The majority of the closed and lost distilleries have a colourful tale to tell. Arguably one of the most interesting is that of the Banff distillery, situated in the Eastern Highland region before shutting its doors for good in 1983 following the downturn in whisky demand.
The distillery can trace its roots back to 1824 and the fledgling start to the Scotch whisky industry we know today. Following new legislation in 1823, many former illicit distillers paid the government fee to receive a license and came out into the open. Entrepreneurs and grain merchants, who either had a passion for whisky, or the desire to seek new riches, joined these trailblazers. The original Banff was established near Colleonard farm, but this was not its final resting place. The onset of demand and the arrival of a train network in 1859 prompted a new site to take advantage of the line.
This new Banff distillery opened in 1863 complete with the Boynide siding that enabled it to ship its whisky along the Great North of Scotland railway. This was on the eve of a whisky boom as many consumers were soon to discover the pleasures of a fine blended Scotch. For Banff, it was now equipped to deal with the demand and was assisted by a more reliable and plentiful water supply. This small distillery supported the blended requirements of its owners throughout its lifetime, whether it was Slater Roger & Company in the 1930’s or the forerunners of the Diageo we know today.
Upon reflection Banff is more widely known for the bad fortune it experienced including the stray German World War 2 bomb that set alight 16,000 gallons of maturing whisky, a still room explosion in 1959 or the catastrophic fire in 1877 that prompted a complete rebuild of the distillery. All of these arguably overshadowed the whisky itself. This is the greatest mishap of all, as whilst blends received their stock, what Banff made it out via the independents or an entry in Rare Malt series in later years, showed a distinctive and pleasurable style of whisky.
Thankfully, even when Banff was mostly demolished in 1985 and a fire returned to the site in 1991 to finish off what remained, the independent bottlers remain a source of increasingly rare casks. Cadenheads released a 40 year old earlier in 2017 as part of their celebrations and this was the last Banff they had within their formidable arsenal. This leaves few candidates fortunate to possess stocks of this vanishing distillery, but one likely source is Gordon & MacPhail.
This particular Banff was bottled in 2015 from a refill sherry butt that produced 362 bottles for their Rare Old series at 45.2% ABV. It’s not a cheap release whatsoever, but such is the scarcity of the distillery nowadays and the hive of activity on the secondary market that the days of an affordable Banff are long gone.
Banff 1966 Rare Old Gordon & MacPhail review
Colour: a light toffee.
On the nose: a gentle vanilla arrival followed by a gorgeous interplay of spices with all-spice, sweet cinnamon, cloves and rolled tobacco. The cask has exerted its influence but it remains balanced with beeswax and hazelnuts, then apples, mustard seed and a touch of smoke.
In the mouth: still vibrant after all these years with cocoa beans, apricots and ripe pears. There’s black breakfast tea, cinnamon once again, orange peel and nutmeg. Core features are the black pepper and again that element of smoke that underpins the experience.
Evidently an excellent cask at work here, and patience has delivered a memorable whisky from a sadly departed distillery. Far from robust or forceful, there’s an elegance and confidence that just feels natural and achieved with ease.