Glenkinchie Distillery

A week after visiting Auchentoshan, I made my way north up the A68 towards Edinburgh, and the Glenkinchie Distillery. Located about 15 miles from Edinburgh city centre, Glenkinchie is nestled among the small villages and rolling hills of the south Scottish countryside. Much like my previous tour at Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie is one of very few lowland distilleries still in operation today.

My visit to Glenkinchie was the first of two distillery I had planned for the day, so I had arranged to take the first available tour, which was 10:00am. After parking across the road, I made my way through the grounds, and past the lawn bowling green to the visitor centre. Inside was a well stocked gift shop, with a bountiful supply of whiskies, books, and souvenirs. As I paid for my tour, I was told that there was a group on their way, and that once they arrived, the tour would begin. I was shown through to an area full of displays and exhibits on the history of Glenkinchie, and the of the local area. I was told there was a meeting place at the other end of the room, and that would be the point from where the tour would commence.

As I began to stroll through the exhibits, I saw old pictures of the distillery, old bottles from years gone by, and so much more. The most fascinating display was a massive scale model of a distillery. It included all the stages of the distillation process, and provided a step by step account of whisky making from milling the barley to filling the casks. Having had time to sit and study the model, I am now have a greater understanding when taking tours as to what is happening at a particular stage in the whisky making process. Another interesting exhibit was that of a local farmer who began buying the left over mash for use as cattle feed. Apparently the leftover mash once all the liquid has been drained away was full of nutrients not found in traditional cattle feed, and from all accounts, the cows enjoyed the taste too. This farmer began to enter his herd into local and county fairs, and for a good number of years was awarded best in show, and he credited it to the feed he received from the distillery. Selling mash to farmers is now something that happens at most distilleries, as it provides an efficient disposal for the distillery, while giving the cows a tasty, nutritious feed. During my tour, I was informed that the displays set up were actually sitting on the old malting floors, a process which like most distilleries, Glenkinchie abandoned a number of years ago.

Once I reached the end of the exhibits, I took a seat and waited for the missing group to arrive. Roughly five minutes passed, and a young woman poked her head through the doorway and introduced herself as Amanda. She explained to me that the group were unable to make it on time, therefore, I was fortunate enough to have a private tour of the distillery. She began by asking what sort of knowledge I had about Scotch, and the distillation process, and I responded by explaining my love for the sweet nectar, and which tours I had taken previously. This gave a frame of reference for Amanda, and she was able to spend a great deal more time talking to me about Glenkinchie itself, rather whisky making in general. We made our way around the mash house, and still houses, and ended up in my favourite place, the warehouses. Although they are dark, damp, and cold, the smell of a traditional stone warehouse is a scent that is so warm and comforting. The warehouse which we visited was right across the courtyard from the visitor centre, and it was obvious by the low ceiling and beautiful, intoxicating aroma that this was one of the original warehouses from many years ago.

Now came time for what is usually my favourite part of any tour, the tasting room. Glenkinchie aren’t know for having a wide range of age expressions, as they sell a majority of their whiskies for use in blends. In fact, if I recall correctly, I believe upwards of 5% of Johnnie Walker Red Label is made up of whiskies from Glenkinchie. This left me what I thought would have been a small selection from which to sample (which was good seeing as how I was driving all day) but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the selection before me. I had the customary dram of Glenkinchie 12 Year Old, and it’s light, golden body went down a treat, and it wasn’t yet 11:00am. Amanda then pointed to the large selection of bottles on the shelves behind and asked if there was anything else I would like to try. I nearly cried, the thought of all those whiskies just waiting to be sipped, but I informed Amanda that I was driving to Dalwhinnie for a distillery tour that afternoon. At first I thought she didn’t like what I had said, as she simply turned and walked away. Not sure what to do, I began to gather my things when she made her way out of the backroom. In her hands was a little faux leather passport, and in it were a list of distilleries. She explained that if I signed up to be a friend of the “Classic Malts”, I would be given free admission to each distillery, and for every distillery I visit, I would get a stamp in my passport. Should I visit all 12 distilleries, I could send my passport away and I would get a token of their appreciation. It was free to become a friend of the “Classic Malts”, and it just so happened that my next stop, Dalwhinnie, was one of the participating distilleries. This day was just getting better and better, and aside from the fact that I had to turn down so many lovely drams, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I had a personal tour of a distillery, and I now had a free pass to 11 more. I would not hesitate to go back to Glenkinchie again, I just hope I could have Amanda again as my tour guide, and have someone else come along to be my designated driver.

