Scotch Whiskies are world famous, their names widely known thousands of miles from home – but did you know that many whiskies also have less known trade names that easily identify them to those that know the code? Let us teach you the secret handshake.
|Ballygrant||Blue Hill||Cawdor Springs||Dalrymple||Duich|
What’s in a Name?
A great challenge rises up to meet every private cask owner at the fourth and final stage of their journey from Cask to Glass; a particularly dogged problem that generations of whisky producers have all struggled with. What do I call my whisky?
In most cases, the solution is elegant and simple – simply name the whisky after the place it was made. Like a geographic region or a particular chateau for French wine, having the name of the distillery be the name of the whisky elegantly provides an expectation of what the whisky will be like among those in the know.
Names are powerful, because names carry reputations. The original distillery does not always allow the use of their name to be the primary feature on bottles that are being bottled by someone else, because other people may interpret the original idea differently.
The original distillery is keen that expectations for their brand don’t diverge too far, since it is something they have invested blood, sweat, tears, copper, oak and probably money into over many decades.
Not so Secret Identities
A famous name sets up an expectation, and since independent bottlers are often able to do something rather different with a single cask of whisky, independently bottled whiskies are in a position to subvert expectations. This doesn’t always fit with a distillery’s idea of what their brand needs, so many distilleries have developed pseudonyms for their whiskies. Alter-ego identities that allow an independent whisky to break the mould, without impacting on the parent brand.
These pseudonyms are often very elegant in themselves, usually describing a local piece of geography that will quickly identify a distillery’s location for those who have the familiarity to do so. However, not everybody has a local’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all the hills, valleys, rivers and forts of Scotland; so let us present our guide to the Trade Names of Scotch Whisky distilleries. How to recognise which distillery is being referred to is an indispensable skill for private cask buyers who are on the hunt for the right cask. Schedule a consultation with our team if you want a personal chat about what’s going on in the world of casks.
Allt Mor – Distilled at Aultmore Distillery, Speyside
Aultmore is a lovely, gentle Speyside whisky, long popular with the local fishing community. There’s already been a longstanding codename for the whisky when ordered by the dram. The distillery is located on the road to Buckie, so travellers only need to ask for ‘a dram o’ the Buckie road’ to get a nip of Aultmore whisky.
The Distillery takes its water from the Auchinderran burn, or ‘The Big Burn’ as it’s known. In Gaelic, that’s An t-Allt Mòr, so the codename for a cask of Aultmore translates as ‘Big Burn’.
Ballygrant – Distilled at Bunnahabhain Distillery, Islay
‘Wait a minute!’, I hear you cry, ‘Isn’t the trade name for Bunnahabhain distillery Staoisha?’ It is not, though you will often see Bunnahabhain whisky under that name. Staoisha is a peated version of Bunnahabhain, so quite a different style of whisky from the expectation of Bunnahabhain’s core style.
The pseudonym used by some casks of Bunnahabhain is ‘Ballygrant’, a town just a little way inland from the coast where Bunnahabhain sits, on the shores of loch Finlaggan – one of the most important historical sites on Islay, and former seat of the Lords of the Isles.
A distillery once operated in Ballygrant, over 200 years ago in 1821. Bunnahabhain are paying twin tribute with their pseudonym – to the old distillery and the heritage of the once powerful Lords of the Isles.
Blue Hill – Distilled at Craigellachie Distillery, Speyside
Craigellachie is a bold and meaty whisky from Speyside, which matures slowly into wonderfully aromatic citrus flavours. The distillery overlooks the town of Craigellachie, which is something of a mecca for whisky lovers. It is set among the little Conval hills, one of which is named ‘Blue Hill’, perhaps for the silvery-blue pine trees that cover it. Blue hill is also the name of the water source for the distillery, whose chattering waters provide the distillery with all it needs before becoming part of the river Fiddich in the valley below.
Cawdor Springs – Distilled at Royal Brackla Distillery, Highlands
A fresh, clean-tasting whisky from the Royal Brackla distillery, the first distillery in Scotland to receive a royal warrant in 1833. ‘Brackla’ itself may be derived from the Gaelic for ‘The Badger’s Set’, which is a lovely name for a distillery. I can see why they’re proud of it.
