Ghost Distillery: Imperial Distillery

Words by: Simon Difford
Pictures by: Rob Lawson

15:46 GMT // 7 Aug 2012

Although still standing, Imperial remains closed - it has only actually been in production during 45 years of its 115 year history. There are few bottlings and there has only ever been one official bottling. Imperials production has always been used for blending rather than bottled as a single malt. Consequently, Imperial has a rarity that makes it an interesting malt for collectors.

The fact that Imperial has been closed for more than half its life does not bode well for its future, especially with the potential for residential redevelopment. Such a turbulent history and rocky future make the only official bottling of Imperial, a 15 years old expression from Allied Domecq, popular with collectors. There are also numerous third-party bottlings available which we'd recommend as an interesting dram/investment. See http://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/B-40-Imperial.aspx

Imperial Distillery lies in the hamelt of Carron amongst pine forests 60 fet above the River Spey, off the A95, past Diageo's Dailuaine Distillery and not far from the town of Aberlour in Morayshire, Scotland. One of the reasons for this location being chosen was its proximity to a railway line but like many other local branch lines this closed in the late 1960s and the disused Carron railway station sits as idle as the adjacent distillery. The former railway is now a long distance footpath called the Speyside Way.

History


1897 - Established
Constructed by Thomas Mackenzie, an entrepreneur who already owned two other malt distilleries (Dailuaine and Talisker). Building started in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the year that the British Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, hosted the first Imperial conference. This obviously influenced the naming of the distillery which stands out from that of most others which are named after their location. This Queen's Jubilee was celebrated with the building being topped with a gilded cast-iron crown. This was eventually removed in 1955 due to corrosion.

1898 - Completed
Production was completed in the summer of 1898 just as the Victorian whisky boom was starting to fade. Designed to be fire resistant by architect Charles Doig, Imperial is built of red Aberdeen brick with an iron beam and pillar framework. This was an important development in distillery design as previously they were constructed from the local stone. The first mash at the distillery was on 2nd July 1898.

1898 - Ownership change
Mackenzie also held interests in Talisker and Dailuaine Distillery (the latter lies a short drive away on the road to the A95) and as production from his new Imperial Distillery commenced, he decided to consolidate his distilling interests into Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries Ltd and this company assumed the administration of all three distilleries. At the time Imperial was claimed to be the largest distillery in the Highlands.

1899 - Silent
Imperial did not get off to an auspicious start and in the summer of the next year it closed, a casualty of Pattison Whisky Crisis which sent shock waves through the industry after Pattison's of Leith, whisky blenders and distillery owners collapsed with enormous debts. Production at Imperial had barely lasted a year.

1915-1916 - Acquired
Imperial was partially acquired by Distillers Company Limited (DCL), a consortium comprising James Buchanan, John Walker and John Dewar which was eventually become what we know today as Diageo.

1919 - Reopened
Production resumed at Imperial after lying silent for 20 years, possibly due to a major fire disrupting production at nearby Dailuaine.

1925 - Mothballed
DCL (Distillers Company Limited) acquired 100% of Imperial but that same year also ceased operations at the distillery, bringing to an end a short six year burst of production. However, the maltings remained active.

1930 - Management Change
The management of Imperial was taken over by Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd (SMD), a Scottish subsidiary of DCL.

1954 - More power
The turbine which generated the distillery's power from the Ballintom Burn became redundant as the distillery was connected to the National Grid.

1955 - Reopened
Imperial is reopened by SMD after extensive renovations, which included the removal of the now rusty and somewhat superfluous crown and the installation of an evaporator and spray drying as part of an experiment in pot ale drying.

1964-65 - Expansion
An expansion program by SMD saw the number of stills doubled from two to four, heated by mechanical coal stokers.

1967 - Floor Maltings Replaced
A Saladin malting by Thomas Mackenzie was installed to malt the barley. The adjacent railway is closed the same year.

1969 - Stills converted
The four stills are converted to steam heating.

1983-1984 - Maltings closed

1985 - Mothballed
Imperial was closed by SMD and the distillery mothballed bringing a production period of 30 years to an end, the longest in Imperial's shaky history.

1989 - Acquired
Sold to Allied Distillers (would become part of the Allied Domecq conglomerate) who refurbished the distillery.

1991 - Production resumed

1998 - Mothballed
The last production at Imperial was on St Andrew's Day. Mothballed once again.

2000 - Officially closed
Allied Domecq announced that it was making the closure of Imperial permanent and applications were filed and granted by Moray Council for demolition of the distillery buildings and construction of housing.

2005 - Acquired
Imperial was bought by Pernod Ricard's Chivas Brothers as part of the dismembering of the former Allied Domecq empire. Instructions to estate agents, Bell Ingram, to sell Imperial for redevelopment were withdrawn. Although still silent, the distillery received a stay of execution.

Present - Mothballed
Imperial remains mothballed in the ownership of Pernod Ricard. Most of the plant remains intact but Imperial is a large old-fashioned distillery without the benefit of a famous single malt name. It is considered too large for an entrepreneur to save and too small and inefficient to run as a provider of blending malt.

Production


Both production and process water for cooling water was fed by gravity two-and-a-half-miles from the Ballintom Burn, itself fed by the runoff from Mannoch hills. A turbine which can still be seen also generated the distillery's power.

Imperial is equipped with one stainless steel mash tun with traditional mixing gear, six larch wood washbacks and two pairs of copper pot stills (2x wash stills and 2x spirit stills).

Imperial 15 Year Old (official distillery bottling)


40% alc./vol.

This 1990s bottling by Allied Domecq is the only ever official distillery bottling of Imperial single malt whisky.

Appearance: Clear, mid golden.
Aroma: Sherry notes are very evident on a honeyed nose with baked pear, freshly baked hot cross buns and candied lemon.
Taste: Some initial sweetness, sherried fruit with woody tannins and a snap of lemon zest. Touch of salty smoke.
Aftertaste: Salty brazil nuts and leather with lingering fruit sweetness.
diffordsguide rating: 4.5/5


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