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Auchentoshan Distillery

The Auchentoshan Distillery is located just outside the centre of Glasgow, and is one of very few lowland distilleries still in production. Situated on the north side of the River Clyde, it’s a quick ten minute drive from Glasgow International Airport. As I discovered on my tour, Auchentoshan means “corner of the field”, as the distillery literally sits in the corner of a field.

To reach Glasgow, I had a two hour drive north from Carlisle up the M6 and A74 in the most miserable of weather conditions. At one point the rain was so heavy, and the reduction of my visibility was so severe had the car in front of me not been bright yellow, I would have had to pull over, assuming I was able to find the shoulder.  Even though the weather was certainly not cooperating, I was still looking forward to my afternoon at Auchentoshan.

Upon reaching the visitors centre,  I was greeted by a very friendly member of staff and I booked to take the next available tour. Prior to the tour beginning I was shown a small ten minute film on the history of Auchentoshan, and was offered tea or coffee along with a piece of authentic Scottish shortbread. By the time the film came to an end, there were a number of others waiting for the tour to begin, and away we went.

Much like every tour that I have taken, we were led from the mash tuns, to the washbacks and eventually to the still house, but once we arrived at the still house we were shown the one thing that separates Auchentoshan from every other Scotch distillery. Traditionally, when whisky is distilled in Scotland, it passed through two stills, much like giant kettles. First the liquid is boiled in the wash still, the larger of the pair, and then distilled a second time in the spirit still. Each time the liquid boils inside, it passes through the neck and collects in a massive drum where it comes into contact with copper pipes full of cold water. Once the steam from the still makes contact with the cold pipes it turns back into a liquid, and it’s this liquid that is put into casks and aged eventually becoming whisky. At Auchentoshan they distill their whisky three times in three separate stills, one wash, and two spirit, something that is rarely seen outside the production of Irish whiskey. The result is a much mellower and light bodied whisky, which will take a greater influence from the casks in which it’s stored.

Now came for the part of the tour where the group was to make our way across the grounds to one of the original warehouses. Did I mention it was raining? It was still raining very heavily, so our tour guide took it upon herself to hand out some umbrellas specifically reserved for visitors. By the time we reached the entrance to the warehouse (roughly 100 yards away), everyone on the tour was wet, very wet, and each of the umbrellas were now inside-out and useless. We spent a good ten minutes in warehouse learning about the different types of casks, their sizes, and the types of wood used. By the time our tour was ready to head for the tasting room, it was just our luck that it had stopped raining long enough for us to make back into the main building.

Our tour concluded with a dram of Auchentoshan 12 Year Old and a dram of Auchentoshan Three Wood. I must say, the 12 Year Old was an instant favourite. It was so smooth, and its beautiful ruby hue was a hallmark of the sherry barrels used in the aging process. Afterwards, I had a quick browse through the gift shop and picked up a jar of marmalade made with whisky from Auchentoshan, and a small set of bottles that is known as the Stillman’s Collection. In three 50mL bottles, there are samples of new make spirit at three different ages. The first was the day it was placed in the cask, the second was one year later, and the final was two years after being placed in the cask. It is amazing to see how much the spirit changes color in the first year, and how much more again in the second year. I picked it up as neat souvenir, but it has come in handy when I have been attempting to describe the whole maturation process.

