Bladnoch is the Australian-owned whisky taking on Scotland's best

The new master distiller at the Australian-owned Scotch whisky distillery, Bladnoch, hopes to raise the profile of the Lowlands region where it is based.

"In Speyside, you go around every corner and there's a distillery, but there's not as many distilleries down in the Lowlands," says Dr Nick Savage, who joined Bladnoch on July 1 this year after a three-year stint in Speyside at Macallan.

"But I think there's a lot of scope to build the Lowlands region, not just with Bladnoch, but as a community and as a region of whiskies.

"I think there's a lot of secrets that it could uncover, because it's not been focused on before – it's always been about Highlands and Islands whiskies. 

"I think there's a good opportunity there."

Second life

Bladnoch had been mothballed for a decade when it was acquired by Australian businessman David Prior in 2015.

It's one of several new or revitalised distilleries breathing life into the Lowlands region. Production was restored at Annandale Distillery in 2014 under new owner Professor David Thomson, after it had lain dormant for almost 100 years. 

Rosebank Distillery, closed by spirits giant Diageo in 1993, is expected to return to production in 2020 under new owner Ian Macleod Distillers.

In 2009, William Grant & Sons opened the Ailsa Bay Distillery at its Lowlands production site in Girvan, where Savage had an 18-month stint before he went to join Macallan.

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"Lowlands whisky for me has got a slightly lighter, fruitier, grassier style to it. It's still quite sweet, kind of biscuit cereal sweet, but it's got this 'freshly cut grass' feel to it," he says.

"A lighter, more refreshing style is how I describe it, but it's still quite creamy and thick."

Change of scenes

Savage started out his career as technical lead in cask maturation at Diageo, making Bladnoch his fourth job in Scotch whisky, an industry where those who reach the pinnacle of master distiller often stay with the one brand for life.

"Most people in my type of role stay there for the rest of their career, I think that's generally the model," he acknowledges.

"But I think my approach to it is much more strategic. I try to look at it from a long term brand perspective, to try and look after a brand and nurture it and grow it and then hand it onto the next generation or the next person.

"That's my kind of approach to it really, rather than sit for 30 years and do a single liquid.

"I'm always quite open to the fact that I might not be here when the liquid actually comes out. At Macallan we launched a 70-year-old whisky, so these things can take a lifetime to deliver."

Maturity at multiple ages

Bladnoch's current range of whiskies showcases a range of different cask types, and a broad spectrum of maturities, all the way up to the Bicentennial Release 29 Year Old ($8800).

"When I look at the range, there's something for each occasion," Savage says.

"The bourbon-style casks produce some refreshing citrus notes. I always like to drink those whiskies on warmer days.

"Then you've got the Adela 15 Year Old, which was oloroso sherry [matured]. It's European oak so you're starting to get much deeper, richer characters starting to come through.

"I would drink that more on a winter's day when it's cold. It feels like a warming rather than a refreshing whisky."

Chasing rare drams

In his new role, Savage confronts the difficult task of trying to achieve consistency of supply in spite of a ten-year lull in production, with limited aged stocks available until the whisky distilled under David Prior's ownership gradually comes of age. 

"What that does is actually make everything very rare. The scale at which we operate on, we're not doing 100,000 cases every time we make a batch of twelve year old," he says.

"We're actually probably doing it once, maybe twice a year, so it's almost like a 'vintage' discussion."

As such, he says Bladnoch will increasingly be labelling its whiskies with more information about the year in which they were released and the particular batch, to highlight this collectability.

And he says Prior has given him licence to develop some more innovative expressions, while continuing the lineage of Bladnoch under its previous custodians.

"I'd like the next person who sits here in my role to be able to look in the warehouse in 10 or 20 years' time and say, 'OK there's a treasure chest of interesting stocks there', so they can continue to build the brand into its next phase."

James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.

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