Annandale Distillery

This month, our ‘Meet our Maker’ is geographically the first distillery in Scotland, Annandale Distillery. We caught up with them to find out more about their distillery and its fascinating history.

“The distillery was originally built in 1830 by George Donald, a former excise officer from Banff in Aberdeenshire. He chose the site as there was a pre-existing clearing in the woods with a plentiful water source, which is essential for both the production of whisky, and to power the water wheel which would run the internal grain mill for the barley. The abundance of peat in the area meant that George Donald could fuel the kiln for the malted grain by using locally sourced peat from peat bogs just three miles away. The damp and mild climate was also perfect for the maturation of the whisky.” said Lee Medd, Annandale Distillery’s Marketing Manager.

Annandale Distillery
Lee Medd, Annandale Distillery

Lee Medd, Annandale Distillery

“One of the earliest ‘legal’ whisky distilleries in Scotland it was officially established in 1836. The Donald family ran the distillery for almost 50 years. A peated style of whisky was produced here throughout their time at Annandale Distillery, using traditional techniques and equipment. Margaret Donald was said to be very hands on, working as a still (wo)man and firing the stills over an open coal fire. It would have been a very labour-intensive job, and very difficult to maintain a consistent temperature for the stills when producing the spirit to fill into casks.

After the death of George Donald in 1883 the distillery was transferred to John Sykes Gardner. John, a wine and spirits merchant from Liverpool continued to produce peated single malt whisky for the next ten years.

Johnnie Walker and Sons bought the distillery in 1893, it is believed they used the spirit from Annandale Distillery as a source of peated whisky for their blends. The iconic Charles Doig pagoda roof was added to the distillery in the 1890s. This specially designed structure is an iconic part of many distilleries in Scotland but is one of only five known originals to survive.

Production at Annandale Distillery ceased shortly after the end of WW1 in 1918, due to the difficulties in maintaining production. The once abundant resources that had drawn Johnnie Walker to buy the distillery had started to disappear, and the global market for whisky was crashing as a result of the many post-war temperance movements. Johnnie Walker kept the distillery buildings and site until 1924.”

Mark Trainor, Annandale Distillery

Mark Trainor, Head of Production, Buildings & Estates is one of the longest serving members of the team – having been part of the Annandale Distillery team during the £17.5million renovation.

Annandale Distillery

“The former distillery buildings were used for farming until 2007, when Professor David Thomson and wife and business partner Teresa Church bought the distillery site and began an extensive restoration to restore the buildings and convert them back into a fully functional, working distillery.

Dr Jim Swan was commissioned to design a whisky-making plant for the distillery. Professor David Thomson met Dr Swan at a sensory conference in London in the 1980s. They kept in touch throughout the years and Dr Swan was the first-person Professor Thomson called when he needed a design for the operational facilities after purchasing the distillery.

It took a while but on 9th November 2014, the first spirit came from the stills, which was filled into cask number one on 15th November 2014 to be matured in the original 1830s warehouse for a minimum of 3 years, before it could mature into single malt, single cask scotch whisky. The production team work tirelessly creating the Single Malt, Single Cask scotch whiskies, the smoulderingly smooth un-peated ‘Man O’ Words’ and wonderfully warming peated ‘Man O’ Sword’, named after Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce, respectively.”

Jade Fawcett, Annandale Distillery

Jade Fawcett, Annadale Distillery

Tourism Development Specialist Jade Fawcett added –

“Annandale Distillery continues to produce multi-award-winning spirit, claiming the title of ‘Best Scotch 10 Years and Under – Single Cask’ from the renowned Jim Murray Whisky Bible for Man O’Words in 2020 and Man O’Sword in 2021. In 2022, Annandale Distillery was named “Best Single Malt Distillery in Scotland” in the SME Business News Awards. The site and team continue to grow with the recent opening of our bottling hall, allowing for the spirit to distil, mature and be bottled on-site. This opening has created an additional 6 full time roles in the local community, 90% of our team live within 20 miles of the distillery allowing us to get involved with many aspects of the community. Locals and visitors can enjoy tours and tastings on the hour, every hour from 10am-4pm every day except Christmas and New Year, and tuck into some tasty treats at the Dumfries & Galloway Café of the Year – The Maltings Coffee Shop.”

Images kindly supplied by Annandale Distillery.