A quick escape to the Highlands
Day 2 of our trip to the Highlands in May 2021, this time we adventured to two Diageo’s workhorses: Clynelish and Glen Ord distilleries.
(go to Day 1)
We were really looking forward to day 2, because our first distillery stop was where they produce one of Gianluigi’s favourites: Clynelish. As usual, we arrived there a few minutes early, among the first ones, so the distillery staff waved from the balcony…nice welcome. The distillery, and in particular the visitor centre, has been recently renovated to be included in the “Johnnie Walker Four Corners of Scotland Experience” (together with Glenkinchie in the Lowlands, Cardhu in Speyside, and Caol Ila on Islay) and the building looks quite beautiful.
The tour started in a dark room, the very experienced guide Daragh seated us along a very big table. As he told the parallel stories of Johnnie Walker and Clynelish distillery (including the ominous Highland Clearances operated by the Dukes of Sutherland), the middle of the table rose up, and each one of us was faced with mysterious drawers. These contain various objects (jar with, supposedly, characteristic Clynelish aromas, wax stamp…) or games (find the Highland Wildcat on the map, 16 pieces jigsaw…) and their opening was connected with coloured hollows with things like the Striding Man, the Wildcat, etc.. While the historical information and context was extremely interesting, we wondered whether such a spectacle was really needed. We would have happily exchanged the “fancy table” experience with an extra dram. Fortunately, things became much more interesting as we went through the distillery’s production (which is highly automated and, to my surprise, works 24/7), although not in the warehouse.
The tour ended in the tasting room, where we had 3 drams (and they kindly provided the sample bottles for the driver), and a pre-prepared cocktail if you wanted to use one of your drams for that. The room is very nice and the view from the balcony quite spectacular. Unfortunately, they could not give us a dram nor a sniff of neither the bottle your own (12y, 51.2%, £120) nor the Distillers Edition (15y, 46%, double matured in oloroso casks, £65). We ended up buying the latter anyway, as the Distillery Exclusive included in the tasting was nice but a bit pricey.
Overall, we were probably not the right target for this type of experience, but we were happy to visit the distillery anyway. We hope that when tourism is fully resumed they will introduce a more “whisky enthusiasts targeted” experience.
After the distillery we made two brief stops, one to check out the impressive Dunrobin Castle (the morning fog spoils the view though), and one for a warm soup in the very cosy Golspie Coffee Bothy.
Then a quick drive and we arrived at Muir of Ord, home of the Singleton (of Glen Ord distillery) single malt. As this brand is mostly reserved for the South-east Asia market (contrary to the Singleton of Glendullan and Dufftown, respectively reserved to the American and European ones), we were quite curious to taste it. So far, we had only tried very few expressions from independent bottlers. With a production of 11mlpa, this is one of the biggest distilleries we have ever visited. We were also impressed by the malting facility visible from the road, which we were told it serves all the Diageo’s Northern-Highlands distilleries.
After we checked in the visitor centre, we could take a look at the exhibition about the history of distilling and scotch whisky in Scotland, which included some old equipment used during the illicit distilling era.
Our guide Dave ably walked us through this massive site, working 24/7 and highly automated as well. The fact that only around 10% of this malt is used in blends surprised us, and contrasts with Clynelish where this fraction is above 90%. The tour ended in a nice tasting room with a window on the warehouse, where only a minority of their casks is stored. As we booked a guesthouse within walking-distance, we could both taste the 3 drams, which we both really enjoyed (a lot of orchard fruits). Deciding which one to buy was a challenge.
The village was very quiet, we quickly got food at a fish-and-chips shop nearby (and which, to be honest, I’m still trying to digest) and spent the evening on an online tasting with the lovely Mark and Kate Watt and their latest releases.
Clynelish The Flavour Journey
Price: £30 pp (May 2021)
Tasting: 3x10ml drams, Clynelish 14y (46%), Clynelish Distillery Exclusive (NAS, 48%, £90), Johnnie Walker 18y Gold Label (40%)
Target: whisky novices and casual tourists
Value for money: not great (but please consider that it includes a 10% discount on the Diageo range available at the shop)
Highlights: the tasting room and the view from it
Things we did not like: no tour in the warehouse, not possible to try (or nose) other distillery exclusive bottlings, too much time on the first part of the tour
Glen Ord The Tasting Tour
Price: £31.50 pp (May 2021)
Tasting: 3 drams Singleton of Glen Ord 15y (40%, £52), Artisan (ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso cask NAS 40%, £90), and Distillers Edition (ex-bourbon cask NAS 48%, £90, but 10y, wink-wink), and a complimentary glass (round tumbler)
Target: whisky novices and casual tourists
Value for money: OK (but please consider that it includes a 10% discount on the Diageo range available at the shop, including the Singleton of Glen Ord range which is usually not available in the UK)
Highlights: the exhibition in the visitor centre and the size of the site
Things we did not like: nothing really