A trip to
Orkney Speyside et al.
First unplanned visit of this trip: Glen Grant and its garden in the morning, then Cardhu and its great history in the afternoon.
(Forward to Day 10 / Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 or back to Day 3 / Day 2 / Day 1)
The morning was supposed to be free from whisky-related activities. However, we were in Speyside, so why not to explore something new? We drove to a village we had never visited before, Rothes. This is the home of one of the major, if not THE major, pot stills building company, Forsyths, and of three single malt distilleries: Glen Spey, Glenrothes, and Glen Grant. The former two (owned by Diageo and Edrington, respectively) are normally closed to visitors, so we directed our attention to Glen Grant, since from their website we understood that at least the shop was open.
Actually, it was much better than that! First, the distillery café had the Illy Espresso (maybe because of their Italian ownership? Who knows…), which was a nice surprise. Second, it was possible to visit the Victorian gardens and enjoy a mini-tasting of two drams for the ridiculous price of 5 pounds. We first strolled through the gardens, much bigger than expected, with some very nice lawn, orchard trees, and a more luscious vegetation around a stream on the back of it. We then moved back to the visitor centre to enjoy the drams: the Arboralis, a non-age statement 40% expression added to their core range in March 2020 (not exactly a perfect timing!) and the 10y. We decided to get a bottle of the Arboralis, although we were very tempted by their 15y (bottled at 50%) which we had tasted a while back and found it delicious. This was the first time we saw it in a UK shop, since it was previously restricted to travel retail and other markets.
The mood was great at this point, because of the unexpected distillery visit, so we decided to have a walk in the village and then nose around the Glenrothes distillery. Meanwhile, we spotted a second-hand shop in an old abandoned church, where we found a folding table which was perfect for our camping chairs! Even better mood now, and so we happily drove to the next stop: the Cardhu distillery!
We arrived a bit early, so before checking in we had time to have lunch in the parking lot. Similar to Clynelish, the investments for the “johnnywalkerification” (credits to Justine from Kask Whisky for this term) of the distillery were obvious: a statue of the striding man saluting you as you drive into the premise, together with one of Helen Cumming holding her well-known red sheet. Behind them, a small herd of highland cows was quietly grazing.
Our tour started with a 15 minutes video about the history of the distillery origins, and how the legacy of Cardhu/Cardow was defined by the family women: Helen and Elizabeth Cumming. In particular, how Helen helped all the illicit distillers of the area by displaying a red sheet when the excise man was in. The video was very interesting, well done, and not too cheesy (no mention of the more recent “pure malt debacle”, however…). We then moved on to the production areas, where our guide Hamish displayed his impressive knowledge by talking the group through the processes. The fermentation room looked awesome with its eight wooden washbacks, but one of the best moments was when we arrived in the stills room: we started smelling a strong scent of fruits, more particularly pears – the “heart” of the distillation was flowing through the safe. This is the middle part of the distilled spirit which is actually going to be put in casks, while the initial (“head”) and the final (“tail”) parts are going to be collected and re-distilled instead. In the warehouse there were a few casks opened for us, which we could smell through the hole as an example of different flavour profiles across Diageo’s portfolio.
Finally, as always, the tasting. This day Gianluigi had the short straw, so Teresa could happily enjoy her drams. The line-up was quite rich, first off three core range expressions: the 12y, the non-age statement Amber Rock and the 18y. All nice drams, maybe a bit weak on the mouthfeel, but definitely good sippers. The following three were special: the Distillers Edition (NAS, bottled at 48% and benefitting from triple maturation, ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-red wine casks), the Four Corners of Scotland Edition (16y, 58.2%) and finally the hand-filled distillery cask (an 11y ex-bourbon casks, cask strength). These three drams showcased the difference a more natural presentation can make, they were all very tasty and full of flavour! As in all Diageo’s distilleries we visited since reopening, while the prices of core range bottlings were great, unfortunately the same could not be said for the hand-filled or other special releases like the Four Corners of Scotland series. We were divided between the Distillers Edition and the 11y Special Release 2020 (which, very kindly, Hamish made us taste): we ended up buying the latter.
Back in the campervan, we drove past Ballindalloch (home of other distilleries for another trip hopefully) to Grantown-on-Spey, where we had booked a pitch in a very nice camping (other lesson: bringing a hammer might be useful to put the stakes on a gravel pitch). This time the weather was acceptable, so we were able to grill (hurray!!) and roast some marshmallows (HURRAY!!). Since we finally had a table and chairs, we enjoyed the evening by sipping our driver’s drams under a warm blanket.
Glen Grant Victorian Gardens Visit and Tasting
Price: £5.00 pp (July 2021)
Tasting: 2 drams, Arboralis (40%, NAS) and Glen Grant 10y
Value for money: Very good
Highlights: the Victorian gardens and the Illy espresso
Things we did not like: nothing
Cardhu Collection Tour
Price: £25.00 pp (July 2021)
Tasting: 6 drams, Cardhu 12y, Amber Rock, 18y, Distillery Exclusive (48%, NAS), 16y Four Corners of Scotland, Hand-filled Distillery Exclusive (ex-bourbon, 11y)
Target: casual tourists, whisky enthusiasts and geeks
Value for money: Very good
Highlights: the video history and the tasting range
Things we did not like: nothing