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Our Brands

AnnandaleDistillery currently markets its products via a combination of 6 different brands (and sub-brands):

Annandale Distillery – branding for the distillery per se and first tier branding for Annandale Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Man O’Sword® and Man O’Words®– the second tier branding for Annandale’s prestigious peated and unpeated Single Malts, respectively.

Vintage and Founders Selection – tertiary branding for Man O’Sword and Man O’Words (described in detail the ‘Our Malts’ section of this website).

Rascally Liquor® (Rascally) – branding for our very drinkable clear malt spirit

Nation of Scots® – Annandale’s primary blendedScotch Whisky that reaches out to the 25 million people worldwide with Scottish heritage.

For those interested in brand development, Man O’ Sword and Man O’ Words branding makes an interesting, unusual and unique case study. It’s also very unusual for so much commercial detail to be shared in the public domain.

The modern Annandale distillery produces two types of single malt whisky, both matured in American oak barrels – an unpeated spirit that’s described as “smooth and sophisticated”, while a peated version is depicted as “strong and powerful”. The contrasting styles are a reflection of the Lowlands’ peated whisky past, and its modern reputation as a region that produces softer styles.

The original Annandale Distillery was built in 1830 by former Elgin-based excise officer George Donald, who named the site after the valley in which it is situated. Using water from the Middleby Burn for the whisky and the Guillielands Burn for cooling and power, the distillery produced single malt whisky for 90 years.

Donald ran the distillery until 1883 when it passed to John S. Gardner & Son, the namesake of which kept cows, pigs and horses on-site, feeding the animals on the draff and leftover grain from the distillery. Under Gardner’s tenure the distillery underwent a modest expansion, and at the height of its production was making 28,000 gallons of spirit annually.

Just 13 years later John Walker & Sons purchased the site, but the now renowned whisky group had grander ideas up its sleeve. Come 1919 the company decided to abandon Annandale to concentrate on developing its signature blended whisky, Johnnie Walker. By 1921 the distillery was closed, its fittings stripped for use elsewhere.

The site passed into the hands of the Robinson family, who were famous for producing Provost porridge oats. What was left of the distillery became a production line for the breakfast cereal brand, while the bonded warehouses were used to house cattle. The remainder of the buildings fell into a state of disrepair.

In 2007, the site was purchased by the Annandale Distillery Company, led by husband-and-wife owners David Thomson and Teresa Church, who also own market research operation, MMR Group. The duo set about painstakingly returning the site back to its former glory over a seven-year period that cost in the region of £10.5 million.

Production of two significant whisky styles began in November 2014, named Man O’ Words after the poet Robert Burns, and Man O’Sword after Scottish warrior Robert the Bruce. Casks of both are available to purchase before the spirit is mature enough to be called whisky. The Annandale Distillery Company put a price tag of £1 million on the first cask filled on 15 November 2014.

500.000 Ltrs
Copper shell and tube
66-96 hours
Peated (45ppm) and unpeated
Bairds and Pencaitland
Semi-lauter, domed
Tall, slim necked, boil ball
One wash, 2 spirit
Dunnage in two-level sandstone warehouse
Douglas fir
Unpeated malt uses Fermentis Safwhisky M-1 and Mauri Distillers; unpeated uses Mauri Distillers

Annandale Distillery Company logo
Annandale Distillery Company
2014 - present
John Walker & Sons
1896 - 1921
John S Gardner
1883 - 1896
George Donald & Co
1830 - 1883


Annandale Distillery

We’re often asked why we took on the Annandale Distillery project. Most people seem to expect a rational and well-considered answer from two (hopefully) sane scientists-cum-business people, possibly alluding to return on investment, diversification of business interests and the like. Others expect to hear something about a lifelong dream or a passion for whisky, or something of the sort. Although both of these may have been contributing influences, the truth of the matter is rather different. Although he didn’t necessarily realise it at the time, David Thomson, being an expatriate Scot, was looking to do something that would anchor his life back to his native Scotland. Teresa Church, the other member of the founding duo, has an enduring passion for restoring old buildings. Through her visionary lens, the intrinsic beauty of Annandale’s historic buildings shone brightly through the dilapidation, the decay and the dereliction. For both of them, Annandale Distillery was a case of ‘love at first sight’…and every bit as irrational and unfathomable as that!

