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    Inchgower Single Malt Whisky

    The Inchgower distillery in Buckie was founded in 1871. It was previously the Tochineal distillery, which sat around 6 miles east of Inchgower, but the owners Alexander Wilson & Co. were forced to move due to an increase in rent payments for the original building. The move proved unsuccessful and the company was declared bankrupt in 1936. The facility was then purchased by Buckie Town Council for £1600, and they subsequently sold it on to Arthur Bell & Sons for £3000 in 1938.

    This ultimately proved to be the sale which secured the long-term future of the distillery. The facilities were upgraded in 1966, including the addition of two extra stills which doubled the production capacity. Following these changes the whisky produced at Inchgower became an important component of the Bell’s blends. As much as 99% of the spirit produced there is now used for blends including Bell’s, White Horse and Jonnie Walker. As such, there are very few official single malt expressions widely available on the market.

    There was a 14 year old expression released as part of the Flora & Fauna series which is still commonly available. There were also two inclusions in the Rare Malts series, with a 22 year old and 27 year old expression released in 1997 and 2004 respectively. Considering the respectable capacity of the distillery, which is around 3 million litres per year, there are surprisingly few independent bottlings available.

    Inchgower is a Bell’s distillery, so passed into the ownership of Guinness in 1985, then Diageo two years later. It is a key component of the Bell’s blends, and as they have grown in popularity the distillery has been expanded, most recently in 2012 when capacity was increased from 1.9 million LPA per annum to 3 million LPA. The distillery stands just outside the important fishing port of Buckie on the Moray Firth – a long way from Speyside, although it is classified as such. Arthur Kinmond Bell, son of the eponymous Arthur Bell, bought it in 1936 from Buckie Town Council, who had acquired it following the bankruptcy of its owner earlier that year for £1,000.

    A.K. (as he was always known) travelled up there by train, inspected the distillery in the company of the Provost of Buckie and liked what he saw. When he visited in the 1880s, Alfred Barnard had described Inchgower as “a modern work, fitted up with all the latest improvements of machinery and vessels… situated in the heart of the finest barley-growing district in Scotland [i.e. the Laich o’Moray]”. It had been built in 1871 by one Alexander Wilson, to replace another distillery nearby named Tochineal, established by Mr. Wilson’s great-uncle in 1822. There and then, A.K. Bell offered the Provost £3,000 for the distillery, its extensive warehouses and eight ‘model’ cottages. This was promptly accepted on behalf of Buckie Town Council, then, as they were leaving the distillery, the Provost pointed out a picturesque old mansion-house nearby which traditionally housed the distillery manager and which was also for sale. A.K. immediately offered him a further £1,000. Dazed by the sudden offer, the Provost accepted and the deal was done. In later life he was heard to mutter: “It was the first time I was done twice in one day”!

    For many years during the 1940s and ‘50s the manager at Inchgower was Ned Shaw, a well-known local ‘worthy’ famous for his wit and many stories, some of which he told on radio and television. One interesting observation concerned how whisky was drunk: “The great whisky drinkers in my time had their own special way of tasting the stuff. They’d take a dram of whisky first and then some water, and shoogle the mixture around in their mouth”. On one occasion when he remonstrated with one of the distillery workers about taking excessive advantage of the ‘dramming’ tradition, by which all the workforce received a dram – usually a gill (a quarter of a pint), and usually new make spirit, which they called ‘clearik’, at 63.5%Vol – the man replied: “And why for no? I’ve been lang enough kept doon in this warld!” Because of its importance as a blending whisky, particularly for Bell’s, Inchgower is not often seen as a single. Indeed, I am not sure that the only expression offered by the distillery’s owner – at 14 years old (in Diageo’s ‘Flora & Fauna’ series) – is still available. 

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