It’s a badge of honour to track down and experience as many distilleries as possible. The urge to step into the closed/silent/lost distilleries should not be underestimated nor the potential cost of such a transition. For many, Kinclaith is one of thee unicorn whiskies right up there with Glenisla, Killyloch and Malt Mill.
Recently on Malt we celebrated 50 years of Gordon & MacPhail’s groundbreaking Connoisseurs Choice with a romp through the decades. It was so much fun we’ve started prepping another article, which may have featured this Kinclaith but then we thought its not everyday you have a whisky from this lost distillery. Lets talk about it in a wee bit more detail before experiencing liquid history.
Kinclaith was hidden away from outside eyes residing within another distillery complex. In this case it was Glasgow’s Strathclyde distillery. The vogue at the time was blended Scotch and to support blenders recipes, companies required a reliable and constant source of stock. This sparked a Manchester City style consolidation shopping spree as smaller companies and distilleries were snapped up. Gentleman’s agreements no longer had that sense of validity, resting purely on a handshake. Times were a-changing and not necessarily for the better.
To combat such losses and ensure a consistency of supply that could also be adjusted fairly easily. Seager Evans & Company in 1957 decided to install a set of pot stills within its Strathclyde grain facility, by the following year it was in production. Almost all of Kinclaith’s single malt output went into the popular Long John brand. Whilst Strathclyde remains in operation today, Kinclaith shut up shop in 1975 making it one of the most short-lived distilleries so far in the Scotch whisky chronicles. Potentially this record could be broken by the current wave of new distilleries we’re seeing pop up on every corner currently. Eventually something has to give and the weak will be culled.
Kinclaith toppled due to new owners, when Schenley Industries sold off the Strathclyde facility to Whitbread & Company in 1975. The company as part of the deal acquired names such as Tormore and Laphroaig to its arsenal of distilleries. The grain site would in turn allow it to support its blending needs and spirit requirements for vodka and gin.. Therefore the relatively unknown Kinclaith was sacrificed when investment in the site resulted in new Coffey stills being installed.
Releases from Kinclaith are as rare as hens teeth and such an opportunity cannot be passed up. The Kinclaith style is Lowland in origin but with a touch of smoke and a full bodied style – ideal for blending. Despite Kinclaith being active for less than 20 years, it allegedly worked flat out for the Long John blend. Only a handful of casks made it out into the eager hands of the independent bottlers. Kinclaith did feature in a handful of Connoisseurs Choice releases and these tended to be in the teenage bracket and bottled at 40% strength. Miniatures from this period being what they are lack identification codes and often bottlings in the Choice range did not feature an age statement. Given there’s not much Kinclaith going about who can criticise?
Connoisseurs Choice Kinclaith 1966 – review
Colour: golden barley
On the nose: yes, surprisingly smoky with a real weighty density. Cinder toffee, dark chocolate digestive biscuits, kindling, pork scratchings and toffee apples. Needs time to open up fully with more nuttiness coming through and cinnamon, I’d think water would be beneficial also but at 40% it’s a tightrope.
In the mouth: boom! The dreaded soapy aspect rears its ugly head. Some Kinclaith’s can be like this and possibly why the casks were sold on! We’ll plough on through the soap. I’m thinking of those old pink soap bars you used to see in public toilets years ago. Nasty stuff. Parma violets just as nasty. It’s hard not to be distracted or overwhelmed by such features. The body does show more all-spice and toffee beneath the detergent. Towards the end cask char steps forth a bit of tobacco.
There you have it then. I suppose the motto is to watch when you chase these unicorn whiskies as the actual experience might be light years away from what you anticipated. With Kinclaith there is a reputation for a bit of soap that overpowers the Lowland elements. Here it does ruin the show. However we’re a forgiving bunch at Malt so we’ll dig out another Kinclaith and a chance of redemption another time.