Walking and blending
TL;DR: The last two days of the trip were dedicated to less standard whisky experiences. First off, a walk through the village of Dufftown and its distilleries. On the last day, we did a blending experience at Strathisla, learning the hard way how difficult it is. Overall, definitely a great trip!
(missed Part 1?)
The morning of the third day was quite open, so we went back to Aberlour, officially for a walk to the Linn waterfalls, behind the Aberlour distillery, but we sneaked in a second visit to…no, not the distillery, to the Walker’s cookies shop! Just to pick up Christmas gifts for family and friends, and because Gianluigi loves cookies indeed! We had some take-away food from a local shop, before our afternoon activity: a walking tour of the 9 distilleries of Dufftown! If you’re asking yourself why 9, just stick with us…
The tour was organized by Michelle, a local guide living in the village. We and another young couple met her at the clock tower. First, we walked towards her house, where she very professionally gave us a glencairn and a yellow vest: at the end of the day we were about to walk through a few whisky producing plants, most of them not open to visitors. To start with, we walked towards the site where the now demolished Pittyvaich distillery used to be (close to the Mortlach Parish Church). While looking at some of the old warehouses, Michelle poured a taste of a 25y Pittyvaich from a Diageo release. A bit down the road, we then stopped at Dufftown distillery, owned by Diageo.
This is one of the three distilleries making the Singleton (Singleton of Dufftown), sold mostly in the UK and Europe. Moving on with our tour, walking along the Dullan Water, we found the third distillery: Glendullan, another one from the Singleton series (this one distributed in North America, while the third one is from Glen Ord and is distributed in the Asian market). One exception was the House of Tully Singleton, part of the Game of Thrones range, which we had a taste of after a wee look at the still room. Next stop was a popular one, Mortlach, which we were very curious about for their quite complicated 2.71 distillation process. We saw their third still (from the outside), called the Wee Witchie, where the last 0.71 of the distillation happens (in our understanding, but not so sure…).
In this case, the dram was a Gordon & MacPhail 25y from the distillery label range, paired with homemade shortbreads, which were fantastic! It took a bit to get to the next stop, this time walking along the Foiddich. During the walk Michelle showed us the building where another silent distillery was, Parkmore, closed too long ago to get a sip. We were already acquainted with the next working one, Glenfiddich, but not the next ones: Kininvie and Balvenie.
Unfortunately, during this trip we hadn’t managed to book the latter (although we caught up almost a couple of years later), so we were very curious to see it. As we walked past the malting floor, we saw smoke coming out of it, meaning it was working! Michelle was very excited as well, she had seen it only a dozen of times. We walked past Kininvie still room (the mashtun and washbacks are at Balvenie). The final distillery was another silent one, Convalmore, now used as warehouses. This is where Michelle’s husband was waiting for us in a van to bring us back (it was quite dark at that stage). It was a great experience, a bit different from a regular distillery visit, definitely worth it! We ended up having dinner at the Commercial Hotel and, again, a couple of drams at the Seven Stills.
Sunday was the last day of our wee holiday. We had a very nice conversation with Linda and her partner, who drove us to Keith for the last whisky activity of the long weekend: Strathisla. The distillery looks very pretty, in particular as you walk in from the parking through the courtyard. Like Aberlour, it is owned by Chivas Brothers (a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard), and it is the core malt of one of their most popular brands, Chivas Regal. The 12 year old expression is present in almost all aunties’ and grandmothers’ houses back in Italy too.
For this tour, Teresa picked something different: the blending experience. So, after the tour of the distillery and the warehouses (where we had a dram of Chivas straight from the cask), we were guided to the blending room. It looked like a fancy version of a high school chemistry lab, with all the glass equipment, but instead of burners there were bottles of whisky. Our task was to create a blend of 5 whiskies: fruity (Strathisla), citrusy (Glen Keith), smoky (Allt A’Bhaine), creamy (Longmorn) and floral (Strathclyde, a grain whisky distilled in Glasgow). Of course, as we were making it, it was like: “it’s going to be super tasty”, but when a few months later we opened our 20cl souvenir bottle of our very own blends, it clearly was kind of crappy. Well, blending is more of an art, and the blenders job is definitely one of the hardest in the sector! Definitely a fun activity though, although we both agreed that one time was plenty.
As we came out, we had over an hour to wait at the Keith “station” (a porch) for the train to Aberdeen. We couldn’t really walk around because of the backpacks and the heavy rain, so we just sneaked in a walk to Glen Keith distillery, right in front of Strathisla.
On the train back we came up with the idea of a whisky blog. It would have taken over a year to kickstart it, but this trip is the culprit! It substantially improved our knowledge and made us even more enthusiastic about scotch whisky. Speyside is one of those places where every time we visit, we say to each other: “we should get a house here”. This was the first trip to this magical region, with many more just about to come!
Until the next story, slainte!
Strathisla Distillery Tours
Michelle’s Dufftown Distilleries Walk
(Because this trip happened almost 3 years ago, we are not compiling the distillery visit evaluation box.)