Putting the weather aside, I really enjoyed my day at Auchentoshan. I was touring another Scotch distillery and was able to sample some of their wares, and picked up a couple neat gifts along the way. For any whisky enthusiasts visiting the Glasgow area, you need to take the time and head to Auchentoshan. Another excellent tour with a most hospitable staff, I couldn’t ask for anything else, except maybe a stronger umbrella.

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Canadian Club Dock 57

It has been said that the key to enjoying life is to add a little touch of spice, and now the same can be said for whisky. Although spiced rums have been on the market for a number of years now, it has only been recently that some Canadian distillers have begun to introduce spiced whisky to the market. The results are outstanding, spiced whiskies have the same warmth of their traditional cousins, but they also have hints of cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg and ginger.

Canadian Club Dock 57 is the third spiced whisky that I have sampled, and it is clearly my runaway favorite. It is named after the infamous Dock 57 in Windsor, Ontario where bootleggers tried to send shipments of whisky across the Detroit River during the time of American Prohibition.

I enjoyed my first drink the same way I traditionally drink my Canadian whiskies, I mixed my Dock 57 with cola. I was pleasantly surprised that this whisky which is 40% alc/vol was so smooth and inviting, there was little scent of the whisky itself, yet the spices hadn’t provided an overpowering taste. With each sip I found a mellow whisky that wasn’t overrun by cinnamon, something I find happens too often in other spiced whiskies, and spiced rums. There was no additional warmth in the bottle, just what occurred naturally in the spirit. I would have liked to have some limes wedges on hand, not just for esthetic reasons, but a quick squeeze of lime would have been the icing on the cake.

This spiced whisky is simply amazing. It’s much mellower and smoother than other Canadian Club products, and it has a tremendous balance of spice that works together for an extraordinary finish. Here’s how I would recommend enjoying Dock 57.

  • 2 oz Canadian Club Dock 57
  • 4 oz Cola/Ginger Ale
  • Lime wedge

 As I was having a drink outside under the evening sun, I had totally forgot that I had not put any mix in my glass. Without paying attention, I took  a fair size drink from my glass and it wasn’t until half the whisky was gone that I noticed I was drinking my Dock 57 straight. This is when I realized that this drink is dangerously mellow. Had that been a measure of a traditional rye, I would have pulled a face and made a swear, but I barely flinched. At that point I was grateful that Dock 57 only comes in 26oz bottles, as it disappeared with such little effort, having any more on hand could have been a prelude to a much harsher wake-up the following morning. As for having a little more spice in my life, I’ll take mine with some cola and a slice of lime.

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The Hadrian Hotel

The Hadrian Hotel is a traditional English pub situated in the north-east of England. Located in the village of Wall, four miles north of Hexham, and twenty-five miles west of Newcastle, the Hadrian isn’t a pub I can frequent on a regular basis. Located roughly 3700 miles from home, the Hadrian is a pub I’m only able to visit a few times a year, and yet I have probably had more pints in the Hadrian over my lifetime than any other pub, anywhere. 

 There’s something special about this pub, something that I struggle to explain. It’s not the collection of paintings and pictures by local artists, nor is it the ever-changing selection of real ales from Wylam and Jennings. I’m not sure if it’s the picturesque setting, or if it’s the staff and locals who make this place so special, or is it something else, I just don’t know.

Upon entering the pub, you notice the artwork hanging on any available wall space. Hand paintings of the area, like nearby Hadrian’s Wall, and the famous Sycamore Gap, are joined by photos of the village from years past. Even the place settings on the tables have an old photograph looking up through the village from the pub. It gives the pub a sense of community, a place where everyone gets together for a celebration, a night out, or a quick pint while out walking the dog.

I don’t know if I would consider myself a local, but no matter how much time passes between visits, whenever I make a return, I am always greeted with the same warm welcome. I’ve been hugged, kissed, high-fived, had my hand shook, and been slapped on the ass when I’ve come through the door, thankfully not all by the same person. It’s a feeling that means a lot, and a feeling that I’m sure other visitors experience, as the people either side of the bar have a genuine good nature and are always looking for a bit of banter.