Brackla distillery is located on the Cawdor Estate in Nairnshire – the same Cawdor that features so heavily in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The water that supplies the distillery is from the Cawdor springs, and that’s a fine pseudonym for the whisky made here.
Dalrymple – Distilled at Ailsa Bay Distillery, Lowlands
Ailsa Bay is an innovative and modern whisky, made by William Grant & Sons – the family institution behind Glenfiddich and Balvenie. A sweet but also highly peated Lowland whisky, Ailsa bay always stands out.
Some architectural detective work was required when a German independent bottler released a whisky without a distillery name, but a very clear picture of Dalrymple Bridge in Ayrshire. ‘Dalrymple’ has been the name for teaspooned Ailsa Bay before, and the distillery is not far from the bridge of Dalrymple, so if you encounter a cask calling itself such – you’ve got Ailsa Bay on your hands. Just make sure it’s a single malt and not a teaspoon blend.
Duich – Distilled at Tamdhu Distillery, Speyside
Tamdhu is a deep and rich Speyside whisky, most frequently seen showing off the indulgent flavours of a sherry cask.
I’m afraid I have to make an educated guess as to why the trade name for Tamdhu casks is ‘Duich’. Loch Duich is a particularly beautiful deepwater lake on Scotland’s west coast; a considerable distance from Tamdhu distillery. On the shores of Loch Duich lies Eilean Donan castle, a beautiful site and former seat of clan Mackenzie. Potentially a homesick Mackenzie working at Tamdhu chose the name, but I have to admit I’m speculating. If you know better, please write a comment below!
Fortrie – Distilled at Macduff Distillery Distillery, Highlands
Whisky distilled at Macduff distillery has a savoury, nutty feel and is an excellent aperitif. This much I can say with confidence, because the naming conventions here are less straightforward. The distillery is called Macduff, after the town where it was founded. The whisky itself is officially released under the names Glen Deveron or The Deveron, after the river that runs past.
Independent bottlers have usually called their whiskies ‘Macduff’, which the official releases were Deverons. Yet sometimes the whisky is released under the name ‘Fortrie’ as well, and I’ve not yet found a reason for that name. The town of Fortrie isn’t that close, and the Fortrie family name doesn’t seem to be closely associated with the distillery. If you know why Macduff whisky is sometimes called Fortrie, please leave a comment!
Glen Nevis – Distilled at Ben Nevis Distillery, Highlands
Ben Nevis, a rich, fruity, fermenty whisky which just happens to be one of your humble writer’s preferred drams.
Ben Nevis is the UK’s tallest mountain, so I guess that means that Glen Nevis is the UK’s deepest valley? Both are awe-inspiring natural features, both are excellent names for whisky distilled there.
Glenshiel – Distilled at Glenrothes Distillery, Speyside. Or Loch Lomond Distillery, Highlands
There’s always got to be one, doesn’t there? Someone just needs to make things more complicated than they need to be.
Glenshiel is a stunning valley in Scotland’s Northwest. It is nowhere near Glenrothes or Loch Lomond distilleries. I guess lots of distillers had nice walking holidays there and got nostalgic. If you see this name on a cask, be sure you know which one it is!
Kirkcowan, Distilled at Bladnoch Distillery, Lowlands
An old Lowland distillery which rose like a phoenix in 2017 after 24 silent years. The name of the distillery means ‘place of flowers’, and the whisky is indeed floral and grassy.
Kirkcowan whisky was the name that Bladnoch used when it was going for blending – primarily in the old recipe for Bell’s. Kirkcowan itself is a region a few miles upstream from the distillery along the Bladnoch river.
Pitilie, Distilled at Aberfeldy Distillery, Highlands
A rich and slightly waxy malt from the Southern Highlands, Aberfeldy distillery was founded by John Dewar and Sons and is still the feather in the cap of the company.
The distillery was founded in its current location in 1896, primarily because of the quality of the water from the Pitilie Burn. There was also an older, far less fortunate distillery nearby, which had ceased production by the time Aberfeldy began. This older distillery was also named Pitilie, so Aberfeldy’s pseudonym honours a lost distillery and a present source of water.
Rare Ayrshire – Distilled at Ladyburn Distillery, Lowlands
Ladyburn is a legendary distillery, incredibly rare and sought after by collectors. The distillery itself was built at the Girvan grain whisky site of William Grant & Sons in Ayrshire, and made a beautifully light, malty and citrussy single malt whisky, until it was closed down in 1975. Single malt bottles of Ladyburn from this 12 year period are exceptionally rare and can fetch incredible prices.
