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.