Cromdale) was legalised in 1824 by
James McGregor. According to rumours it had been operating as an illicit distillery for quite
some time before that - but most illegal distilleries didn’t keep tidy records in those days.
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.