The menu is what you would find at a typical country pub, with daily specials and homemade desserts. Without hesitation I would suggest the Gammon Steak, or perhaps the Steak and Ale pie, and for dessert, try the homemade crumble with custard.  The selection of real ales from local breweries Wylam and Jennings is ever-changing, and always provides a choice of new experiences and old favourites. Try a pint of  Wylam’s Gold Tankard, or a Cumberland Ale from Jennings, both of which are local favourites.

No matter how long I write, or what words I use, I will never be able to fully express my admiration for The Hadrian. It’s been a small part of my adult life, and provided me with memories (some fuzzier than others) that will last a lifetime. Should you ever have the chance to visit, find Davey, order a pint, and ask him about his trip to Canada, and maybe you too will see why this pub is so special.

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Cocktails – Irish Waterfall

When I first heard about this drink, I was completely put off, and had no intentions of trying one. Amazingly, all I needed was a couple drinks to get passed what I thought was going to be a vile concoction (much like how I view a prairie fire) and actaully enjoy my shooter. Best ordered at a bar, but still can be done at home, it’s another quick and easy shooter that is much more delightful than it sounds.

  • 3/4 oz Bailey’s
  • Top with Guinness Draught

It’s easier to make when you have your Guinness on draught, but can still be done with a can. Simply pour your Bailey’s into a shot glass and top with a touch of Guinness. My experiences with the drink have been with Bailey’s at room temperature, but I imagine it could be just as nice, if not better with Bailey’s that has been chilled.

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Cocktails – Porn Star

I don’t know if I would class this drink as a cocktail, it’s certainly more of a shooter, but regardless, it’s a one heck of a drink. My first experience with a Porn Star (a slight pun intended) was at a local pub after our team’s softball game. We were trying out a new pub that was sponsoring our league, and so too were a number of other teams, and the kitchen was not prepared to handle all the orders it was receiving. Nearly half an hour had passed and there was still no sign of our chicken wings, when a waitress came to our table with a platter full of shots, the pub’s way of apologizing for the wait. No sooner had the tray been placed on the table, and Porn Star number one was gone. It was love at first taste, and since then the Porn Star has been a fan favourite whenever the situation calls for a shot. A simple of recipe of two liqueurs, and best served ice-cold.

  • 1 oz Sour Puss Raspberry
  • 1 oz Blue Curacao

Simply pour each liqueur into a tall shot glass and enjoy.

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Glengoyne Distillery

My second tour of a Single Malt distillery was at Glengoyne, which sits roughly 16 miles north of Glasgow, Scotland. Having thoroughly enjoyed my tour at Highland Park, I made the effort to take part in another tour on my next visit to the UK. I made enquiries at numerous distilleries, and made my decision to visit Glengoyne based on their Master Class tour.  The Master Class tour has won numerous awards for having the most in-depth distillery tour, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Lasting over 4 hours, the Master Class tour begins in what was once the residence of the master blender. It begins with a casual conversation with the tour guide and a tasting of Glengoyne 17 Year Old. After an introduction to the other patrons on the tour, we were led into the distillery for the traditional distillery tour. As with any tour, we followed the process for making whisky, starting at the mill, making our way through the washbacks and mashtuns, and finishing in the still house. It was at this point, we learned of a very interesting characteristic of the distillery. For those of you who do not know, there are four major whisky producing regions in Scotland: Lowland, Highland, Speyside and Islay. Glengoyne has the distinction of being a Highland whisky, yet their whisky matures in warehouses across the road, on the other side of the whisky line, making it Lowland territory. As for the warehouses, this was the first time I was able to see how mass production and modern influences affected the distillation of whisky.

Typically on a tour, you are taken to one of the original stone warehouse where the casks sit on racks, as was the process for many years. Now, with scotch whisky being sold throughout the world, distilleries need larger warehouses to house their casks. By the time of my visit, Glengoyne had established new warehouses, which were much more modern than the old stone warehouses for which distilleries are famous. In the these warehouses, stacked eight high, were pallets of casks sitting on their end and packed from wall to wall.  In these casks was whisky that was more than likely to be sold for blended whisky as opposed to being used for Glengoyne Single Malt. It was intriguing to see the scale of the operation, and to see what type of changes the scotch whisky industry was undertaking to continue to supply the increasing demand around the world.

