We are honoured to welcome what is thought to be the largest collection of whisky to come to auction from Caperdonich distillery, one of Speyside’s best kept secrets, in our October Auction. Today we’re exploring the eventful tale of this often undeservedly overlooked distillery, now sadly lost to the whisky world.
The 19th century was a period of prosperity and promise for the Scotch whisky industry, referred to as the first golden era for the industry (the second undoubtedly being the golden years of the 60s – 70s). The late-Victorian boom is owed to ‘industry father’ Andrew Usher who introduced and marketed the ‘original’ blended Scotch whisky with much success in 1853. This inspired and paved the way for marketing from distillers such as James Buchanan, Tommy Dewar, James Stevenson et al, who each were riding the wave of the industry’s successes.
The notable Glen Grant distillery, established in 1840 by John Grant, was quickly building a solid reputation at the time. By 1892, amid the major industry boom, they were looking to boost production (the classic law of supply vs demand) and built a neighboring distillery right across the road to fulfill these requirements. Expansion via an additional distillery has been a method similarly used by several producers, such as the Old and New Clynelish distilleries. For much of its history the second distillery was known simply as Glen Grant 2, with the intention to produce a spirit akin to that of its big sister.
Glen Grant 2 had a tumultuous adolescence, open for only four years before closing its doors for over sixty. The brief life and early demise a result of the after-effects of the Pattison Crisis, a cautionary tale of fraud in the whisky industry which ushered in a great period of austerity, bringing the industry to its knees by the start of the 20th century.
In 1961 after a fortuitous visit to Speyside, Italian businessman Armando Giovanetti began importing the Glen Grant single malt to Italy, convinced that its light and floral character would also impress the palates of his fellow Italians. He was on the money, Italy was soon infatuated with Glen Grant and went on to become the distillery’s leading export market. This was the start of a long love affair between Glen Grant and Italy which still exists today. By 1965, demand in Italy for Glen Grant single malt meant that the second distillery was once again required to meet the needs of the blenders. By this time, British law prohibited two operational distilleries from sharing the same name and so the site was christened Caperdonich after its water source.
Although built to replicate the whisky of its big sister, Caperdonich never quite hit the nail exactly on the head. A reminder that no two distilleries or whiskies are ever the same, but that is the alluring charm of whisky after all. Renowned for a style of similar nature to Glen Grant but with subtle, yet distinct, differences, Caperdonich’s malts have established a loyal following over the years. A noticeable difference is the dilution of the fresh crisp green apple notes so apparent in Glen Grant’s signature. Instead, notes of stone fruits and earthier fruit characters envelope Caperdonich’s creamier palate.
Two years after reopening the stills were increased from two to four and yet the whole distillery was run by only two people. In 1977 the distillery was acquired by Seagram, who continued to use it for blending purposes until they wound up in the early 2000s. Pernod-Ricard acquired many of their assets in the Scotch industry in 2001, including Caperdonich, which they sadly decided to mothball the following year. In 2010, the Caperdonich site was sold to the famous coppersmiths and still-makers, Forsyth’s, based just next door. Forsyth’s demolished the distillery in 2011 for their own expansion plans, however, salvaged most of the equipment with stills sold to The Owl Distillery in Belgium and the new Falkirk Distillery Company.
Caperdonich’s single malt was only briefly officially bottled while in operation, with further distillery bottlings only appearing from Pernod-Ricard in recent years. Production in its later years was high however, and many independent bottlings of this hidden Speyside gem have been produced. These independent bottlings offer a fascinating insight into the secrets of a Speyside distillery that otherwise could so easily have only been a footnote in the story of Glen Grant distillery. Never to be produced again, Caperdonich’s legacy lives on in these remaining bottles, that have been cherished through generations of whisky lovers and are today discovered as rare sightings on the secondary market.
These are some of the scarcest whiskies to obtain and taste. The limited nature of this Speyside gem combined with its story echoed over time only serves to grow Caperdonich’s desirability year after year.