From the very start, we were intrigued to know why there had been so few whisky distilleries in the South of Scotland. At that time (2006/7), Annandale Distillery had been closed for almost 90 years and Bladnoch Distillery (near Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire) was in the process of fizzling out under very sad circumstances. This left William Grant’s gigantic grain distillery at Girvan and Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery to the east of Edinburgh, as the only functioning whisky distilleries in the South of Scotland (although neither of these are truly southern in a strictly geographic sense). Previously, there had been two other distilleries in the Scottish Borders, Glen Tarras and Langholm, but both had ceased production in the early 1900s.

In seeking an explanation, it’s immediately evident that the climate in South West Scotland would have been too damp for growing the barley cultivars of 100 – 150 years ago. But otherwise, there would have been an abundance of water, peat and coal, and the weather (damp and mild) would have been ideal for maturing whisky. Also, by the 1890s, Southern Scotland had a well-established rail network which should have made inward transportation of barley and outward transportation of finished whisky, relatively straightforward. (Surely, any challenges facing South of Scotland distillers would have been nothing compared to the challenges faced by Islay’s distillers.) This led us to the inescapable conclusion that there isn’t, and probably never has been, a fundamental reason why first class Single Malt Scotch whisky couldn’t and shouldn’t be produced in Southern Scotland. Clearly, there was a point to prove!

Southern Scotland falls within the ‘Lowland’ whisky region of Scotland. According to various of the coffee table books on Scotch whisky, Lowland Single Malts are characteristically light in colour and dry in finish. This is apparently attributed to the nature of the barley used by Lowland distillers. What arrant nonsense! Most distillers source their malted barley from all over Scotland, depending on cost and availability. If barley regionality has ever played a part in determining the character of Lowland Single Malts (which is doubtful), it certainly doesn’t now. Colour has everything to do with the type of oak barrels used to mature the whisky and almost nothing to do with regional differences in barley.

Lowland malts are often described as having a sweet fruitiness (specifically citrus by some accounts). Being mellow in character, they apparently make a good aperitif and provide a readily accessible entry point for inexperienced whisky drinkers who wish to approach the Single Malt category (with caution). More piffle and poppycock! The truth of the matter is that the modern genre of Lowland Single Malts is a wishy washy aberration created by marketers hoping to build a plausible back story for regional provenance in Single Malts. Historically, malt whiskies from Southern Scotland would have been peated because of the abundance of peat for kilning barley. (Southern Scotland is very boggy!) In his wonderful ‘time capsule’ book… ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ published in 1887, Alfred Barnard makes specific reference to both Annandale and Bladnoch, the two principal distilleries of Southern Scotland, using peat for kilning!

The simple truth is that any regional differences that may exist within Single Malt Scotch whisky category are more a matter of design than genuine ‘terroir’, although it is acknowledged that differences in the climates of Islay (mild, windy and rain-lashed Islay) versus Speyside (drier and colder in the Winter), for example, could influence the rate and nature of maturation.

Having disabused ourselves of any notion of regional terroir, this left us with a blank canvas for creating sensory profiles for Annandale’s Single Malts. The next decision was relatively easy: Annandale should produce a peated malt (as it would have done historically) and an unpeated malt (largely for commercial reasons). In doing this, it was imperative that Annandale’s peated and unpeated expressions should have a common core of sensory characteristics that define them as being ‘Annandale’. This wasn’t going to be easy!

Back in 2007, Scotland already had more than 100 Single Malt distilleries. As a matter of due diligence, we felt compelled to ask ourselves whether or not Scotland actually needed another distillery? Although we reasoned that Scotland (as a whole) probably didn’t, we were very clear that the South of Scotland definitely did. Indeed, reintroducing Single Malt Scotch Whisky production into the South of Scotland became one of our primary motivations and our passion!

The second consideration was much more complicated: What should Annandale’s peated and unpeated Single Malts taste like? Producing Single Malts in the style of Islay and Speyside, for our peated and unpeated expressions, respectively, didn’t seem sensible. Surely, if whisky drinkers wanted an ‘Islay style’ malt, they’d buy one from an Islay distillery? The same rationale applied to our unpeated malt and Speyside. The challenge was to produce peated and unpeated Single Malts that were different from other Single Malts on the market, whilst still fitting within and forming a credible part of the sensory universe of Single Malt Scotch whisky.

