When I visited Cragganmore distillery I found in their shop a booklet dated 1998 called Knockando, Man’s Art – Nature’s Mystery which records the history of the distillery and some of the details below are taken from there. Knockando along with Glen Elgin are the two distilleries listed under Diageo’s Classic Malts that are not open to the public so a brief visit was nonetheless required to secure another stamp in my distillery passport. First though I would like to consider some of the landscape features around here before we continue upstream on the journey through Speyside.
The name Knockando translates from Gaelic as ‘[little] black hill’, nearby Tamdhu also means ‘black hill’ and Cardhu just up the road is ‘black rock’. But where or what is this black hill or rock which is so celebrated in these famous whisky names? I haven’t been able to find a definitive answer and even the old Knockando Parish Statistical Accounts going back over 200 years only describe the same translation of the name from its Gaelic roots without identifying its location.
Tom Dow is the small hillock rising on the west side of Tamdhu distillery but it’s fairly low and unremarkable to be a defining landscape feature, and why the description of black? It is well forested around the top and green fields surround that, so hard to see if it refers to a rock colouring there.
|The River Spey looking east from the Craig of Tomdow|
The following description comes from one parish report:
“On the Spey, a little above the mouth of the Knockando Burn, is the famous rock of Tomdow, which is very dangerous for floats of timber passing down the river, and where in heavy floods the rush and roar of water is terrific, it being said locally that 'Spey turns up the white o' her een after she gets a drink in Badenoch’.”
Badenoch translates from Gaelic as drowned or marshy land and it is a region in the centre of the
|The River Spey rapids looking west from the Craig of Tomdow|
However, I think that there may be another historical origin for the name black hill - peat! The hills rising on this side of the Spey are covered with extensive areas of peat moss. Monahoudie Moss is a huge flattish area above the rise out of Carron and Knockdow Wood covers part of it. Blair Hur (Bog-Hur) we heard about as the source of the peat used at Tamdhu distillery. North of the
Ironically, Knockando distillery burned mostly coal and coke in their kiln, readily brought in on the railway that ran past its door, with some peat being added. Any categorical record of what the black hill/rock name actually refers to would be gladly received.
|Tamdhu station, previously called Knockando and Dalbeallie before that|
Knockando distillery was originally quite a compact affair with no maltings, four washbacks, two stills, and one long warehouse. A concrete reservoir was built on Cardnach farm to collect water from the Cardnach spring for use in the distillery, another important factor in the sitting of it there, and it is still used today. A few cottages were built for workmen so this was a venture with long term views, establishing a foothold in a boom time in the industry and at a prime location.
However, despite the early hopes for the distillery, it opened just in time for the Pattison crash to take its toll and it closed and was up for sale within 12 months of first production. It lay silent until December 1903 when
|Knockando maltings and kiln and the Speyside Way|
The maltings closed in 1968, around the same time as the railway line closed to freight, and malt was thereafter procured from the industrial maltings at Burghead. The malting was converted into a warehouse and the kiln building has been retained and is an appealing landmark on the
|Gilbey's Cottages and Knockando kiln pagoda|
|Knockando railway siding and platform beside original warehouse|
With the exception of the nationwide halt in production during war years Knockando carried on quietly producing whisky with no significant new development until 1962 when Gilbeys merged with United Wine Traders to form International Distillers and Vintners (IDV). Justerini & Brooks were one of companies in this group and Knockando whisky then became part of the J&B blends and from there a path into current owners Diageo.
|Knockando Stillhouse recording 1898 construction date|
In the early 1970s the distillery was renovated and the first bottles of Knockando as a single malt were released. By the early 1990s it was one of the top ten selling single malts in the world even though over 90% of production goes into blends (still including J&B Rare). The annual capacity is now 1.3m litres (MWYB 2011) and the main single malt release is a 12yo. There are also 18 and 21yo bottles available in some markets and recent 25yo limited releases that have been matured only in first fill sherry casks as opposed to the normal bourbon casks. Knockando was originally released in the