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Issue 19 - Name the date

Scotland Magazine Issue 19
March 2005

 

This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Name the date

Tullibardine distillery's new shop, 1488, is named after a key historical date. But with heads set in the future, it's part of Scotland's newest shopping experience. Kate Patrick reports

The first distillery to be built in the 20th century was the work of the engineer William Delme Evans, who sited his new baby where a brewery had been, on the other side of Auchterarder from Tullibardine Moor, just on the cusp of the Highlands.

The story goes that an illicit still had once operated on the moor; and one day in 1947, a tradesman arrived at the new (legal) distillery and asked: “Is this Tullibardine distillery?” “It is now,” Delme Evans is reputed to have replied, even though ‘Blackford distillery’ would better have described its location.

Like so many independent distilling enterprises, Tullibardine ended up in the hands of a bigger company, and was subsequently left dormant for some nine years, until an ambitious rescue operation was mounted in 2003: to reopen the distillery for both whisky production and visitors, add a tasting area, restaurant and shop… and then build five or six more shops, effectively turning Tullibardine into an upmarket, well-out-oftown, distinctively Scottish shopping centre, with a distillery for anyone who wasn’t necessarily interested in shopping or eating.

There was sound method to this plan. Just an hour north of both Edinburgh and Glasgow, Tullibardine could reasonably be incorporated into anyone’s tourist route further north into the Highlands, or just treated as a day trip from either of Scotland’s capitals.

As it is, 2.8 million people live within an hour’s drive – as opposed to 600,000 for the very successful putative rival House of Bruar on the A9 – and Gleneagles Hotel is just a couple of good four-irons away over the heathery Ochil hills.

Then there’s that innate, romantic attraction to seeing whisky distilled in the Highlands that you don’t get from, say, making a quick trip to Glenkinchie in the Lowlands just south of Edinburgh; somehow here you feel that Rob Roy is just around the corner.

And a good rescue story has the capability to warm the cockles of one’s heart every bit as effectively as a Highland dram. So with an immense amount of goodwill, four partners took up the challenge in 2003.

They fired up the boilers, polished the stills, acquired the lease on some more land and started on the new shopping complex: a contemporary construction whose design neatly mirrors the arcing rooves of the old warehouses. The first new tenant to sign up, well before completion, was the redoubtable Scottish food company Baxters, which agreed to occupy at least half of the new space and create an exciting flagship for its own – and other Scottish – high-quality products.

In mid-November this year, the first phase was completed, and the distillery and its accompanying shop, Tullibarbine 1488, opened. The new name anchors the place to the date on which the first ever recorded transaction of beer took place: it was for the coronation of the Scots Kings James IV, and it came from the brewery that was originally sited here.

The distillery shows how far ahead of Victorian builders William Delme Evans had gone; an expert in productivity methods, he showed how you could site mashtuns, washbacks and tall, majestic stills in a relatively compact space, so that one worker could supervise all three, thereby dramatically reducing staffing costs. He also incorporated ingenious energy-saving devices to lessen the power requirement.

Michael Beamish, one of the new owning consortium, explained: “The previous owner, Whyte & Mackay, thankfully had not cannibalised the distillery when it stopped using it in 1994. So the pipes were all still attached, and it was possible to get it up and running again relatively easily. Sadly we were unable to recommission the distillery before Delme Evans died, in November 2003.” Visitors will find that there’s always some activity at the distillery, and will come away with a sense of that pervasive warmth and smell that goes with the whisky process.

Adjacent to the stills is the newly fitted tasting and nosing area, with wall panels depicting news snippets of some of the major world events in 1964, 1973 and 1988: the three years which Tullibardine has initially bottled to sell.

A cavernous, cool, damp warehouse is racked with casks of maturing whisky – you can buy one and watch it grow old. And what of the shopping? Well, so far, with 1488 open, there’s enough to tempt you in. When Baxters opens this year, alongside the outdoor gear specialists Tiso and four other retailers, it will be a positive day out (although coach parties are by appointment, and there’s only room for three at a time).

1488 has a bit of everything, much of it made in Scotland by small, ‘kitchen-table’ businesses. It is divided, loosely, into whisky-themed sections: the landscape, the knowledge, the process, the water, the warehouse.

Ever inquisitive, I made for the ‘knowledge’ section which covers products associated with personal wellbeing. Aroma Sciences is Liz and George Dodd’s collection of soaps, toiletries and fragrances handcrafted from natural ingredients at their studio on Loch Ewe.

Shetland Soaps are also there, their names conjuring up the wild, wind-tossed landscape from which they have come.

Liz and Jenna Hume’s contemporary collection of interior textiles inspired by the colours and shapes of the oceans and shoreline around the remote Orkney island of Westray are for sale: throws and cushions in knitted, natural fibres that fit well into modern bedrooms and sitting rooms. A denim-effect throw was particularly distinctive, and its price tag of £295 reflected the work put into creating it, not to mention the miles it had travelled.

Anthony Butler’s Shaker-style woodwork boxes and trays occupied one area: he has always admired the simplicity and functionality at the heart of Shaker culture, and the way in which designs created 200 years ago have a resonance in contemporary, minimal culture. AB Woodworking’s immaculately crafted Shaker boxes start at £18.95.

Glassware from Mike Hunter’s Twists Glass Studio in the Scottish Borders made a gleaming display: he plays with shape and colour in an ingenious way, and his gem-coloured bowls (£39.95) caught my eye.

Whisky tasting glasses by Glencairn crystal were on display in the modest area of the shop that sells Tullibardine’s whisky itself – alongside Tullibardine fudge and honeycomb. Traditional ceramics from the Tain Pottery provided the expected injection of ‘modern' tartan with a twist; and there were games, books, candles and gifts galore.

Baxters’ plans for its part of the development bode well for dedicated shoppers, not least because pieces from Pringle are on the agenda – a business which has reinvented itself as quite the modern way to wear Scottish knitwear. It will also have a food hall, with its own and other well-sourced brands of Scottish produce and a cook shop which can be used for demonstrations (Clare Macdonald, are you listening?) A 313-seat restaurant will have the full waiter service, but if you’re after something nourishing and swift, the distillery restaurant, Café 1488, which is open already, is a restful place to relax.

With a wall of windows that overlook the Ochil Hills and landscape paintings by modern Scottish colourist Cara McKinnon-Crawford, Café 1488 is cool and contemporary, and would make a great venue for a party or corporate event.

The self-service counter reflects the chef’s passion for patisserie, but also serves Aberdeen Angus beef from local Netherton Farm – from cattle which have been fed on the draff from the distillery. A neat circle of life, this – and also a must for anyone who counts food miles.

Eventually, we’ll be able to wash down our black pudding with a pint of Beer 1488, which will be made using water from the distilling process – a concept of which William Delme Evans would surely have thoroughly approved.