That’s why it’s very worthwhile knowing the trading name for casks of this precious nectar: Rare Ayrshire.
Strathdearn, Distilled at Tomatin Distillery, Highlands
Careful now, that’s Strathdearn with a ‘D’, not Strathearn without. This is a case where a single typo could lead to disaster. Strathearn is a tiny micro-distillery in the Southern Highlands, owned by Douglas Laing. Strathdearn is a broad valley just to the north of the Tomatin distillery (owned by Takara Shuzo co) in the Northern Highlands, and it’s the pseudonym for whisky distilled at Tomatin. Always read the label!
Whisky distilled here is known for its tremendous flexibility – Tomatin whisky is released in a huge variety of cask finishes and does amazing justice to them all. It also holds peat well, demonstrated by the Cù Bòcan brand.
Teithmill, Distilled at Deanston Distillery, Highlands
A medium bodied, dry and nutty whisky from the Southern Highlands. Deanston distillery has been operating since the 1960s – before that it was a pioneering textile mill that was one of the sparks that set off the Industrial Revolution. The mill was located alongside the fast-flowing river Teith, and constructed Europe’s largest waterwheel to extract mechanical energy from the flow. Deanston today still uses the waterwheel to fulfil some of the energy needs of the distillery. For these reasons it is a love-letter to the distillery’s past to call its whisky ‘Teithmill’.
Tombae, Distilled at Tamnavulin Distillery, Speyside
This is one that you may never see… but if you do see it, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking at and be one of the few. Tamnavulin is blended under the name ‘Tombae’. There are currently no single malts under the name, but that could change. Indeed; you could e the one to change it!
Tamnavulin distillery is in the town of Tomnavoulin along the river Livet in Speyside. The mismatch in spelling is because the town didn’t want such a close association to be drawn between it and the distillery. Even distilleries aren’t always free to name themselves as they wish, sometimes. Near Tomnavoulin is the tiny parish of Tombae, whose churchyard is the final resting place of George Grant, founder of Glenlivet. A great alternative name for a Tamnavulin whisky from Tomnavoulin.
Whitlaw, Distilled at Highland Park Distillery, Islands
Highland Park whisky has a wonderful honeyed core, like Viking mead, surrounded by soft, heathery Orkney smoke. The distillery has a very tight grip on their official brand, leaning into the Norse history and traditions that have shaped the Orkney islands.
Independently bottled whiskies distilled at Highland Park are often called ‘Secret Orkney’ – which poses a mystery as intriguing as flipping a coin that’s weighted to always come up heads. There are only two distilleries on Orkney. Alternatively, the name of the Whitlaw hills that serve as the backdrop and water source for the distillery is a fine pseudonym for this malt.
Williamson, Distilled at Laphroaig Distillery, Islay
Laphroaig is famously one of the most peated whiskies from Islay, and thus all of Scotland. The tang of seaweed and iodine make this one characteristic enough that a pseudonym won’t hide its identity for long.
Breaking with tradition, Laphroaig have not chosen a geographic feature as their pseudonym, but a person – one of the great figures in the distillery’s history.
Elizabeth (Bessie) Williamson managed Laphroaig distillery between 1938 – 1972 and was the first female distillery manager of the 20th century. During her management she anticipated the global shift towards interest in single malt whiskies, particularly in the US. Laphroaig single malt became a household name under her watch, and is still one of the most famous Scottish single malts today. This is why many casks of whisky distilled at Laphroaig are proud to bear the name ‘Williamson’.
The Secret Handshake:
These trade-names are the key to unlocking the secrets of the cask industry, the secret handshake that gets you backstage at the party. There are many familiar and famous casks of whisky, hiding in plain sight under less-familiar pseudonyms. Knowledge of these lets the cask owner navigate the market and quickly identify offers that others might miss. For independent bottlers and blenders, knowing these pseudonyms unlocks your ability to bottle something well and truly in your own style.
As these distillery alter-egos spend more time in the limelight, they may become brand names in their own right, as familiar and sought after as their original identities. Here’s the chance to get in before everybody knows!
Schedule a time to talk with a member of our team to learn more about this, or anything else you want to know about private cask ownership.