Knockdhu Distillery rose up opposite Black Hill in Banffshire exactly 125 years ago. While it did not operate continually (producing straight from 1894 to 1931 and then lengthy stints on and off again until full-time whisky-making resumed in 1989) its authentic heritage is undeniable. Today, the distillery produces an award-winning single malt Scotch whisky range under the name anCnoc (pronounced “a-nock”), Gaelic for “the hill.” This moniker references the brand’s origins: founder John Morrison’s vision of crystalline spring water running down Black Hill and into his Highland peatlands. But in many ways, as we explore in this September Scotch entry, it also alludes to the way historic facilities resume their place at the top.
The distillery once sat in the perfect storm of whisky production—the springs on the land offered much-needed water, barley grew in abundance on the plot, and peat could be found, too. While it’s uncommon these days for a Highland Scotch to be peated, anCnoc has a history of peat (though only select current releases incorporate it). Perhaps most fascinating though, the two copper stills (and worm tubes for cooling and condensing) used to produce the first-ever drops at Knockdhu are still used today. Methods have scarcely changed—and the products and our palates benefit.
Several whiskies have come and gone in anCnoc’s line, but high-value age statement single malts anchor their current core range. anCnoc employs both ex-bourbon casks from America and ex-sherry barrels from Spain. Their 18-Year exemplifies a thoughtful balance of both. Their 24 and 35-Year products offer stunning depth and consistency of flavor that links them all the way back to the entry level 12-Year. To reference their peated roots, however, anCnoc’s permanent line also includes Peatheart. Here, the peat is kept under control and only accents the brand’s gentler flavors. anCnoc also bottles two thoughtful travel retail expressions.
This year, two special UK-only commemorative limited edition releases honor the 125th anniversary. The first, anCnoc 16 Years Old Cask Strength (£100), represents the best of their non-peated core range with sweet notes and flavors of butterscotch, coconut and vanilla. As the name implies, it does pack a punch with its very high ABV (56.3%). The second release, a 125 Year anniversary peated whisky (£80), eases drinkers into wood smoke and sweet, burnt caramel. Only 500 bottles of each have been released and should have collectors everywhere interested.
Unlike the work of many of their peers, anCnoc’s bottle design and packaging look quite modern. This decision successfully reflects what one finds inside (a fresh, complex liquid) rather than the historic production techniques. These design decisions should speak to consumers that while the methods may be historic, the liquid is ready to be enjoyed today. Knockdhu Distillery also receives visitors and offers tours, which they recommend people book in advance.
Images courtesy of anCnoc