This month we’re more than a little excited to offer our members an exclusive, history-making single malt launch from one of the world’s biggest names in blended Scotch. Hailing from an ‘undiscovered distillery’ in the Speyside region, it normally serves as the foundation single malt for Ballantine’s famous blend but is now being given the chance to stand tall on its own in Ballantine’s first ever single malt series. We give you: Ballantine’s The Miltonduff Single Malt Scotch Whisky, aged 15 years.
So, what’s the story with The Miltonduff and how did it come to be a part of Ballantine’s?
Located just a stone’s throw from in Elgin, The Miltonduff Distillery sits in the barley-rich pastures of the Glen of Pluscarden, which if you love whisky would have been a surprisingly thrilling place to have been back in the early 1800s when it was home to as many as 50 illicit stills. If we wind the clock back even further than that, it was the site of the meal mill of the nearby Pluscarden Abbey, founded in 1236 by Benedictine monks. They’ve even kept a stone from the original Abbey at the distillery in its honour.
The distillery operated illicitly from the turn of the 1800s until the Excise Act in 1824 legalised whisky production and the distillery finally became a legitimate business, founded by Andrew Peary and Robert Bain and given the name The Miltonduff – named after Milton Farm where the distillery was located, and the Duff family who owned the surrounding lands.
Ownership changed hands several times over the years, most notably when Thomas Yool & Co became a shareholder in 1895. The new funds he injected into the business meant the distillery could undergo major expansion – and not a moment too soon given the whisky boom that was hitting Scotland at the time. Yool took control and full ownership a few years later and by the end of the century The Miltonduff was one of the largest whisky producers in Scotland, pumping the good stuff out at a rate of more than one million litres per year.
The distillery was soon to catch the eye – or tastebuds – of investors with even deeper pockets however. Canada’s largest distiller Hiram Walker – Gooderham & Worts had made huge profits smuggling alcohol into the USA during Prohibition and were looking to expand into Scotland. They acquired George Ballantine and Son Ltd in 1935 then quickly started to look around for a stable supply of quality Scotch to fulfil ever-growing demand. The answer to their prayers was of course our whisky distillery of the month, and virtually all The Miltonduff’s production from thereon in went to supply whisky for Ballantine’s blends, with only the odd standalone release.
The Miltonduff was one of the only Speyside distilleries to use triple distillation, and in 1964 they added another distilling innovation to their whisky bow when a pair of Lomond stills was installed to make their new Mosstowie brand of whisky. As you may remember from our whiskies past, Lomond stills represented the first real innovation in still design for around 100 years. They’re used for batch distillation just like a regular pot still, but can also control reflux through the apparatus similarly to coffey stills, by way of three perforated plates that could be cooled independently. Crucially, this adaptable design allowed different styles of whisky to be made all in the one still.
Further upgrades to the distillery in 1974 saw production capacity increase to over 5 million litres per year, however incredibly this was still not enough Miltonduff for Ballantine’s needs, and combined with a low demand for Mosstowie, the Lomond Stills were removed in 1981 to make way for additional pot stills to allow them to focus purely on increased whisky production.
The final sequence of ownership played out over the last 30 years, with Allied Lyons, having bought most of the stocks in Hiram Walker during 1986, purchasing the group outright in 1987. Allied Lyons merged with Pedro Domecq and was then acquired by Chivas Brothers’ parent company Pernod Ricard, who took over the distillery in 2005.
Single malt distillery bottlings from The Miltonduff have been very few and far between, with 10 and 12 years old releases in the 1970s through 1990s, along with a number of independent bottlers’ releases of 10, 15 and 22 years old expressions. Miltonduff also appeared in the Caledonian Malts line-up in 1991. And, as you know, this history-making release is the first ever official bottling under Ballantine’s.
With a production capacity now standing at 5.9 million litres, The Miltonduff was Allied Distillers’ largest distillery, and remains one of Pernod Ricard’s biggest, with production figures only bettered by Glenlivet. The distillery consists of six pot stills – three wash stills at 18,000 litres capacity each, and three spirit stills at 17,500 litres each. Water is supplied from the nearby Black Burn, which freely flows from springs just near the old Abbey, and the malt is from local Speyside sources.
So, now you know all you need to know about The Miltonduff Distillery, perhaps it’s time for a quick refresher on the behemoth that is Ballantine’s.