It’s not often you get to write about Banff so each time is a special occasion here at Malt. The distillery itself had a rotten run of luck but unlike Jura, the whisky was pretty good. I’ve already laid out the pitfalls of the distillery timeline in my Gordon & MacPhail 1966 Banff review. This time calls for a different approach.
A predictable tack would be to talk about the Cadenhead’s 175th Anniversary release onslaught of which this is possibly one of the crown jewels of a bewildering assortment. Possibly, or the time I spilt liquid on my laptop keyboard thereby killing it at that moment. This being the same morning when Cadenhead’s revealed their next monthly outturn, which so happened to include a Caperdonich, Rosebank, Heaven Hill and of course Banff. Those scars are still fresh so we’ll venture elsewhere.
Instead we’ll take in Alfred Barnard and his epic voyage across Scotland between 1885-1887. During this period he managed to visit over 120 Scottish distilleries – we’ll ignore the Irish and English outposts – and put pen to paper, or likely pencil or a fancy ink quill. The method doesn’t really matter as the end product and legacy is The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. In doing so he created an important resource and snapshot of the distilleries. Ideally, if he had been consistent with his approach and numerical recording we’d have more of a complete bible, but at least he could wear a hat with style.
If you haven’t read The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom then I suggest you do so, or peruse it now and again for nuggets of information. A noticeable trait of Alfred’s is you can tell whether he was particularly hypnotised by a distillery, or if he was just doing the bare bones before moving on elsewhere. A hectic schedule and haphazard transportation may have added to his eagerness to depart at times or an unfriendly or unhelpful distillery manager or guide. Asking to look around a distillery in the 1880’s may have been equivalent to visiting an artillery range given their regular outbursts of fire. Why would a member of the public want to venture around the stills and open flames of these Scottish producers?
We’ve cut Alfred some slack as his visit to Banff only accounts for a single page and seems very straightforward. Visiting during the ownership of James Simpson, our journeyman seems to lament moving on from Keith and Speyside towards Scotland’s Northeast. The local hotel wasn’t enthusiastically received although the town of Banff did offer a lovely park and a fine harbour and seemingly the schedule did allow Alfred time to explore the region. Sadly, the distillery itself is covered by just a few lines despite being a more recent build from its original site in 1863 and being rebuilt in 1877 thanks to that old fire thing again.
It’s such a drab summary that I’ve looked out a photograph of the distillery taken in 1898, which would have been a decade after Alfred visited. At least it gives us an impression of the place and the pride of the employees. The same owner was still in place and had wisely invested in a fire engine by now; all too aware of Banff’s growing reputation for disaster. That chimney does look rather odd doesn’t it?
Little is stated apart from Banff being a typical Highland style malt – a genre that today is rarely seen. A trio of stills produced the spirit and worm tubs were utilised. The distillery itself was powered by steam and water with a convenient layout and location to take advantage of the nearby Great North of Scotland railway. Looking back now if only he had taken a firmer approach and interviewed some workers or owners across the industry. The drawings offer some detail but the Banff entry is rather scant and seems overlooked. Thankfully for us the distillery refused to die until the forerunner of Diageo buried the axe in its heart and distilling in the town of Banff came to a sudden end in 1983. Another piece of Scottish history lost and we must presume that casks of Banff now are almost extinct. Time to celebrate its heritage with a dram…
Cadenhead’s Banff 1976 40 year old
Colour: apple flesh.
On the nose: more apples, white chocolate and a cream soda vibe. There’s some coconut, mango and lime. Quite a funky aroma overall with plenty of wood influence but still inviting. Oddly talcum powder, mashed bananas, cinnamon, fennel, lemon and some bashed copper.
In the mouth: amazingly not what I was expecting. More smoky, caramel and sugar-laced than the fruit emphasis on the nose. Yes, the fruits are still there with some enjoyable oak spicing yet far from front stage moshing. More of that old school funk with vanilla marshmallows, some weathered oranges, green olives, red apples, basil and a touch of waxiness. Plenty of life left in the Banff then and a noticeable green slant with Kiwi fruit and apples after a touch of water.
A very nice and enjoyable Banff that feels historical. Sadly, it’s the last cask from this distillery within the Cadenhead’s inventory. Snatched from the wooden vessel just about in time I reckon and a fitting tribute to a very unlucky distillery. A whisky to saviour as goodness knows – well I don’t want to know really – how much this is going for via the secondary market.
My thanks to Hannes and Hanna for the Banff sample and an additional tasting at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar! That’s transparency right there and any commission links help keep Malt running. Banff distillery image via Whiskyn Berättad and Diageo.