It's my third Burns' Night and I wanted to select my whiskies with a theme - just three this time, at the end of a dinner at Pallant, the restaurant in our incredible art gallery in Chichester. Could I find a selection of good drams from distilleries that were operational during Burns' short lifetime, from 1759-1796?
Preparation of background information often simply regenerates details which might be 'alternative facts' as opposed to what actually happened... For years Glenturret (1775), Bowmore (1779), Strathisla (1786), Balblair (1790) and Oban (1794) have been accepted as the five oldest (working) distilleries in Scotland but research at Glasgow University (begun in 2007, not this year as I said on this video) is challenging these accepted facts. This is detailed on the Bruichladdich website but the gist is that Excise Records suggest that Glenturret and Bowmore were founded some 35 years later than previously thought - perhaps they were farm operations evading paying excise until the later dates?
Back to history as suggested today! Glasgow's research seems happy with the date of 1786 for the founding of Strathisla, and also with 1790 for Balblair. The latter have continuous distillation records from 1800 onwards for all their spirits, a treasure indeed. The interesting 'alternative facts' that have come to light in the Glasgow research concern the third distillery in my Burns' Night line-up, Glen Garioch, which currently states its founding date as 1797. This would be after Burns' death but there is a possibility that a report from 1785 in the Aberdeen Journal, referring to the sale of spirits at the Meldrum Distillery, might indeed be referring to a previous name for Glen Garioch which is at Meldrum. Even with my maths that makes the distillery 12 years older than previously thought, and potentially the oldest in Scotland.
As far as I know the research is not yet complete and the whisky companies et al have not yet agreed as to who should actually be achknowledged as the oldest whisky distillery in Scotland. I think it does matter when you think of the revenue from whisky tourism - the rewards of being able to claim pole position would be immense, and when the whisky on offer today is as mouth-filling and delicious as the Founder's Reserve I think I would be thinking about extending the Glen Garioch Meldrum distillery car park!