Silent Distillery Profile; Tamnavulin – Scotch Whisky History

Tamnavulin Distillery

Silent Distillery Profile; Tamnavulin 

By Lawrence Graham

Operational: 1966

Mothballed: in 1995

Region: Speyside (Livet)

Operational Owner: Tamnavulin-Glenlivet Distillery Company Limited  

Current Owner: Whyte & MacKay Ltd

Address: Tomnavulin, Ballindalloch, Morayshire, AB37 9JA 

If you turn to your Barnard and eagerly look up Tamnavulin Distillery, you’ll be disappointed not to find an entry and this is explained by the fact that the distillery was built in 1965/6 long after Barnard had toured the distilleries of Scotland in the late 1880’s. The name means Mill on the Hill and the Gaelic version is “Tom a’Mhulinn”.   

The water source is two fold; underground springs at Easterhorn in the local hills for production providing soft water and cooling water from the nearby river Livet. Tamnavulin is the only distillery to be situated close to the river Livet.[1] Speyside distilleries generally source their water from the contorted and folded Dalradian rocks and granites of Ben Rinnes and Glenlivet. Dalradian rocks include the Grampian group made up of Psammite (impure quartzite) and Quartzite and the Appin group made up of Limestone, Quartzite and Schists & phyllites.[2] 

Tamnavulin Distillery is situated close by the Tomintoul and Braeval Distilleries and the more famous Glenlivet Distillery and shares the famous Glenlivet prefix. The distillery was built between 1965 and 1966 and a short 30 years later was mothballed by the owners, Whyte & MacKay Ltd. Tamnavulin-Glenlivet Distillery was originally built by Invergordon Distillers Ltd using the same contractors, Logicon, as had built Tomintoul Distillery.[3] 

The distillery was originally equipped with three wash stills and three spirit stills both fitted with normal necks. The wash stills have a capacity of 75,500 liters and the spirit stills have a capacity of 69,600 liters. The peaked canopy full-lauter mash tun is manufactured of stainless steel with a capacity of 10.52 tonnes of grist and there are eight stainless steel washbacks that hold a total of 552,000 liters of wash. The distillery can produce up to 4,000,000 liters of whisky per year.[4] 

From the start of its life Tamnavulin had several ‘stable mates’ including the Invergordon Grain Distillery, the Ben Wyvis Distillery (located within the Invergordon Grain Distillery complex), Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay, the Tullibardine Distillery in Blackford, Perthshire, the remnants and warehouses of the Glenfoyle Distillery at Dasherhead near Stirling, the Deanston Distillery near Doune, the fellow Speysider Glenallachie Distillery and the nearby Tomintoul Distillery. 

The current owners of Tamnavulin, Whyte & Mackay Ltd also own Fettercairn Distillery, Isle of Jura Distillery and Dalmore Distillery. In 1994 Tamnavulin was sold by Invergordon the Whyte & Mackay Ltd and the in the next year, 1995, they mothballed the distillery. 

Interestingly Tamnavulin did operate briefly in 2000 for a short period. To quote Gavin Smith’s article in the fourth quarter edition of the Malt Advocate Robert Fleming, the current Manager of Tomintoul speaks of his experience at Tamnavulin Distillery; 

“I’d learnt lessons from Tamnavulin,” he said. “I was there in 1994 when it was closed down. I was in charge of both Tomintoul and nearby Tamnavulin. JBB, as the company then was, took Tamnavulin out of mothballs for six weeks to make spirit in May 2000, knowing that they were selling Tomintoul and the wouldn’t have access to me and the experienced distillery staff there for much longer. 

“When we shut Tamnavulin down again,” he said, “our remit was to shut it down as though it was just for a silent season. You empty all the pipe work and the storage vessels. You have it in a state that all you need to do is connect up all the equipment and go-whether it’s closed for two weeks or two years.” 

There is yet hope for Tamnavulin………(subsequent to this article the distillery resumed production in 2007).

[1] The Scottish Whisky Distilleries by Misako Udo

[2] Whisky on the Rocks by Stephen & Julie Cribb

[3] The Scotch Whisky Industry Record by H Charles Craig

[4] The Scottish Whisky Distilleries by Misako Udo

This article was originally published on the Malt Maniacs and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

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