As they did with the Benromach distillery, Diageo not only sold the Bladnoch distillery but also -- out of the goodness of their black hearts -- allowed the new ownership to actually distill spirit. In this case, perhaps in order to prevent direct competition with their own Lowland distillery, Glenkinchie, Diageo only allowed the new ownership to distill a maximum of 100,000 liters annually (as opposed to the 1,300,000 liter capacity it had before). While 100K sounds like a lot, it's not. As of 2013, that production put them 96th out of 97 Scotch malt distilleries. Only Edradour was producing less. Glenkinchie's capacity is 24 times larger. (Note: I have also seen a 250,000/liter current capacity listed for Bladnoch via some sources.)
Nonetheless, Raymond Armstrong and Co-ordinated Development Services did start producing spirit in 2000 and squeezed out quite a number of bottlings before they shut down the shop last year. They had also been renting out 10 of their 11 warehouses to other companies for cask storage (according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2013) thus bringing in a more consistent revenue stream.
Meanwhile, they were also bottling some of the whisky that had been distilled by their predecessor. Today's whisky, an 18 year old, was distilled just before proto-Diageo mothballed the joint in the early '90s. It was bottled at 55%abv and had an image of two proud sheep on its label.
Age: 18 years
Maturation: Sherry cask
Alcohol by Volume: 55%
Caramel Colorant? No
(This sample was from Florin (a prince), bottled almost 2 1/2 years ago, back in the day.)
The color is Macallan (Sienna?) dark. The nose feels very closed at first. Light grassy and oat notes emerge first, with more and more cereal appearing with time. Then orange peel and dry soil. After a while the main scent that emerges is that of cucumber skin, taking over almost entirely. With lots of air, out come golden raisins and polyester couch cushions. The palate feels a bit tight too. It goes floral→sweet→bitter. A bit of single grain simplicity. Then with air, notes of silverware and mold suddenly appear. Then a hint of cream sherry. But sometimes it's just austere and bitter. Vanilla comes out in the finish, followed by confectioner's sugar and black raisins. Notebook paper and simple bitterness last the longest.
WITH WATER (approx. 46%abv)
The nose picks up a good figgy note. The grass and cucumber skin notes remain. Notes of eucalyptus and circus peanuts follow. And, oddly, it kinda works. Ah ha, here's the sherry in the palate, appearing as a big chocolate hit. An herbal bitterness grows with time, as does quite a bit of green grass/chlorophyll. The finish is all bitter chocolate, chlorophyll, and baby powder.
WITH WATER (<40%abv)
The nose is gentle, like a light fruity tea. Little bits of orange peel and aromatic bitters, followed by a dry leafy, rooty note. The palate gets slightly soapy. Notes of Earl Grey, sugar, cherry candy, soil, and vanilla bounce around each other. It finishes with cherry candy, caramel, and a light bitterness.
I rarely say this about a whisky, but water is a MUST for this one. When neat, it's closed and forgettable. Airing it out helps a little, but it gets more enjoyable when hydrated. Overall, it's odd, as you may be able to gather from my notes. I find the cucumber skin note on the nose very pleasant, though others may not. The chocolate palate note at the 46%abv point is very nice.
These official bottlings were priced nicely back when they were available. Sadly I missed out on grabbing one. I doubt I'd go after this particular bottling, but this quirky grassy herbal character I've found in Bladnoch appeals to my nose and mouth. If you've had some of the sheep/cow-labelled Bladnochs, please let me know in the comments what you thought of 'em.
Availability - Somewhere in Europe...
Pricing - I think it was $70-$90 (pre-shipping) as recently as 2013
Rating - 82 (with water only, when neat it's in the mid-70s)