The foregoing deliberations led to a 4-point product development brief for Annandale’s Single Malts:

1.)  Peated and unpeated expressions

2.)  The peated and unpeated expressions should have obvious sensory commonalities/overlaps

3.)  Unique and different from all other Single Malts (characteristically Annandale)

4.)  Fit within, and be a credible part of, the sensory universe of Single Malt Scotch whisky

With over 100 Single Malt Scotch whisky distilleries (in 2007) producing multiple expressions (e.g. age, cask type/finish, etc.), there are literally thousands of Single Malts for consumers to choose from. Although the sensory universe of Single Malts was inevitably going to be very crowded, was there any ‘white space’ (i.e. gaps in the sensory universe) where we could credibly insert Annandale’s peated and unpeated expressions?

To explore this, we used a form of sensory profiling known as descriptive sensory analysis. This work was undertaken by a panel of 12 highly trained, professional sensory assessors working for our sister company, MMR Research Worldwide ( in Reading, UK. MMR’s professional sensory assessors routinely work across a wide range of food, beverage, personal care and even homecare products, so they’re vastly experienced in deconstructing holistic sensory perceptions into their constituent sensory characteristics, describing these sensory characteristics very precisely and then quantifying the magnitude of each sensory characteristic in each product.

We selected approximately 60 Single Malts for sensory profiling. These were mainly standard distillery expressions such as Aberlour 10, Ardbeg 10, Bowmore 12, etc., etc., chosen using David Wishart’s excellent book ‘Whisky Classified – Choosing Single Malts by Flavour’ to guide our initial selection. It was important that we should sample the sensory universe as thoroughly as possible whilst restricting the number of whiskies to a sensible, practical maximum. (Sensory profiling is very time consuming and expensive but extremely effective.)

The sensory panel developed an extensive, sensory lexicon to describe the appearance, odour, flavour, mouthfeel and finish of the whiskies. We deliberately avoided using established sensory vocabularies for Scotch whisky, allowing the assessors to use their extensive experience in sensory description to create their own bespoke vocabulary. The assessors then systematically quantified the magnitude of each sensory characteristic in each of the 60 Single Malts. This process was conducted over a period of 12 months using a carefully structured sampling plan to reduce the effects of sensory fatigue and other biases. All of the Single Malts were assessed at 20% ABV (as is typical for master blenders). Each whisky was profiled at least twice by each of the sensory assessors to provide a very robust data set. The data (12 assessors X 2 replicates) was averaged within each sensory characteristic, within each whisky to yield and averaged sensory profile for each of the 60 whiskies.

A statistical procedure known as Analysis of Variance identified which sensory characteristics were most effective in discriminating amongst the whiskies.  Thereafter, Principal Component Analysis was used to create a 2-dimensional map of the sensory universe of our Single Malt Scotch whiskies.

The horizontal axis of the sensory map differentiates the whiskies by degree of peaty character, with the most extreme, peaty whiskies positioned towards the right of the map (e.g. Laphroaig 10, Ardbeg 10 and Kilchoman) and the least peaty whiskies towards the left (e.g. Glenlivet 10 and Glefiddich 12). The vertical axis is defined by the heavily sherry-matured malts towards the top (most especially Macallan Sherry Wood and Aberlour A’bunadh) which are characterised by brown fruit and molasses/dark sweet attributes (fruity/dark) with the non-sherry matured malts such as Cardhu 12, Longrow 10, and Glenkinchie 12 (i.e. those matured primarily in ex-bourbon casks) situated at the opposite extremity. These are characterised by sensory characteristics such as pear drops, orchard fruits and citrus. These lighter fruity/estery characteristics are the antithesis of the fruity/dark notes associated with sherry maturation.

Kilchoman and Ardbeg 10 standard expressions are located towards the bottom right hand corner of the sensory map because they combine heavy peating with fruity/estery characteristics. Lagavulin 16 and Bowmore 12 are also heavily peated but fruity/dark rather than fruity/estery, which locates  them towards the top right of the sensory map.

Glenmorangie 10, located towards the bottom left of the sensory map, is fruity/estery in character with a strong hint of vanilla (probably deriving from the once-used bourbon casks in which it was matured). Aberlour A’bunadh and Balvenie Doublewood 12 are both located towards the top left of the map because a significant proportion of the whisky used to create these Single Malts will have been matured in sherry butts or other sherry-conditioned casks.  

