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Issue 77 - Northern Highland highlights

Whisky Magazine Issue 77
January 2009


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Northern Highland highlights

Gavin D Smith visits three Diageo distilleries in search of a sense of regionalisation.

As most readers will be aware, there is an ongoing debate about the relevance of regionalised, geographical categorisation of single malts to overall spirit character. Is there any such thing as a ‘Highland style,' for example?

In the case of Diageo, each of its three northernmost distilleries – all producing ‘Northern Highland' malts – is geared up to the distillation of spirit that offers different characteristics, intended principally to enrich the blender's palette. However, the three distilleries in question also have many features in common.

They are among Diageo's lower profile plants, with Glen Ord being the southernmost, situated near the village of Muir of Ord, some 18 miles north-west of Inverness, while Teaninich is at Alness, 20 miles north of the Highland capital. The northernmost of the trio is Clynelish, on the east Sutherland coast, near to the town of Brora and a further 40 miles up the A9 from Teaninich.

All three distilleries were established during the first half of the 19th century, with Teaninich being the oldest, gaining a licence in 1817, followed two years later by Clynelish, while Ord dates from 1838. Not that there is much sign of antiquity when you look at their almost identical, glassfronted stillhouses, each home to a single row of six pot stills. These are the result of 1960s reconstruction programmes by then owners the Distillers Company Ltd, who rebuilt and extended many of their sites during that period to help slake the growing t...

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