Sometimes your friends just blow you away, and that’s what happened when I opened a package of samples I got from a dear friend from Finland, whom we’ll call Mr. M. There were some really beautiful drams there, some of which I already reviewed. This one, however, I had a hard time with, and didn’t publish my notes at the time of the tasting.
The Eastern Highlands village of Brechin was home to two distilleries, one of which is still operational: North Port and Glencadam. The distillery was established in 1820 by the Guthrie brothers (well, I should say Guthrie brothers, without the “the”, as there were 13 of them, but only three were involved in the distillery) and was named Townhead Distillery. The distillery is named for the north gate in the medieval village wall, which lay nearby. After a century of family ownership, North Port was sold to DCL, and was mothballed intermittently until it was closed in the first wave of distillery closings in the 1980s whisky loch.
Barnard has a rather brief description of the distillery in his 1877 seminal tome:
“The Distillery was built in the year 1820. Previous to its erection, Brechin and the neighbouring towns were supplied with Whisky made in the northern Grampians by smugglers, who carried it from thence in kegs slung across the backs of their ponies. The originators of the firm were Messrs. David, John, and Alexander Guthrie, brothers of the late eminent divine Dr. Thomas Guthrie, and the present proprietors are descendants of the same family.
The Whisky is Highland Malt, and the water used in its manufacture is conveyed in pipes from the Grampian Mountains, and the peats employed in drying the malt come from the same source. The district around Brechin being highly cultivated, barley of the finest quality is grown and carted by the farmers into the lofts of the Distillery, where nothing but the very best barley is malted. The annual output is 100,000 gallons.
Though the buildings of the Still House and Malt Barns are old the internal arrangements are of modern description, and in every case where machinery can be used in place of manual labour advantage is taken.
The spirit is distilled in the old-fashioned Pot Stills and condensed in Worm laid out in the bed of the Den Burn which runs through the works. The warehouses for the storing of Spirits are as fine as any in the north. One, built a few years ago, and which contains 100,000 gallons, is 200 feet long by feet road.“
(Alfred Barnard. The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. London, 1887.)
All that’s left today is the facade of what used to be the office, and it’s no longer a Safeway, it’s a Co-Op now, and the street name, Distillery Rd.
North Port/Brechin 1975, 26 Years Old, Signatory Silent Stills, Cask 2960 Distilled 29.8.1975, Bottled 3.9.2001, 211 Bottles (55.6% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Gold, slow legs.
Nose: Very slow to open and reluctant to play ball. Honey and a bit of dough, hint of an oily perfume and a maritime note and a sour hint. There’s something old on the nose, though not old books or leather, maybe old stale smoke. Water brings out a bit more of the honey and a better whiff of the sea.
Palate: Harsh peppery spice and some peat. Dry and very full bodied. Somewhat malty. This is a harsh whisky.
Linger: Leaves some spice and dryness, and a drop of residual sweetness. The dryness on the tongue stays for a long time.
I was waiting for this for a long time. Obviously, you can’t really form an opinion on a distillery from a single cask tasted, but I had a bit of a hard time with this one. It’s a harsh dram, that demands that you be willing to work with a dram that isn’t here to ‘play nice’.
I have since tasted another North Port, also from Signatory, 1976 cask 3887 which was a somewhat easier drink.
Thanks to Mr. M. for this piece of history!