Much more detail could be extracted from this sensory map but suffice to say that there’s a large area of ‘white space’ towards the bottom right hand side of the map (i.e. to the left of Ardbeg 10, Kilchoman and Caol Ila 12). Realising this pleased us enormously because it created the possibility of developing a peated expression of Annandale that would be less heavily peated than Ardbeg 10 and Kilchoman, combined with distinctly sweet and fruity/estery notes. With this established, it was reasoned that Annandale’s unpeated expression should be located in an area of white space towards the bottom left corner of the map, beyond Longrow 10, Cardhu 12 and Glenmorangie 10. In doing this, it was hoped that we could create a unique fruity/estery, sweet, vanilla sensory complex that would define ‘Annandale’ and make it somewhat unique, whilst giving the peated and unpeated expressions a common sensory component. Positioning Annandale’s two standard expressions thus would, we hoped, satisfy all four of the development criteria mentioned previously.

By ‘reverse engineering’ the mathematics used to create the sensory map, it was possible for us to create ‘theoretical’ sensory profiles for our peated and unpeated expressions of Annandale. These data rich sensory profiles became the benchmarks against which everything that followed, in terms of plant design, production specifications and even our branding and packaging, would subsequently be developed.

Now we needed to find a genius who could design a plant and a process that would deliver whiskies with the target sensory profiles. Fortunately, we knew Dr Jim Swan!

Jim Swan and David Thomson had known each other since the mid-1980s when they’d met at a sensory conference in London. Jim was specialist in the chemistry and sensory evaluation of whisky flavour, working at Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research. David was a lecturer at the University of Reading where he taught and conducted academic research on sensory evaluation and consumer science/psychology. They had two other points in common; both were Scots, and both enjoyed Single Malt Scotch whisky. A bond was inevitably formed!

Jim and David met occasionally and otherwise kept loosely in touch over the intervening years. Having completed the purchase of the derelict distillery in 2007, Jim Swan was the first person we called (although common sense might have decreed that we should have called Jim before buying the distillery). We showed Jim the sensory map, explained the rationale behind the positions we’d selected for our ‘theoretical’ peated and unpeated sensory profiles and asked him three questions:

Q.1 Does this make sense? Yes!

Q.2 Could he design a production plant and specify a process that would make whiskies with these sensory specifications? Yes!

Q.3 Could we flip between peated and unpeated whisky production on the same plant? Yes!

Armed with the ‘theoretical’ sensory profiles for our peated and unpeated malts, Jim set about blending various malts together to make sure he understood the specifications and the brief perfectly. It goes without saying that he ‘nailed it’. Teresa, Jim, David and former Distillery Manager, Malcolm Rennie took the specifications and the malts to Forsyth’s of Rothes and so the process of designing a whisky making plant against two very tight sensory specifications began.

Details of our whisky-making plant are described elsewhere on this website. Suffice to say at this point that the desired fruity/estery character is achieved through very limited agitation of the grain bed during mashing and a unique combination of two very specific yeasts used in fermentation. The capacity to make both peated and unpeated spirit on the same plant required separate storage bins for the peated and unpeated malts at the beginning of the process, separate receivers for the peated and unpeated low wines, foreshots and feints at the end of the process……and some very elegant pipework.

The most significant feature of our plant was Jim Swan’s twin spirit still concept. Most Single Malt distilleries have one wash still paired with one spirit still. Annandale’s single copper wash still (12,000 litres) is paired with two copper spirit stills (2 x 4,000 litres). This increases the ratio of the surface area of copper to the volume of liquid (inside the spirit still). Enhanced copper contact during final distillation, leads to increased purification of the spirit due to the complexing of various impurities (especially sulphur compounds and long-chain fatty acids) with copper to form insoluble precipitates that sink to the bottom of the still and are discharged to effluent (spent lees). The fact that our unmatured new make spirit is extremely enjoyable to drink (straight), without a trace of harshness even at 63.5% ABV, is testimony to the efficacy of our process. (We sell this as peated and unpeated Rascally Liquor®.)

Sadly, Dr Jim Swan died suddenly in February 2017.

What it’s like being a distiller for the day
After the news that Annandale Distillery has listed on Airbnb for staycations and a distiller experience, Rosalind Erskine went along to find out the intricacies of making whisky.

By: Rosalind Erskine
Published: May 30, 2021
Categories: Distilleries, Whisky
“I walk about 23,000 steps a day, I’m always running up and down those stairs,” says Mark Trainor.

