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The Borders Distillery

Many of the new wave of distilleries that have opened in the last 10 years have burst into the psyche of whisky enthusiasts. In doing so they have secured a significant following. Ardnamuchan and Torabhaig and Isle of Raasay have huge followings, all three of which have modest annual production capacity: 500,000 litres for the first two and 220,000 litres for the latter.

Many of the giant new distilleries have been developed to support blended Scotch and, as such, limited stocks of single malt have made it out onto the market. Roseilse 12 year old made it into the 2023 Special Releases, but is otherwise unbottled as single malt despite a huge 12,500,000 litre capacity. Equally, there is little Ailsa Bay single malt available, despite a similar capacity at the distillery.

Dalmunach’s 10,000,000 litre capacity has dribbled out via independent bottlers.
At the other end of the spectrum, tiny Daftmill and Dornoch may not ever become household names (as their miniscule capacities of 65,000 and 12,000 litres per year, respectively). However, they are avidly pursued by collectors, speculators, and fans, despite both distilleries’ efforts to get the bottles into the hands of the drinking public.

It’s almost impossible to keep track of the various new distilleries launching in Scotland, let alone around the world: Annadale, Arbikie, 8 Doors, Aberargie, Ardross, Ballindalloch, Bonnington, Brewdog, (New) Brora, Burnobennie, and that’s just the first two letters of the alphabet. There is a further B – Borders Distillery – producer of the spirit which I review at the end of this article. In a sea of brand launches, press releases, updates, and events, the Borders Distillery has gone a little unnoticed by the whisky drinking public. There is quite a bit to like about the distillery spec sheet.

The Borders Distillery was founded by whisky people; ex-William Grant & Sons managers came together to launch the venture. By locating in the borders they became the first distillery located there for 180 years, and got a jump on others who had publicly planned a distillery in the region.

The distillery is located in Hawick, on the edge of the River Teviot. The river was formally a source of water power for woolen mills that became so famous, the Tweed fabric was named after the area. The decline of agriculture and the woolen mills as a source of employment on Hawick has led to long term economic decline in the area, which the distillery and visitor centre will help to reverse. In fact, a number of other economic improvements to the area – including the reinstatement of the Borders railway – make Hawick quite an attractive location again, within a reasonable commute from Edinburgh.

The ebb and flow of the River Teviot will no doubt be a feature of the distillery life. Used as a source of cooling water, there is often too little in the summertime to sustain operations, and in the winter the risk of flooding is a regular worry. The water for the whisky itself comes from a well onsite, which taps into a much more reliable aquifer for the production.

The distillery building is of considerable merit, having been converted from a charming electrical works. A significant feature is the large glass roof. Whilst many still houses have big picture windows, The Borders Distillery’s is full of light as a result. The brightness highlights the significant capacity of the distillery two pairs of stills, which give the distillery a hefty 1,600,000 litre annual capacity, significantly larger than many of the other distilleries that have recently opened. It’s twice the capacity of Oban and three times the size of Royal Lochnagar and Springbank distilleries.

So, with the considerable size of the distillery capacity, there must be a clear plan to bring all of that spirit onto the market. Currently the only Borders Distillery whisky is the Workshop Series. The first installment was a barley and rye whisky distilled at the distillery; the second release is similarly distilled entirely at the distillery. Both have been distilled as part of a collaborative programme called the Borders Growers & Distillers, which aims to connect twelve local farms to the distillery. The grain for all portions of the releases has been sourced from these farms within a 35 mile radius.

For the Second Release (reviewed below), the distillery have created a blend, a rare format which might be called a “single distillery” blended Scotch using barley and other grains, therefore containing a portion of single malt and single grain. The single malt portion contains a batch of short fermentation wash (just 55 hours) and a portion of 150 hour fermentation wash. Both batches were distilled and put into first fill bourbon barrels. Unfortunately, there is less information on the proportions of each spirit or their age, but that is classic in blending.

On paper, there’s a lot to like: the locally sourced grain from caring and collaborative farmers, a focus on fermentation and developing new flavours through fermentation, and taking responsibility for all aspects of the production, including distilling all the portions of the blend. Unfortunately, the blend has been chill-filtered and watered down to the minimum legal 40% ABV. It’s beyond me why a distillery would go to this trouble to craft a small batch release that will have individually numbered bottles, but also treat the spirit this way. This really got me wondering which kind of customers The Borders Distillery is seeking to attract.

The Borders Distillery Single Distillery Blend WS:02 The Long & Short of It – Review

40% ABV. £40.

Colour: White wine.

On the nose: Sweet barley sugar, fresh unfermented wort, fruity esters, yeasty wash, big bright vanilla notes, vanilla fudge, and crisp pinot grigio, Granny Smith Apple Skins, the fruitiness continues to grow in the glass with Fruit Salad candy sweets and pear juice, and some fresh pineapple and ripe peach.

In the mouth: It is thin and light, but the notes on the nose deliver on the palate, too, but muted and more soft, so soft. Barley sugar, estery fruit, vanilla notes, peach, a little butterscotch and soft orchard fruits, a short dry dusty vanilla finish.

Conclusions:

As I mentioned above, I am baffled by concept of crafting a complex, flavoursome spirit, and then chill filtering it and watering it down. Especially because the nose has so much incredible promise. It’s right up there with Loch Lomond Distillery Edition 3 (another distillery capable of making single distillery blends) made with a three week long fermentation. That whisky was 10 years old, and 57.2% for £70 delivered. As for this Borders Distillery bottling: I’d say that the nose has incredible promise. It drinks a little older than its age too. But, with the current presentation, it’s middle of the road.

Score: 5/10

Photos and sample courtesy of The Borders Distillery. Per Malt editorial policy (and, hopefully evidently), this does not affect our notes or score.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

  1. Zenatello says:

    That review was akin to watching a rom com in which the couple gets murdered at the end, by which I mean the chill filtering and watering down, not the point score.

  2. Graham says:

    Hello Zenatello,

    We are always trying to bring the drama here at Malt. In truth the value of independent review view sites is to challenge the approach by companies and ensure that the flavour experience is maximised.

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