Rosebank & Tamdhu - What Sets the Siblings Apart?
Rosebank’s sibling on Speyside, Tamdhu, was built in 1897 beside the Strathspey railway, a stone’s throw from the River Spey. “The vision of its founders was to build the most modern distillery and produce the very best whisky they could,” says Iain Weir, Ian Macleod’s brand director. A year later the spirit was being filled into sherry casks from Spain to create what Iain calls ‘a Classic Speyside’.
That early insistence on sherry casks was the making of Tamdhu. Like Rosebank’s unique combination of triple distillation and worm tubs, it’s what sets it apart. Unfortunately, as Tamdhu changed hands and its malt whisky went more into blends, the rule about ‘only sherry’ was not always adhered to.
But sherry casks were the first thing Ian Macleod Distillers restored when they took over the distillery in 2012. This has been a common theme for Tamdhu, Glengoyne and Rosebank according to Iain Weir. “We’ve always gone back to the history and heritage, back to the reason and recipe that got the distillery started in the first place.”
Tamdhu is where it is because of the steam trains that brought in the barley, peat and empty casks and carried away the mature whisky. The Strathspey railway was to Tamdhu what the Forth & Clyde canal was to Rosebank, and by coincidence they closed within a couple of years of each other in the early 1960s. The canal obviously reopened, though too late to save the original Rosebank.
Tamdhu was also closed when bought by Ian Macleod whose commitment to restoring the distillery impressed the whisky writer, Dave Broom. “The transformation has been total,” he wrote in 2014. “There are new washbacks, new warehouses, new people. The place has energy. It has life.” And a real sense of purpose now that Tamdhu is completely dedicated to its own whisky. In the past, supplying an ingredient for blends, its fate was always dependent on the overall Scotch whisky market. Now, just like Glengoyne and soon Rosebank, it lives or dies by the quality of its single malt.
In many ways all three distilleries have returned to the fold, now that they are back in independent hands with Ian Macleod Distillers - a family-owned company. But for all the similarities in the stories, the whiskies are markedly different. The fruity character of Tamdhu from the still is greatly enhanced by those Spanish sherry casks “where you’ve got sultanas, raisins and orange peel, with vanilla right at the back,” says distillery manager, Sandy McIntyre. And, that would be too much of a good thing for a ‘Classic Lowland’ like Rosebank.
In next month's journal we'll take a look at Glengoyne.