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Issue 52 - The water of life

Scotland Magazine Issue 52
August 2010


This article is 8 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The water of life

In our two part look at whisky we start in Speyside.

Whisky… it entwines itself like an amber thread through Scottish life, its history and landscape. It stands for tradition, stories and above all lasting friendships, the very fabric of a great culture.

If you travel throughout Scotland you are probably not that far from a distillery, and no trip to Scotland would be complete without a tour and tasting of its national drink.

To be a single malt means that the liquid has to have come from one distillery, and been matured in Scotland for at least three years in an oak cask. It must also be made from malted barley, yeast and water.

Now once you get your head round that, it is constantly impressive how so many different flavours can arise from just those three ingredients.

Whisky and Scotland are pretty much synonymous. The amber liquid runs deep in the nation’s veins to such an extent that in terms of exports it is pretty much up there with oil and gas.

This journey is going to take you through Speyside, what many regard as the cradle of the distilling industry.

Depending where you draw the boundary lines there is between a third and a half of Scotland’s malt distilleries here including some of the world’s best loved names, as well as some you may not have heard of.

With classic names such as Glenfiddich, The Macallan, Aberlour and The Glenlivet, and an official whisky trail of its own, it is up to visitors to chose their own path.

It is safe to say that if you are driving around Speyside you will be hard pressed to miss a distillery. Come round a corner, admire the beauty of the River Spey and there you go, another distillery.

Perhaps one of the best places to start is Glenfiddich distillery on the outskirts of Dufftown. Glenfiddich is one of the world’s best selling single malts and was the first to offer distillery tours. Today the scale of the distillery is matched by the number of people who flow through the doors. The distillery offers several types of tour catering for those with little or no whisky knowledge up to the expert level.

Out of the most well known names that dominate the Speyside style, renowned for big, fruity and honeyed whiskies, are Aberlour and The Glenlivet.

Also nestled in the Speyside area are Strathisla and Longmorn. The former is worth visiting with its instantly recognisable twin pagodas. It is often considered one of the prettiest of the Speyside distilleries and you can also get a good tour and tasting too.

Also worth looking out for is the Balvenie range, and the much sought after Balvenie Vintage 1972 which the experts describe as having “superb balance and harmony between all the elements.” The distillery itself backs onto Glenfiddich and offers tours for the more knowledgeable.

Right in the heart of Speyside, Glenfarclas is a must for any discerning malt drinker. Still a family run enterprise, the wonderful distillery has a stock list to rival any global concern. If you are in the market for a birthday present, the Glenfarclas Family Casks could be just the thing, with single barrels bottled since 1952.

If you are traveling to Elgin from Dufftown, watch out the majestic Macallan distillery. You can expect to discover the importance of wood, water and barley to this most luxurious brand at its visitor centre.

Not far away lie two other Speyside trailblazers in the form of Glenrothes and Glen Grant. Glenrothes has recently experienced a massive growth in its sales, creating a niche for itself as a boutique malt offering different vintages. Glen Grant is a different beast. It is among the top selling malts in the world, the market leader in Italy and has the honour of being the only whisky that still bears the name of its founders.

Not far from Nairn the Benromach distillery has to be on the cards producing one of the only organic single malts on the market. Expect a warm welcome and tour followed by a tasting of this wonderful spirit.

Going slightly against the grain of the Speyside style is BenRiach. Expect a bit of a swerve ball with this malt as it has a fairly peaty and smoky nature, more reminiscent of the Islay style than its native Speyside.

Dallas Dhu is also worth a visit. A Diageoowned closed distillery situated at Forres, between Elgin and Inverness and a whisky museum with no production of its own.

While it might seem odd to visit here rather a nearby working distillery there are advantages. You can climb inside a mash tun, for instance and because there are no health and safety issues you can get into places that no working distillery would allow. Try your hand at operating the spirit safe for instance.

Dallas Dhu has been preserved as an oldfashioned example of a distillery and while it’s all a bit eerie, it’s still worth a look.

If you’re using Inverness as your base, you can trek out to one or two other distilleries that stand on the periphery of the region. The first is Tomatin, which is a large, modern and not particularly attractive distillery on the A9 from Inverness.

This is a strange distillery. With much of its output going to blends and with an independent owner it doesn’t make a song and dance about itself. But a couple of years ago it released a very palatable 12 year old version and it offers tours of its facilities.

The distillery has its own cooperage, novel initself, and recently the visitor facilities underwent a major refurbishment.

It’s worth making a short detour off to the right and to Old Meldrum.

Here nestled behind an unimpressive housed street is Glen Garioch, a distillery owned by Morrison Bowmore and in something of a no-man’s land.

In recent years it has been completely renovated, however, and it has promoted itself as the closest distillery to Aberdeen with some success. And the purpose-built visitor centre, its intimate environment and a pleasant group of people at the distillery all make it worth the detour.

All in all there is not a better place to discover of Scotland’s water of life.

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