After returning from our tour of the distillery, we were provided with lunch consisting of sandwiches and  home-made pastries. Now for the rest of the Master Class. It began with a very in-depth tutorial on how to identify the types of scents found in whisky. We were given twenty different jars containing common scents found in whisky, and we filled out a little quiz as we identified each scent. Some scents such as smoke, peppermint, and anise were easily identifiable, but there were some that I never would have guessed, especially the eucalyptus. But all this training lead to the final task of the day, blending our own whisky to take home.

In this picture you can see six bottles with red tops, and two larger bottles with little black caps. The bottles with the blacks caps contained grain whiskies, which would be the base for our blend. In those bottles with the red lids, we had six malt whiskies. One Highland, one Lowland, one Speyside, one Islay, one from the Islands (which is a smaller region of the Highlands) and one from right here at Glengoyne. These whiskies would be the ones that add flavour and character to our whisky. We were given a sheet, and had to document the measures of each whisky we used to create our final blend. It was a challenge to sit there and think about the flavour profile I wanted from my whisky, but after forty minutes of blending and nosing, my whisky was complete. After being blended, we had to name our whisky – I named my bottle Highland Crown – and we handed our recipes back to Glengoyne, so should we ever wish to purchase another bottle, they had our exact blend on file.  One of the other members of the tour named his “Last Resort”, so I think that shows what confidence he has in his blending skills.

And that was the end of another amazing tour. I gained such a greater depth of knowledge about the whisky industry itself, not to mention the detail involved in the craftsmanship, I have been able to have a better appreciation for the tours I have since taken. I have yet to try my bottle of “Highland Crown” to see how it stands up against other whiskies, but I think I might let it sit for now, and leave the whisky making to the experts.

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Guinness Brewery, St. James’s Gate

Guinness is without question one of the most recognized and trusted brands around the world. A brand that was established over 250 years ago, and a business that helped an entire nation prosper, it seems like as good a place as any for my first brewery review.

I have always had a fondness for Guinness. It’s not a beer that I would order if I was out having a session with the boys, and I wouldn’t recommend one a blistering summer day, but for the right occasion, nothing beats a Guinness. It was always a goal of mine to travel to Dublin and visit the fabled St. James’s Gate Brewery, and in April of 2011, I did just that. I was on vacation in the north-east of England when I took an unbelievably cheap flight from Newcastle to Dublin. To put the cost into context, it was cheaper for this return flight than for a taxi from Pearson to the downtown core.

I had never been to Ireland, and had no idea quite what to expect, and I was told two things: Everyone is very friendly and helpful, and that I’d have a great time at Guinness. When I arrived at the hotel, I asked the young girl at the desk which would be the best way to get to the Guinness Brewery, and she gave me a map with the bus routes I needed to take, and made change for me so I would exact fare for my trip. I boarded the first bus outside the hotel and had to make one change in the centre of Dublin before arriving at the brewery. As I waited for the second bus, a nice lady pointed out that I was at the wrong bus stop, and that the stop I needed was about 100 metres down the road. I was told everyone was friendly, and so far, I couldn’t have asked for anything more. As I boarded the second bus, I double checked with the driver to make sure I was on the correct route, and he said he’d give a shout when we reached the stop for Guinness. Only a handful of minutes had passed before the driver hollered, and as I exited, he showed me the quickest path to the brewery.

