IT HAS not been available to buy locally for 70 years, so for those in Coldstream raising a glass with a dram to toast the new year it will be just like going back to the future. For the first time since production ceased in about 1940, the Tweeddale Blend has come home, returning to the town from whence it came to realise a long-held family dream.
Recreated from a 100-year-old Coldstream recipe, the whisky has been available to buy since late May in a select few specialist shops around Scotland, but it has not made it back to the Borders until now. So when the Besom Inn and the Castle Hotel serve the rediscovered blend this Hogmanay, they’ll also be serving up a fascinating piece of local history.
Alasdair Day, whose great grandfather, Richard, blended the whisky in Coldstream, instigated the ambitious resurrection project two years ago after discovering the Tweeddale Blend recipe in an old cellar book. And just like the original, his grandfather’s picture adorns the label. Seeing the Tweeddale Bend for sale in Coldstream is the culmination of relentless research, lots of hard work and a personal investment of £50,000.
“It’s been an expensive venture, but I didn’t set out to make money,” says Alasdair, a senior quality manager for McClelland Cheese who lives in Livingston. “It was always about the story and it will take another batch to sell before I get my money back.”
Of the 1,252 bottles produced in the first batch, over half have now been sold. Now that it is in Coldstream’s pubs, as well as the Borders Hotel in Kirk Yetholm and the Kingsknowes Hotel in Galashiels, Alasdair’s next goal is to produce another batch and sell it in Coldstream’s shops.
Described by experts as a “soft blend with background spice and fruit,” the Tweeddale Blend was originally produced in Coldstream by J&A Davidson. Richard Day, born in Coldstream on Christmas Eve in 1880, was 15 when he began work as the office boy for J&A Davidson, who owned the Coldstream Brewery, the Red Lion pub and a licensed grocers in Duke Street.
J&A Davidson, established in 1820, blended rum and several whiskies at that time, including the Tweeddale Blend. Richard eventually took over the licensed grocers, and from 1923 the name above the shop was changed to his own. He continued blending whisky and rum in the Duke Street cellar until the start of World War II, when production ceased. Distilleries around the country were closed at that time to preserve barley for food, and when Richard’s son, James, returned from serving in the army the whisky’s fate was sealed. “When my grandfather came back from the war he didn’t have any desire to continue with the family business,” explained Alasdair.
Richard Day died in 1965, the year Alasdair was born, but a cellar book from 1899 to 1916 containing the recipe was passed down the line to his great grandson. “My grandfather, James, passed the recipe book to my father, also Richard. After a few whiskies we always talked about recreating the old blend. Eventually, we stopped talking about it and just did it. It was always our intention to take it back to Coldstream, so it’s fantastic to see it back in the Besom, which still has the original J&A Davidson mirror behind the bar.”
The recipient of the first bottle reproduced after all these years was Ethel Johnson, nee Day. Now 92 and living in Edinburgh, she is Richard Day’s daughter. “Jim Day, my brother, found the old whisky recipe in a safe and passed it on until it ended up with Alasdair,” she explained. “It was my birthday when I received a bottle as a gift. Alasdair signed the label, which has my father’s picture on it, and it was the first bottle off the production line, so I don’t want to open it. I keep it on display. It’s nice to know that it is for sale again in Coldstream after all these years. I’m very proud and my father would be too.”
Asked about her memories of the Tweeddale Blend from her youth, she replied with a smile: “All the boys I knew in Coldstream used to call it firewater. I think they said that just to annoy me. ‘There’s Ethel Day, Richard Day’s daughter,’ they would say. ‘See that Tweeddale Blend, it tastes like firewater...’.”
Ethel has fond memories of her father’s business. “We moved to the premises when I was three. It was a big place. That’s where I was brought up. He worked hard. The casks of bonded whisky in the cellar were huge. The cellar was so big that half of it was made into the Red Lion pub. It was the most modern pub in Coldstream in those days. It was lovely. It had a jug bar, a man’s bar and a small sitting room. It’s been made into flats now. My father had the Red Lion and at New Year the whole bar would be laden with free gifts for the customers – great big cheeses and biscuits.
“In those days there were more pubs in Coldstream – the White Swan; the Crown; the Commercial; the Newcastle Arms; the Besom; and of course the Red Lion. But everybody went first footing at new year when I was young. We used to take a bottle round. The young men would take a half bottle, of whisky or something else, and we’d would go round everybody’s house and drink to their health. I used to take the accordion. We always enjoyed ourselves.”
Fast forward 70 years and they’ll be enjoying themselves in the Besom this New Year. “We are holding a function in the Besom for Hogmanay and hopefully we’ll be toasting the new year with something nice,” says licensee Wayne Lewins.
“The first we heard of the Tweeddale Blend was when one of the locals found it on the internet. We then had a visit from Alasdair’s wife, Sharon, and decided to give it a try. We have 14 bottles in. It’s quite expensive, but those who have tried it have all liked it. It’s very comparable with certain other blended whiskies that are more expensive. To have it back here in Coldstream after all these years is a nice story, so let’s hope it takes off in 2011.”