Visitors to the cask-filling room at the Annandale distillery in Dumfries & Galloway, south-west Scotland, will find a life-size picture of Rugby Union legend and indefatigable campaigner for Motor Neurone disease, Doddie Weir. Sadly, gentle giant Doddie died in November, but not before he had raised huge amounts for his Foundation and in doing so, inspired many with his bravery and stoic good humour. He is pictured in 2014 hammering the bung into Annandale’s first cask of peated malt – Cask 40.
In December, 2017, by now suffering from MND, he returned to the distillery to broach that same cask. From it, 99 bottles were auctioned and raised £27,800 for the charity. To find the beginnings of his association with Annandale, we must go back to 2007 when the moribund distillery, closed by then owners Johnnie Walker in 1924, was revived by two scientists/business people, Professor David Thomson and Teresa Church; the former looking for a good reason to re-establish roots in his native Scotland, and she passionate about restoring old historic buildings.
With an eye to publicity, the first – unpeated – cask was auctioned and fetched a newsworthy £1 million. Being a big enthusiast for Scottish rugby, Professor Thomson asked Doddie Weir – who incredibly had previously designed the distillery’s effluent system – to come and help fill the first cask of peated malt as a favour.
While the vast proportion of those early 2014 and ’15 vintages is likely to remain a rarity for some time to come, the company reports excellent maturing whiskies from 2016 and ’17 and these will be bottled and released as Founders’ Selection ‘because that’s exactly what they are.’
Of existing offerings, always bottled at cask strength, Man O’Sword is a smoky, peated malt boasting 45ppm phenolics, while Man O’Words is unpeated and fruity. The latter might have gone down well with one long-ago customer at The Globe Inn in nearby Dumfries, now part of the Annandale company. The Globe is said to have been the poet’s favourite howff.