Kinclaith Distillery Profile
It’s safe to say there was no pagoda atop the Kinclaith Distillery, no quaint dunnage warehouses with earthen floors and blackened, low, stone walls. A babbling burn did not deliver the purest water in Scotland to mash the barley or cool the condensers. No; Kinclaith was part of a big, ugly, urban, industrial complex. Yet someone in that complex cared about Kinclaith, for in its 17 short years of production some fine, and now much-sought-after malts were put to cask.
All that remains of Kinclaith today, is a sign in the Strathclyde grain distillery, with the simple text: Strathclyde & Long John Distillers Limited Kinclaith Distillery 1957 Glasgow. For Kinclaith was an afterthought - a malt distillery housed within the mammoth Strathclyde grain distillery at 40 Moffat Street near the Glasgow airport. As collectors of rare malts have learned from the experiences of Ben Wyvis, Glen Flagler, Killyloch or Ladyburn, a grain whisky distillery is not a safe place for a pot still.
Built in 1957 by Schenley’s Long John Distillers, Kinclaith was used almost entirely in-house for Long John blends. The first Kinclaith passed through the spirit safe in 1958, but when Strathclyde was sold to Whitbread in1975, production of Kinclaith came to a halt and the distillery was dismantled to make way for more grain whisky and vodka production at Strathclyde. What a shame that so often only hindsight is 20/20.
In Scotch Missed, Brian Townsend tells us Kinclaith was highly productive, using two stills to turn out a slightly smoky but full-bodied malt. Releases are few and tasting notes rare, but reviewing what is available would lead one to wonder if Kinclaith had a distillery style at all. In any case notes for both smoky and fruity versions exist.
Michael Jackson in 1989 declared a Gordon & MacPhail bottling lightly fruity – melon dusted with ginger. The melon comment has survived to date in many derivative articles and tasting notes, though no one else seems to have actually tasted it. Jackson found a 20 yo Cadenhead version light, gingery, aromatic and dry. This is likely the same bottling Johannes van den Heuval called flat and grainy on the nose with maybe a whiff of smoke.
The palate too, was flat, spirity and very dry with no obvious character. In my nose it brought petrol, citrus notes, dust and paraffin. It was closed with hints of metal, sour fruit and slight peat smoke. The palate was sweet and slightly bitter with almonds and walnut skins. It was peppery hot but not very flavourful, with bitter grassiness and some cinnamon hearts. Neither Jackson nor Johannes particularly liked the Cadenhead bottling.
Wallace Milroy also found smoke and spirit in another Cadenhead bottling. Serge Valentin and Olivier Humbrecht both tried a 1966 G&M version, which performed much more impressively with scores in the high 80’s. The nose was peppery with cooked apples, butterscotch, fresh pastry and hot croissants. On the palate Serge found salted caramel, butter and lots of herbal tea notes, then cooked spinach, licorice, burned cake, coffee liqueur and roasted pecans. Overall it was quite malty and salty. Hmm… a salty Lowland whisky from an industrial area of Glasgow. It does, once more, put the lie to the romantic stories of salt-sea air penetrating barrels, for no doubt Kinclaith was also warehoused in Glasgow.
My own experience with Kinclaith is limited to just three bottlings, the best of which was probably a re-bottling, from James MacArthur’s Fine Malt Selection. More than anything, this lovely Kinclaith had benefited from years in a sherry butt. The nose was very much like candied orange and there was the ginger that Jackson had found in his G&M version.
Is that the common thread? ginger? but then more herbal tea notes appeared. On the rich palate again the candied orange was right up front with lots of Christmas spices. Just an excellent whisky by any standards and all the more for it’s being so rare.
Two 1969 distillations released by Duncan Taylor are said to be in the same vein. The 36 yo I tasted certainly was a beauty with sweet, fruity Christmas spices citrus notes and kiwi on the nose, followed by a sweet, slightly tannic palate with a certain enticing woodiness. Again, it was peppery hot with cinnamon notes. Other releases number only a few though one can hope that lying in some forgotten corner of some forgotten warehouse others will turn up, for this really is a whisky worth trying before we make our final judgments on the Lowlands.
So there you have Kinclaith, an ugly, short-lived, city-based, Scottish Lowland distillery with no official bottlings and only a handful of independent releases that stretch from drinkable to quite spectacular. A whisky rarely tasted but much coveted, with prices to match.