Posts Tagged With: single malt

Aberlour Distillery

My final distillery tour while visiting Speyside was at Aberlour. Situated in the south of Aberlour (the town with which the distillery shares its name) and just off the main road (A95), Aberlour is easily accessible to anyone traveling throughout Speyside. Only minutes from my lodgings at The Mash Tun, Aberlour was the perfect stop before I returned to England. Although, knowing that I had over five hours of driving ahead, I was unable to fully participate in the extensive tasting that concluded the tour.

Before I begin with the details of the tour, I’d like to share to little a couple of little points that stood out during the tour. Firstly, Aberlour translates into  “mouth of the chattering burn”, as the distillery is nestled along the banks of a picturesque stream. Secondly, after being established in 1826, Aberlour suffered not one, but two major fires before the turn of the twentieth century. Unfortunately as a result of these fires, very little of the original distillery survived.

The tour began in the gift shop, just off the main road. By the time everyone taking the tour assembled, there were seven of us set to tour the distillery. I spent a fair amount of time chatting with a couple from America – Florida if I recall correctly – and the other members of the tour seemed to keep to the themselves. We began by walking down the driveway which followed the path of the chattering burn, and made our way into the first building. Inside was a display paying tribute to James Fleming, the founder of the distillery, and the work that he had done for the community. After his passing money was left to the community for the construction of a hospital cottage. There were also funds left for a suspension bridge over the River Spey, as a result of a child’s tragic drowning.

We were now in the distillery itself, and made our way up and down a series steps and staircases. This is certainly isn’t a tour for anyone afraid of heights, but it sure is a good way to burn off your full Scottish breakfast. As we stood in the still house we were advised that we had to refrain from taking pictures until we had made it into the tasting room.  The still house contained two sets of stills, which certainly doesn’t class Aberlour as a large distillery, but large enough to produce over three million litres of new make spirit each year. New make spirit is what comes directly out of the stills and is placed into casks for aging. A spirit can only be refered to as Scotch Whisky if it meets the following criteria: It must be distilled and aged in Scotland, and it must be aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks. Interestingly enough, the spirit that comes out of the still is clear, and it relies on maturation in the cask to gain its colour.

Now it was time for the our tasting to begin. We were given five whiskies, and a sample of new make spirit, something that you will not find at many distilleries. Located in Warehouse No.1 , the tasting room was actually located at the end of an actual warehouse, separated only by a glass wall. We began with the new make spirit – which I had to try – and it was actually quite sweet, but at the same time, it was very potent. I continued around the board to the first two whiskies, they were each cask strength and available to be bottled on site. Having already bottled my own at The Balvenie the day prior, I passed, but the couple from America took advantage to pick up a couple of bottles as souvenirs. The fourth and fifth whiskies were standard expressions, Aberlour’s 12 and 16 Year Old bottlings. These two whiskies were very smooth, and had I not had the littlest of tastes,  I’m sure I would have enjoyed them even further. The final dram was Aberlour a’Bundah, another cask strength whisky that is released in limited batches with an alcoholic content in the range of 55%-60%. The single, tiny sip I sampled of this whisky did enough to demonstrate its sheer strength. My lips and gums tingled, and my throat and stomach gently warmed, certainly a man’s whisky if there ever was one.  It was heart-breaking to leave so much whisky on the table, but I had a half a day of driving ahead of me, and wasn’t willing to take any unnecessary risks. That, and it gives me a good excuse to return, because I plan on returning to Speyside someday to try some new whiskies and visit with some old friends.

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The Macallan Distillery

Resting high on a ridge above the banks of the River Spey lays The Macallan Distillery, the first of my three tours while visiting Speyside. The Macallan, known to many simply as Macallan is one of the premium spirit producers in the world, and is widely regarded as the benchmark on which other single malts are judged. I arranged to take the “Precious Tour”, which included a tour of the distillery, a visit to Warehouse 7, and a tutored tasting featuring four of Macallan’s classic malts. 

When I arrived at the visitors centre, I was warmly greeted and told that another group was on route, and that the tour would commence once they arrived. To fill my time, I had a quick look through the gift shop and admired the vast collection of whiskies, with some prices ranging far into the thousands of pounds. Not wanting to leave empty handed, I picked up a hand carved keychain made of wood from a retired Macallan cask. Within minutes the other members of the tour arrived, two gentlemen and one lady, all from Italy, and we were off to begin the tour.

The tour began at the visitor centre and worked its way outside to the new atrium. It was at this point we were advised that we were not able to take any pictures inside the facility, but were more than welcome to take as many as we wanted of the outside and the surrounding grounds. Prior to my tour at The Macallan, most of the distilleries I visited were small, and had no more than two pairs of stills, so here at The Macallan, I had my first opportunity to see whisky mass-produced on a grand scale. With seven wash stills and fourteen spirit stills, The Macallan was by the far the largest facility I had ever seen. This allows for the production of nearly eight million litres of spirit a year, which is four to five time more than can be distilled by the other distilleries I had visited. Now, usually mass production is associated with poorer quality, but here-in lies the genius. Since The Macallan produce such a vast amount of spirit, they can pick and choose only the best for their products, and sell the rest for use in blended whiskies.

