Wonder from the Dark Hills: Tamdhu Distillery

The first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896 in Athens, and far away in Speyside, Scotland in the same year, the Tamdhu distillery was founded. The people who founded Tamdhu were a group of assemblers headed by William Grant, a board member of the Elgin bank, who wanted to distil their own whisky. Tamdhu, like Knockando, is another railway distillery which has quietly provided blend fillings ever since its inception in the late nineteenth century. The architect was Charles Doig, a famous designer of distilleries. This made Tamdhu “the most efficient and designed distillery of its era” as per Alfred Barnard in 1898. In Gaelic, “Tamdhu” means the little dark hill.

Tamdhu whisky has always been a most reliable component in the blends of the Highland Distillers and is fondly nicknamed “the Can-dhu-Spirit”. Since 2011, it has been owned by Ian McLeod Distillers. They have successfully re-launched the Single Malt Tamdhu on May 4, 2013, and have revived the Tamdhu brand. The Tamdhu Single Malt is formed by the clear spring water, the onion-shaped pot stills, and the sherry casks used for maturation. The resultant Speyside whisky is smooth and gentle, with aromas of apples, caramel, dark chocolate, almonds, vanilla, citrus, and dried fruits.

Highland, now known as Edrington, purchased it in 1899, but mothballed it for intermittent periods, the longest being for a couple of decades from 1927. It was from Edrington that Ian McLeod bought it in 2011. In fact, Tamdhu was mothballed from 1911 to 1913, from 1928 to 1948, and from 2009 to 2012, though between 1972 and 1975 Tamdhu’s production capacity had tripled, with three wash stills and three spirit stills. A landmark date for Tamdhu was December 1, 2014, when Sandy Coutts retired, after working at Tamdhu for forty years. Sandy McIntyre (yes, another Sandy!) has now taken his place there as Distillery Manager.

Tamdhu Whisky is almost entirely used in blended whiskies like J&B, The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. In 2017, Ian McLeod released the Tamdhu 50. It is a 50 year old bottling from a first-fill European oak sherry butt cask. Distilled in 1963, it was bottled in the March of 2017, and has a turnout of a hundred bottles.

Here is a list of Tamdhu’s products. We have gone into a bit of a detailed profiling for some of them.

Tamdhu 8 Year Old (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, MacPhail's Collection, Bottled around 2010) 
Malty and gentle. Sweet, with hints of honey and roasted barley. A classic profile, but a little nondescript with a background of very faintly smoky spices and organics.

Tamdhu 25 Year Old 1984/2010 (50.1%, Whisky Doris, Refill hogshead) 
Exotic and spicy with metallic notes. It is quite expressive with organic notes after some ten minutes. A new, flowery side emerges after about fifteen minutes. 
After you add water, the spicy side of it returns to the foreground for a while. The taste on the whole is sweet and smooth, growing harsher in the gritty centre and dry finish without any tannins. After 25 or 30 seconds the tannins do kick in, making for a novelty effect.

Tamdhu NAS (40%, OB, Bottled around 2008)
Starts off on fruity notes, followed by grain attic and dust. Fresh dough. A beautiful round profile. It has a fairly weak start, and needs some time. It is a little chalky, but has a solid centre, though is weaker in the finish.

Tamdhu 13 Year Old 1994/2007 Madeira Finish (46%, Dun Bheagan) 
Tamdhu-Glenlivet 10 Year Old (58.9%, Cadenhead's, Bottled around 2003, 18.75cl) 
Tamdhu 1961/2000 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail's)
Redolent of fruits and dust, this one sure is infinitely refined and complex. It takes just a minute to leave a lasting impression. This smoky and austere whisky gives a surprise to the nostrils that enhances its appeal. Perhaps your best choice from the Tamdhu distillery.

Tamdhu 1988/1997 (60.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, D. 14/12/1988, B. 06/1997)
Tamdhu 12yo 1984/1996 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl, distilled 27/1/84, bottled 3/96, Cask #169, 410 Bottles)

Now that you are all clued in as to how wide and varied the range from Tamdhu can be, why not sample one of our recommended bottles for yourself? Alternatively, you might think of taking a little trip down to Speyside yourself, and visit the wonder that is the Tamdhu distillery.