Finally, I was there, home to one of the longest living brands, and home to that sweet, velvety stout. When I arrived, I made my way to what looked like ATM’s. The tour at Guinness is very self-help, as you may only see three or four employees during the entire tour, and a couple of them are in the gift shop and bar.  I purchased my ticket, placed it in the automatic gate and made my way into the Guinness Gift Shop. I was in so in awe of the shop itself, I nearly forgot about the tour, and then it happened. Fire Alarms began blaring, and employees wearing hi-vis vests came bursting in from all different directions and escorted all the tourists through the emergency doors. Once outside, we were all taken to a secure car park as the facility was evacuated. We were told we would be outside for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, but once half an hour passed, things took an even weirder turn. Three or four heavily armed vans rolled up to building and a dozen soldiers stormed out. All the patrons in the parking lot were taken inside to a small seminar room and awaited further instruction, and yet no one knew what was happening. About an hour and half after we first left the building, we were allowed back in. Apparently someone had made an anonymous call to the police stating that one of the destinations that Queen Elizabeth II was to visit on her tour of Ireland was compromised. Now let’s be fair, if you were making your first trip to Ireland, wouldn’t you want to go for a tour of the Guinness Brewery?

With all the dramatic scenes behind us, I made my way back inside and began the self guided tour. This tour is so much more than the method of brewing beer, or the number of kegs produced a day, but the history of the brand, and what it has meant to Ireland. Along the tour, I came across an old miniature locomotive that was used to move the barley around the brewery on a private railway. On display are countless numbers of old advertising posters, slogans, and mascots. The orignal harp, that gave inspiration to the trademark Guinness Harp is also on display in a glass case. As you make your way from floor to floor, you see a giant glass structure in the centre of the building. At the bottom, buried into the floor is a copy of the famous lease that Arthur Guinness signed back in 1758, for an astonishing 9000 years. But the top is where it all comes together. When you get to the top, and have a look down you can finally see that the glass structure is a giant pint glass, and now, you’re at the top, where you find that rich, creamy head for which Guinness is so famous. Upon reaching the top, you enter a bar, with only one beer on tap, and a breathtaking 360 degree view of Dublin. Upon handing your tour ticket to the barman, he begins to pour you a complimentary pint of Guinness. It takes 119.5 seconds to pour the perfect pint as the bar man fills three-quarters of the glass, and allows it to settle before topping it off. He explained that if poured correctly, a pint of Guinness should taste the same anywhere in the world, but I couldn’t disagree more. That was the best pint of Guinness I have ever had. Period.

I sat in the bar enjoying my pint and looking out into the dreary Irish weather when a couple of young girls went to the bar for their complementary pint. Not knowing if they would like it, they split one pint between themselves. By the reaction on their faces, it wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that they weren’t fans, but they politely offered me their spare ticket, so I graciously accepted, not wanting it to go to waste. I could have sat there all day, but with no more free pints coming way, I made an exit, and headed for a meal in the city centre. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived, but the hospitality afforded to me by everyone was beyond anything I could imagine. Should the chance arise again, I’d love to go back and look out over Dublin, sipping the beer so firmly entrenched in its history.

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Cocktails – Woo Woo

I first had this cocktail in TIGER TIGER, a bar in the centre of Newcastle. It’s a very simple, yet highly addictive. It stays with my theme of having few ingredients, that are easily accessible and require little preparation. Originally ordered by the pitcher, I’ve provided the mix for a single serving.

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • 1.5 oz peach schnapps
  • lengthen with cranberry juice

It works well together. The tartness of the cranberry juice is mellowed by the sweetness of the schnapps, and the vodka is essentially just additional alcohol. Feel free to be a little more liberal with your measures if you are so inclined. This can be a cocktail that is savoured all night, or it can give you a running start towards an evening of debauchery.

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Cocktails – Purple Juice

My first recipe I’m going to post is an old favourite. I call it Purple Juice, and it’s a quick three ingredient drink perfect for sitting out by the BBQ.

  • 2 oz Sourz Mixed Berry / Sourz Blackcurrant
  • 2 oz Ocean Spray Cranberry/Blueberry Juice
  • 2 oz Club Soda

As you can see, it’s simply equal parts for each ingredient, poured into a glass with a cube or two of ice. I generally make it by the pitcher, and keep it in the fridge. It tastes like Kool-Aid, and is best suited for drinking on the patio or deck.

CAUTION: This drink will stain light coloured clothing.

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