Tamdhu: a hidden gem in Speyside

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Award-winning distillery is ready to step into the spotlight in bars across Scotland

SANDY McIntyre, distillery manager at Tamdhu, is determined to raise the profile of the Speyside single malt in Scotland’s prestige outlets. 

The veteran distiller, who worked at several of Diageo’s distilleries before jumping ship to Tamdhu parent company Ian Macleod Distillers eight years ago, acknowledges Tamdhu isn’t as well known as many of its Speyside neighbours.

But if Tamdhu isn’t a name prestige bar owners, operators and their staff know, it really should be.

The only distillery in Scotland dedicated to fully maturing its spirit in sherry-seasoned casks, Tamdhu is considered a bit of a ‘hidden gem’ in Scotland’s most famous whisky-producing region. 

The distillery’s casks are sourced from America and Europe and then sent to Jerez in Spain where they are seasoned with sherry for up to 24 months before being shipped whole to the distillery. 

It’s an expensive and time consuming practice, but it helps to ensure the quality Tamdhu has become known for. 

Recent years have seen the distillery pick up numerous awards for its bottlings, including the World’s Best Single Cask Single Malt in 2020.

But while Ian Macleod Distillers stablemate Glengoyne is a common sight on gantries around Scotland, Tamdhu is still working to raise its profile with the on-trade. 

“One of the things we’re trying to do is bring more staff from prestige restaurants, hotels, bars and say ‘this is what we’ve got, this is the quality of whisky we’ve got’,” Sandy told SLTN. 

“Some nice restaurants and hotels, where you’ve got the clientele that maybe know a bit more about whisky or want to be introduced to something a bit different, that’s where we want to be. 

“Educating staff so that they can say ‘this is what this product is, this is what differentiates it’ is what we’d love to be doing. And we’re working hard at that now.”

And it’s a compelling story for bar staff to be able to tell their customers – particularly those customers looking for something that is exceptional in quality as well as different to the other malts they may have tried. 

For some reason I get emotional when I talk about the 18 year old whisky. It’s incredible.

Sandy explained that the 100% sherry-matured nature of Tamdhu truly sets it apart from its contemporaries. 

“A lot of other distilleries finish their whisky in sherry casks,” he said. 

“There’s no actual definition of what that means. 

“So comparing those whiskies with ours really isn’t comparing apples to apples. 

“With Tamdhu, our whisky has been in those sherry casks from start to finish.”

The drive to raise Tamdhu’s profile comes after years of investment from Ian Macleod Distillers, which purchased the distillery in 2011. At that point the distillery had been mothballed for a year and the company worked hard to reopen and revitalise the facility. 

It’s a project that’s ongoing, and this year the company will invest around £5 million in the site, developing a new office, installing new tanker bays and fitting a new condenser system for the stills which will make the distillery more energy efficient. 

“It’s been exceptionally busy for the last eight years,” said Sandy. 

“There’s always something, whether it’s building warehouses, building the cooperage, putting up a new malt intake. 

“There’s always some sort of project and investment as part of Ian Macleod Distillers. 

“As a relatively small and flexible organisation they are able to respond quickly in terms of decision-making.

“So if we need new copper work, just go ahead. New warehouses? Yes, just go ahead and do it.

“As a company they’re not shy in investing money back into the business, which is fantastic.”

And the Tamdhu core collection is also expanding, with the 12 year old and 15 year old expressions (both introduced since Ian Macleod Distillers bought the distillery) joined last year by the Tamdhu 18 year old.  

Sandy described the newest addition as “a belter of a whisky”. 

“I wasn’t responsible for distilling any of it,” he said. 

“I wasn’t here. But for some reason I get emotional when I’m talking about it. I don’t know why. But it’s an incredible whisky.

“And it’s not usually what I go for. I tend to go more for an American oak style in terms of our whisky. A wee bit lighter, a bit more vanilla, a bit more sweet fudge rather than the richness of the European oak. 

“But I love the 18. It’s a cracker.”

And it’s a gem that Sandy would love to see more bartenders experiencing – along with the rest of the Tamdhu collection.

He said: “If there’s someone that runs a prestige establishment or has some key members of staff who are their whisky experts, we’re happy to invite them up here, to spend time with them, getting into warehouses, learning about the casks so they can actually see the differences between American oak and European oak, see the differences between a hogshead and a butt in terms of maturation. 

“Getting people into a warehouse is phenomenal.”

With Sandy and his team producing incredible whisky with a clear point of difference and Ian Macleod Distillers backing the brand to the hilt, Tamdhu could be poised to be a big hit with Scottish venues. 

Is it time you learned more about Tamdhu?