Mark is head of production and the mashman at the Annandale Distillery and I will spend the next eight hours shadowing him and senior distillery supervisor and stillman Darren Irving, to experience what it is like being a distiller for the day.

I’m delighted, not just because I have a year long unbroken run of 10,000 steps a day to carry on, but because I’m always keen to find out more about our national drink.

The Annandale Distillery was closed by owners Johnnie Walker in 1919 and was used as farm buildings until falling into disrepair.

Farmers Margaret and Robert Robinson sold the site to David Thomson and Teresa Church and the distillery was ‘reborn’ in 2014.

Mark and Darren were some of the first members of the production team and both helped out with the rebuilding and renovation work as the distillery took shape around them.

“It gave us a sense of pride and ownership,” says former care home manager Darren, who turns his hand to cask artwork when he’s not creating the new make spirit.

This sense of pride in their work is still evident from both men as they happily talked me through each stage of the whisky making process.

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Mark Trainor, Picture: Euan Cherry/PA
Darren Irving. Picture: Euan Cherry/PA Wire
This experience is available to visitors this summer, as the distillery has listed on Airbnb to offer a two night stay in an on-site cottage and a day at the distillery.

The day starts with the earliest alarm I can remember for some time thanks to working from home with no office commute.

After meeting a cheery Mark outside at 6.45am, it’s time to get stuck in. The sheer amount of information and interaction can be as full on or relaxed as required from each guest, but, having visited many distilleries for tours, I wanted to learn about it all.
Mark starts with his mashing process, which includes a trip to the mill room to switch on the coveted 60s Porteus mill.

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The distillery has some automation, but over half is done with man power, hence Mark’s record daily step count.

I find myself following him to switch valves on and off and monitor temperatures throughout the mashing process.

Mark knows every sound and intricate detail of his craft, as he explains that it’s down to him if there’s a significant drop in yield. An ex car mechanic, he often repairs machinery throughout the distillery and spent lockdown painting and cleaning the place.

It’s one of the cleanest distilleries I’ve ever visited, and a source of great pride for Mark.
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After mashing, we have wort which has been transferred into the washback, where I add the two types of yeast used.

While that’s left to eat up the sugars, Darren explains the work of the wash still and two spirit stills, and how, where and why he cuts the liquid to get the Annandale new make spirit, which is also sold alongside the distillery’s whiskies.

There’s a lot of maths here, but luckily there’s a calculator and a log book with times and tables, making it easy(ish) to understand.

The spirit is directed into a large spirit tank below and, after returning to Mark to help empty the mash tun, Darren and I start the process of working out how much water to add to the spirit before it can then be put into casks.

Cue more maths, a hydrometer, thermometer and measuring stick. We do this three times, for accuracy, and before I know it, I’m being presented with a small bottle of new make spirit that I helped create in a morning.
Before heading back to my cottage, Mark shows me around the dunnage warehouse, and we wander up to the newly built warehouses on site, which is slowly starting to be filled with casks.

I’m staying in the two bed Stables cottage, which is handily just a two minute walk to the distillery.

It has views of the pagoda from its garden, which has a large hot tub, BBQ and outdoor seating. Inside there’s an en suite double room, twin room, large family bathroom with corner bath and open plan living room, dining and kitchen.

It’s immaculately decorated with hardwood flooring throughout and all on one level - making it ideal for those with disabilities.

If, like me, you’re completely unprepared for self-catering, there’s a welcome hamper of bread, juice, biscuits, prosecco and chocolates as well as tea, coffee and milk available.
The experience includes dinner at The Globe Inn, which is also owned by Teresa and David who have overseen a complete renovation of this historic former coaching inn.

The pub, which was often frequented by Robert Burns, consists of the 1610 restaurant, private dining rooms and bar areas.

The chefs have combined one- and two-star Michelin experience and are working on a menu of seasonal Scottish produce cooked simply and well.

After an excellent tour of the Inn from former Robert Burns World Federation president and landlady of The Globe, Jane Brown, we sit down to a whisky tasting and a chance to experience the fruits of the distillery’s labour.

Annadale produces two single malts - one peated, Man O’ Swords - and one unpeated, Man O’ Words - a nod to both Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce.
The distiller for a day experience is ideal for those looking to really get behind the scenes of the whisky making process, and it’s not one that is widely available.

It offers a glimpse into the daily lives of hard working and passionate production staff, without whom we wouldn’t have the water of life. Slainte.
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