The one when we made it to 70 distilleries
TL;DR: And finally, we got to 70 distilleries! The lucky one was the Cairn, a new and very modern distillery in the Cairngorms, right outside Grantown on Spey. We went back to Edinburgh the day after, but only after a visit to Dunphail distillery, at the time still a building site.
(missed Part 4/Part 3/Part 2/Part 1?)
Sunday was a long day, we started with Glendronach, followed by a Chivas Regal tasting at Strathisla. In the last post we left you off on the bus, as we were leaving Keith. The last (and final) activity of the day, was a visit to a new distillery (spoiler: it won’t be the newest in this post): the Cairn. It is located in a very beautiful flat spot in the Cairngorms Park, and the building concept is to “mix” with the landscape. It is owned by Gordon & MacPhail (remember the first tasting of the holiday?), and because it’s inside a national park, there are no warehouses on site, they are at Benromach distillery, in Forres (also owned by G&M).
We arrived there 20-30 minutes late on the schedule, it was almost dark outside, but the team were very kindly waiting for us (they will be rewarded, at the end…wink, wink). The building is very modern, almost futuristic, substantially departing from what you’d expect from a typical Speyside distillery. Here the group split in two: some only had drams at the bar, while others (including us) toured the distillery.
By wondering around it, we could see how everything is computerised, so they can run the production with minimal effort. The tour guide, John, was very nice: he took this job recently after a past in the ski industry. Gianluigi (who used to enjoy skiing before rugby took his ACL away…twice) chatted with him a bit about Dolomites ski locations – there are some truly memorable tracks over there!
The touristy part of the distillery, including the video, was a bit cheesy (do they really need a clock to mark how long are we away from a 10-year Cairn whisky?), but thankfully not as much as others we visited in the past.
After the tour we had two drams, both from the range of CRN 57 (57 being the latitude) blended malts, the 12y and 18y. They are bottled at 43%, which at our arrival discouraged us, but we have to admit they are both quite good, in particular the 18y. As a matter of fact, we brought back a bottle of it to share with Gianluigi’s family at Christmas: velvety and easy drinking, chocolate and dried fruit notes, the perfect dram for such an occasion (full disclosure: in Teresa’s family almost no one drinks alcohol, hence no bottle). The range is only available at the distillery, and it is completed by a 25y (43%) and a 30y (51.1%). They were (and hopefully still are) all very well priced, and in fact almost everyone bought a bottle, and quite a few 30y were sold (proving that the distilleries who didn’t reply to our visit requests definitely missed out!).
The Cairn is the 70th distillery we visited (well, 71st for Teresa, ahah): hooray! To celebrate we had bought a bottle the day before, a very rare independently bottled Tamnavulin from the Connoisseurs Choice range (by G&M), which we shared with the gang on the bus. We chose it because it ticked all the boxes: cask strength, not chill-filtered, not artificially coloured, 14y of age, full maturation in a refill bourbon barrel, which makes the distillery character emerge (unlike the many Tamnavulin offerings in supermarkets). Creamy, light fruit, vanilla: a great clean and crisp dram! This confirmed our theory, that most scotch single malt distilleries can produce great whisky, and if things go wrong it is usually at bottling…
Back to the hotel, because it was late, we all had dinner at the Fayre Brewer, next door from the hotel. One of our pals, Mark, was disgusted by Gianluigi’s choice to have mashed potatoes instead of chips with his battered fish. That brought lot of laughs, and we even found a name: THE FISHY MASHY! Oh well, that might resemble what we feel as Italians when they put weird toppings ion the pizza!!!
Well, that’s all for our Speycation…oh no, wait! Justine the maverick didn’t leave anything untried, so we had an activity for the Monday morning, on the way back to Edinburgh: the visit to the Dunphail distillery! This is located in, you guess where, Dunphail, just a few miles south of Forres. It is owned by the same company owning the very successful London boutique distillery Bimber. At the time, it was being built: we visited a construction site or “the embryo” of a distillery, if we want to be poetic. We were greeted by Dariusz, who started showing us around. The buildings, which used to be an old farm, were renovated already, and about to be completed (well, structurally speaking): the main distillery building, the malting floor (more about this later) and the shop/visitor centre. A warehouse was there already, where at the time they were keeping their equipment.
There are many reasons to be excited about this project. First, they will have their own malting floor. Considering the current malt shortage (in particular peated malt) this is a very smart move, and they plan to produce both peated and unpeated malt. In the main distillery building, the equipment was about to be fitted inside. They aim for long fermentation (hurray!), and there are going to be three stills: two wash stills (first distillation) and a directly fired spirit still. The reason for the two wash stills is that a single one was too big to fit inside the farmhouse building. At the time, however, the equipment was laying around so we could take a sneak peek at it. We really can’t wait to visit the distillery and try their new-make spirit!
After this, we all said “goodbye” to each other and everyone left towards Edinburgh. It was a very different experience compared to visiting distilleries on our own. While on the one hand we didn’t have much time to explore the area as we usually do, the tours and tastings with such a good bunch of people were definitely much more fun and (because the knowledge of the crowd is always bigger than the individuals’ one) more interesting. We are really looking forward to the next Edinburgh Whisky Group trip.
Until next time, slainte!
The Cairn Explorer Experience
Price: £25.00 pp (October 2022)
Duration: 1hr 30min
Tasting: 2 drams, CRN57 blended malt 12y (43%) and 18y (43%)
Target: Anyone, but whisky geeks might appreciate it more
Value for money: Good
Highlights: the distillery setting
Distillery Exclusives: all the CRN57 blended malt range, 12y (43%), 18y (43%), 25y (43%), 30y (51.9%)
Recommended: only if curious to visit a modern and totally automated distillery
*No summary because it is not open yet!