the whisky’. “We have the smallest spirit low wine still in Scotland, and probably the world,” he adds. The copper worm pipe, which is submerged in a tank of circulating cold water is another rarity and has been in use since the distillery was founded in 1825. Even the spirit safe, where the condensed vapour is collected, dates back to 1912. The on-site warehouse can store up to 70 casks, also filled by hand. “We fill the casks and then reduce the strength by adding water from our local spring,” Reid explains. “We used to do this with copper jugs, but now we have a water meter.” The casks themselves are a combination of American and Spanish oak made in the sherry heartlands of Jerez. When the season’s Olorosos have matured after six years in the barrels, the empty butts are shipped to Speyside where the distillery collects its share. It is the special casks which give Edradour its pale honey colour. The natural spring water, which rises through peat and granite, reaching the surface a few hundred yards from the distillery gives the malt its softness. Such painstaking devotion and attention to tradition has attracted much praise, including a compliment from one American expert who declared, “Edradour is the Tiffany of the whisky trade.” Perhaps it is strange then that for many years the so-called jewel in the crown of Highland’s malts could only be tasted in such blends as; House of Lords, King’s Ransom and Clan Campbell Legendary, a 21-year-old whisky which was previously reserved for the Duke of Argyll’s own family. It was not until 1986 that Edradour was first bottled as a single malt and launched as a premium whisky.The distillery itself is open to the public and has an excellent visitor’s centre and gift shop. Guided tours are free and begin with a tasting of the 10-year-old single malt, followed by a 10-minute video presentation on the history of Scotch and Edradour. Romantic stories abound that one of Edradour’s many owners was a mafioso, but this has yet to be substantiated. More interesting is the tale of a previous Edradour owner, the flamboyant William Whiteley, who bought the distillery in 1933 and saw its whisky as a vital ingredient in his ambitious blending plans. In fact the House of Lords, today sold as eight and 12-year-olds, was the fruit of Whiteley’s early work and he was responsible for turning it into one of the most widely exported premium whiskies. By buying Edradour, Whiteley, who was known as the Dean of Distillers, fulfilled a dream of having sole access to his favourite malt. Today the whisky is only available in the Palace of Westminster and at the distillery itself. But John Reid does not fear the blend’s days may be numbered with the recent reformation of the English Parliament’s upper house. “Indeed not,” he insists. “I believe it will become even more popular for its rarity value.” Whiteley saw his premium blend playing a role on the world stage and introduced it to the US during Prohibition. He recruited a sophisticated gang of entrepreneurial New York bootleggers to sell it to the city’s high-class speakeasys and clubs. He even designed the square bottle still used today, so the crates wouldn’t rattle and attract attention from the excisemen. Such was the bootleggers’ imagination and enthusiasm for the whisky that they even filled torpedoes with the stuff. Indeed steel torpedoes, each containing 40 gallons of House of Lords whisky were discovered in the British schooner Rosie MB during the late 1930s. The undetected missiles were launched, fully loaded, onto American beaches and carried off into the night by smugglers. One of Whiteley’s other creations distilled from Edradour’s malt was King’s Ransom whisky, which is no longer available but earned a reputation as the world’s most expensive blend. It was even stocked in The White House and various European palaces. But Whiteley didn’t believe in letting his whisky sleep for years in warehouses. Instead he loaded his casks onto sailing ships. He not only offered his valuable product as ballast but also believed that the swaying motion of the sea, combined with the differing climates around the world, would bond his blends better in the barrel. A more likely reason for keeping his whisky afloat was that he didn’t want to pay the extortionate warehouse rates to stow them on dry land. Each bottle of King’s Ransom used to contain a drop of the original Round the World Whisky as a tribute to Whiteley’s so-called vision.It was also the King’s Ransom blend that gave Sir Compton Mackenzie such valuable material for his best-selling novel Whisky Galore. The book’s plot centred on the SS Politician which was wrecked off Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides in 1
941 while carrying over 200,000 bottles of American-bound whisky, most of which was King’s Ransom. Indeed Edradour’s own history is also the stuff of story books. For while the big whisky players have been creating new blends and plundering new markets over the past 175 years, this distillery has quietly forged its own path, against the odds, producing malts that have seduced all those lucky enough to have tasted them. Edradour is a survivor, and a fine one at that. Here’s to one small and perfectly-formed Highland jewel.