Reading the story of Badachro Distillery’s genesis, it’s easy to dismiss it as a lifestyle project. It was developed by two jet setting executives who settled in the beautifully picturesque Badachro near Gairloch, Wester Ross, deep in the Scottish Highlands. But this distillery is no venture in vanity; it’s a business that grew from the land as the founders sought to find a business that would work with the location itself.
Although neither is a native of the Gairloch, both are active ambassadors of the area, having met and fallen in love there years ago. The couple returned to build their dream home which required steely determination due to the family initially living in a caravan on site. The location is remote, and you have to zoom out a long way on Google Maps to find the next major city.
Look a little closer at the enterprise and you will see that owner Gordon Quinn has qualified in distilling and had previous work experience within an existing distillery. Gordon’s wife Vanessa, co-owner, trained as a sommelier and in horticulture. Her interest in flavour and botanicals has supported the gin business, which accounts for about 50% of sales. Whisky accounts for roughly the other 50%, with a small amount of vodka also produced. Where Gordon and Vanessa differ from some new entrants to the whisky industry is that their fingerprints are very much on the product itself.
The venture evolved from an interest in trying to develop fragrances from local botanicals, to small scale gin production, to currently include seven gins, a vodka and a variety of different expressions of Single Malt Scotch. Initially hitting the Scottish gin craze at the perfect moment – and benefiting from the North Coast 500 tourist route – the venture has grown from a 50l gin still to two 100l stills. Over the last five years there have been a number of awards both for enterprise and for the quality of the gins produced. Gordon is keen to highlight that he is a gin distiller, and to distinguish himself from those who source their gin from big distillers south of the border and then add a “craft” label to it. This is a particular issue in gin, as there are not the same rules around provenance for gin as for Scotch whisky.
So, what of the Single Malt Scotch? Well, the first thing to make clear is that this is not distilled on their own stills like the gin. It’s no secret; in fact it’s very transparent on the bottle. But it has taken me a couple of years for the penny to drop with me and has been a bit of lesson in avoiding assumptions. It’s fascinating how our minds can filter out information that does not conform to our pre-existing bias.
The Bad Na H-Achlaise whisky released by Badachro Distillery is distilled further South by a Highland distillery with multiple styles of spirit, and both peated and unpeated distillate. Gordon was at pains to point out that he has an NDA with the distillery so I cannot confirm which one officially. However, I recently wrote about the uniqueness of a Highland distillery which would be my best bet.
The whisky that goes into the Single Malt Scotch is initially aged in ex-bourbon casks for six to seven years, along with a small proportion of 11-to-12-year-old casks. These are then delivered to the Badachro earthen floor dunnage warehouse for a finishing time of around six months, depending on the way that the spirit develops.
Gordon begins to sample after three months and will check weekly to pick the cask at the optimum time; this is where Vanessa’s palate is also required for a valuable second opinion. Generally, a couple of casks will be married together for batches of the “core” releases – such as the Tuscan Oak – and given a few weeks to marry together before being bottled on site. Single cask releases are common for the more exotic finishes of rum, Madeira wine, and ruby port. Releases are either cask strength and in very low numbers or reduced to 46% ABV with water from the local loch.
Sourced whisky is not uncommon these days; we often see Single Malt Scotch released under a brand name for supermarkets, but there are also premium products which do not disclose the source of the Single Malt (such as Smokehead, Scarabus from Hunter Laing, John Crabbie, Mac-Talla from Morrisons distillers, Regional Casks from AD Rattray, Finlaggan, Illeach, Single Malts of Scotland Reserve Casks, amongst many others). It’s not unusual.
However, when Malt spoke with Gordon Quinn, we challenged him as to whether sourcing whisky undermined the distinction that they make between themselves as gin distillers and others who simply buy in gin and label it a craft product. Gordon’s view is that whilst they don’t distil the single malt, they do have significant influence over the final product through cask selection, finishing, marrying casks together, and – to some extent – the cool humid climate of the dunnage warehouse. This is a fair argument which I am prepared to accept.
Badacharo continue to grow very successfully, with much of the whisky leaving the UK for international markets in Canada, Europe and further afield. Whilst traditional distributors are hard to break into, especially where this is government controlled, newer distributors are often looking for a new product that is unusual. There is still a real thirst for Single Malt Scotch globally. 2023 looks positive for Badachro, and the exceedingly small output is encouraging a growing collector’s market, too. Single cask releases often are split into just 30 bottles of cask strength, with the rest being reduced to 46%.
Badachro Bad Na H-Achlaise Tuscan Oak Single Malt Scotch – Review
Chianti red wine cask finish. 46% ABV. £50.
Colour: Strawberry juice.
On the nose: Sticky thick jam, the burnt edges of a forest fruit crumble, toasted sugar, malty, cherry jam, cask char, herbal with a farmyard funk from the peat.
In the mouth: Charred plum, cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne, toasted charred oak, red grapes, fresh juicy plum, red apple skins, funky damp autumn leaves in a forest, lingering fruity finish with a slight bitter note.
I’m not drawn to red wine finishes very often; they can vary from super sweet and jammy, through burnt sugar notes, to overly tannic. Of all the profiles the toasty burnt notes resonate with me the most and a present here. The light peat gives a complexity, and the underlying spirit is quality. Unusually, after the first taste of this each time, the flavour profile grows in the mouth and the second and third sips certainly delivery more than the initial first impression. Very tasty.
Malt Mates Now That’s What I Call Whisky Vol. 2 – Review
Chianti red wine cask finish. Finished and bottled by Badachro Distillery. 46% ABV. £55 for 50cl.
Colour: Rose gold.
On the nose: Buttered fruit toast, raisin, woody baking spices, sweet golden syrup, strawberry gummy sweets, soft malty notes. Ripe peach, poached pear, vanilla, icing sugar.
In the mouth: Vanilla and toffee, juicy white fruit- melon and pear, a little vegetal, again damp leaves, cask char and some slight peat, toasted sugar, HobNob biscuit, toasted pinhead oatmeal. Buttery and spiced toffee. Some toasty burnt notes on the finish.
Firstly, this is a huge step up from That’s What I Call Whisky Vol. 1. This is less peaty and very much less wine influence than the core Tuscan Oak, but where there is less wine the ex-bourbon notes shine through a little more clearly. It’s a cask pick that is more approachable for new entrants to whisky than the Tuscan Oak, which is one of the core aims of Malt Mates. It’s soft and approachable, and yet very drinkable. I’m pleased to see this has worked out so well for everyone involved.
Initial photo courtesy of John Baikie, who has made a lovely film of the distillery which can be found here.