1 October 2009--Raymond's presentation this morning is on the resurrection of the Bladnoch distillery. He
is supposed to be interviewed by a whisky journalist who has apparently forgotten the date, so Dave Broom fills in. He
doesn't really need to ask questions so much as just to give Raymond a nudge; off he goes. (It occurs to me that yesterday's
monologue was a bit of rehearsal.) It's a fascinating story.
Raymond bought the inactive distillery as a real estate investment, thinking to turn the lovely stone buildings into holiday
cottages. It was a condition of the sale that the distillery would not be made active again. However, after a couple of
years, he was made aware of the significance of the asset he was sitting on, by whisky lovers and members of the local
community. The Machars was economically depressed at the time, and there was a growing effort to improve things. There was
a meeting at which a young lad stood up and said, "Instead of waiting for handouts from the government, you
should get off your asses and do something." Whether that call to action was truly pivotal or not, it stands out in his mind
to this day.
There followed protracted legal wrangling with Diageo, the enormous international corporation from which he'd bought the property. There was a point at which he was to have been allowed to distill under license, effectively becoming a Diageo dependent, and shortly after that--after he'd invested considerable money in the plant, which Diageo had intentionally partially dismantled--a point when they changed their collective corporate mind. After an angry exchange, Diageo offered to sell him a considerable amount of back stock at a very low price, which would have allowed him to turn a handsome profit. This was a sop for having reneged on the original deal, and Diageo was astonished when he turned it down. By now he was determined to revive Bladnoch.
The break came when Scottish courts ruled, in an unrelated case, that the sort of condition placed on the property's sale was illegal, amounting to restraint of trade. Raymond was free to go ahead. One comes away with the sense that he is not only a shrewd and tenacious businessman, but also just a wee bit lucky. Raymond is the man who spit in Diageo's eye and lived to tell the tale. He has these past years been selling back stock of Bladnoch whisky, bought back from a variety of sources. None has come from Diageo. And two days hence, on 3 October 2009, he will release a bottling of eight-year-old Bladnoch, the first release of whisky distilled under Raymond Armstrong's watch. It is a momentous day for any distiller. It is hard to imagine the tenacity required to undertake a project which will not only take years of surmounting a panoply of obstacles to get underway, but then will bear no tangible fruit for eight years. Hats off to the man.
There are other events at the distillery this afternoon, but I'm bound for the Rhins of Galloway, to visit the Logan Botanic Garden. To my dismay, the sun disappears as I head down the Rhins, which pokes south into the Irish Sea. I spend an hour going around, anyway. Logan is an adjunct of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, specializing in exotic plants from the southern hemisphere. It's marvelous, and I am enthralled not only with the color, but with the extraordinary fragrance of the place. I'm just about to leave when the sun comes out! So I go around again, rephotographing lots of flowers.
I run down to see the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway. I've been here before, and I'm a bit short of time, but I don't see how I can pass on Scotland's most southerly point after having been to its northernmost, in Shetland. From Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway, again. I photograph the foghorn, but don't take the time to walk down. After all, I didn't set foot on the Outstack, either--it's enough to see it.
I'm back at Bladnoch in time for Dave Broom's Lowland whisky tasting. Broom is informative, animated, and entertaining, and we taste distillery bottlings of Bladnoch, Glenkinchie, and Auchentoshan, and independent bottlings of the grain whisky Cameronbridge, and the defunct St Magdelene and Rosebank. These latter two distilleries are long closed and dismantled, a stark reminder of the fate facing Bladnoch before Armstrong came along. And a sorry and shameful fate it is...the St Maggie is a lovely dram, and the Rosebank, a bottling from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, is by head and shoulders the best whisky of the tasting. Broom tells us of some of the factors that led Diageo to keep Glenkinchie and close Rosebank. None of them have anything to do with quality.
There are more events this evening--a performance by the winner and finalists in the BBC Young Traditional Musicians competition that I'd dearly love to see, storytelling by whisky bard Robin Laing, and a midnight tasting--but I am staying fifteen miles distant, and I've had no supper. So back to Isle of Whithorn I go. I might regret not planning this day better, but I really can't complain about what has been a very good day indeed.