A large proportion of life today seems to revolve around supermarkets. Here at Malt we can just recall the final days of freedom without these giant convenience stores where almost everything is offered all year round. The procession of traffic that filters in and out of a nearby site is a testament to how central they’ve become to our daily existence.
Of course, it was not always like this. Food, spirits and other household items were obtained via a high street shop across several outlets. Alcohol may have been obtained by a visit to your local spirit merchant or off licence. Bit by bit, you accumulated what weekly or monthly items were on your shopping list. Many of the supermarket chains have their roots as a greengrocer before expanding locally and then going national. To achieve this the battle of prime sites unfolded and was until recently a source of much competition between the chains and local councils arguably having their favourites.
Timing is everything in life and central sites in expanding towns are indeed prized and exceedingly rare. The decline of the whisky industry in the early 1980’s due to a combination of overproduction and a slump in worldwide demand resulted in closures. These distilleries are now some of the most prized whiskies you can experience and exceedingly expensive. Many distilleries such as Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn offered prime retail space having originally being constructed on the edge of Inverness. Nowadays this capital of the Highlands has exploded in size and shows little sign of slowing down. With the forerunner of Diageo doing their sums and selecting candidates to close and developers circling, deals were struck and history literally demolished. A crying shame, for once this piece of distilling history is gone, it’s gone for good.
Glen Albyn itself started life in 1846 on the site of a former mill and it was not an auspicious start to distilling, with a brewery also existing in the vicinity. Falling quiet it was retro-converted to produce flour again in the 1860’s before the whisky boom of the 1880’s brought new owners and the vision to try and distil once more. The site was situated on the western banks of the Caledonian river that offered power and transportation links. It’s a picturesque and accessible part of Inverness, which would ultimately bring about its doom.
The distillery itself across its various owners was never a huge name or producer of whisky. Very little is known about its early days and its literal neighbour, Glen Mhor, always had the attention and was bottled as a single malt. This was indeed unusual for the period, whilst Glen Albyn and its 2 stills puffed onwards, content with producing whisky for blends. Like so many distilleries across Scotland, during the First World War the site was used for other means. In this case it became an American naval base where mines and anti-submarine nets were produced to help defend the war effort. Taking its water source from Loch Ness and resting beside a river, it was possible to navigate from the Atlantic to the North Sea through Scotland.
When this side-line came to an end in 1920, Glen Albyn emerged with new owners in the form of Mackinlay’s & Birine Company who would faithfully continue with the distillery until the early 1970’s. For decades the distillery avoided the consolidation that was fuelled by Scottish Malt Distillers and then the Distillers Company Limited, who eventually took control in 1972. It was the final countdown for Glen Albyn, as worldwide demand for whisky crumbled in the early 80’s and overproduction brought about a distillery cull across Scotland. Albyn was closed in 1983, like so many others and was never to revive. In 1988 what remained of the site was demolished to make way for a retail park, which in 2017 is looking very tired and so it should.
Glen Albyn 1975 Rare Malts 26 year old review
On the nose: cinnamon bark combines nicely with a slightly old apple and some coarse vanilla washed away by pear drops. There’s a delicate sweetness with white chocolate, a little apricot jam then some lovely nutmeg spicing and barley sweets. It’s a confident and precise whisky without any flamboyance rounded off by an oily caramel and a touch of smoke.
In the mouth: that subtle approach moves into the palate with more of those apples and restrained nutmeg and cinnamon spicing. The vanilla takes a backward step and milk chocolate comes forth with some crystallised ginger, rich tea biscuits and cask char. The joy are the peaches and all I can summarise is a smoked frangipane.
A lovely whisky, drinkable at cask strength and bursting with vibrant character. Yes, it’s not hugely detailed but what it does offer it does wonderfully so. The fruit emphasis with the precision spicing is a delight and suggestive of a harmonious existence between the cask and the spirit of Glen Albyn. The 1970’s are proving to be such a fertile decade for whisky – the last hurrah before changes set in?
My thanks to the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar for the sample.