As we began the sensory portion of the tour, we were joined by another young woman, who if I remember correctly was born in Winnipeg and now lives in New York.  Initially, we walked past eight or nine pots, each of which included a scent that is associated with whiskies. Initially we took a blind sniff, not knowing what was in the pot, then flipped the sign to see what was inside and sniffed again. Some of the scents included chocolate, marzipan, citrus, and iodine, all of which are used by connoisseurs to describe whisky. This lead to a small discussion on the type of oak casks used to age whisky, and how the wood from different regions affect the aging process. The Macallan use former sherry casks to age their whisky, and similarly with their spirit, they only choose the best of casks, as only the best casks will allow them to continue to produce their world renowned whisky.

After a brief stop in Warehouse 7, we made our way back to the visitors centre. My friends from Italy took their sample of The Macallan 10 Year Old and began browsing the shop, and the young woman who joined us late, and myself were led into the tasting room. Sitting at a beautiful oak bar, we were presented with four drams, and our tour guide began by playing a little powerpoint presentation. By the time the tasting was finished, I had sampled The Macallan 12, 18, 21, and 25 Year Old expressions, each one lovelier than that last. I made my way out to the parking lot, and as the pale grey sky began to clear, I waited for my lift to The Balvenie for my afternoon tour. At first I was a little disappointed and thought I should have booked The Macallan as the second tour of the day, as how could it get any better than this, but only time would tell.

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Dalwhinnie Distillery

Having spent a lovely morning touring the Glenkinchie Distillery, I made my way north into the Scottish highlands and set my sights for Dalwhinnie. Roughly 100 miles north of Edinburgh, the Dalwhinnie Distillery sits in the hamlet of Dalwhinnie. Located directly off the A9, this tiny community is found among the peaks and valleys of the Scottish highlands, which provide some of the best scenery Scotland has to offer.

As this was my second tour of the day, I allowed myself plenty of time to make the journey between the distilleries. Having made great time along the A9, I made a brief stop at a small cafe in Dalwhinnie itself, as I had not had anything to eat since my early breakfast and it was soon approaching 2:00pm. John,the gentleman running the cafe was tremendous, as he set out a proper place setting at my table, complete with knife, fork, place mat, coaster, and so forth. As he waited for the bacon to cook for my sandwich, he told me stories of the local area, and what it was like to work and live in Dalwhinnie. After I finished what was one the best bacon butties I have ever had, I made my way to the cash and noticed a book on the counter. Dalwhinnie: A Hamlet on the Great Road was a book that was put together by a group known as Dalwhinnie Past and Present. Of the group, John’s wife was an active member and had made contributions to the publishing of the book. I had a quick flip through the pages and was sold. Every page was loaded with photographs: school photos, local scenery, old maps, and of course the distillery. I made no hesitation and purchased the book, as a fitting souvenir to my visit. With my book in hand, I made my way up the road to the distillery.

When I arrived at Dalwhinnie the parking lot was nearly empty, and I had high hopes that I might get my second personal tour of the day. I went inside the visitor centre to let them know that I had arrived and was ready for my tour. They took my new passport given to me at Glenkinchie and stamped it. 2 down, only 12 to go. I was told that I was quite early for my tour and that there would be one starting in roughly 10 minutes if I’d like to go at that time instead. Not seeing anyone in the gift shop, I agreed and went outside to take some pictures before the tour began. As you can see the it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and blue sky stretched as far as the eye could see. I was just on my way back into the visitor centre when a bright yellow tour bus pulled up, and nearly twenty people piled off ready for their tour. Well, two personal tours in a day would be asking too much.

Our tour group featured quite a selection of people. There were four Swedish college students, three young couples from Australia, and two rather large families from Japan. Seeing as how no one else had ever been to a working distillery, our tour guide made sure to take his time and thoroughly go through the distillation process. Having a basic understanding of the whisky making process, I was looking for those little stories that allow you to distinguish the brand from other distillers. With the tour coming to its conclusion we returned to the visitor centre where we were given a wee dram of Dalwhinnie 15 year old, the brand’s core expression. This is a lovely whisky, so light and warm, yet there is not a hint of peat. Much like Glenkinchie earlier in the day, Dalwhinnie has a soft straw-like colour, and is very gentle to the senses. It is certainly a single malt whisky that I would recommend for anyone who is looking to discover the world of whiskies.  Now my day was done, I had just finished my second distillery tour,  and I was ready to head back to England. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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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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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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