#29 Fife again

Back to the festival, with a visit to Inchdairnie


TL;DR: And the time for one of our favourite appointments came again: The Fife Whisky Festival, where we and a bunch of Edinburgh Whisky Group folks volunteered again to help Justine and Karen. As part of the festival, we visited the very modern Inchdairnie Distillery, usually closed to visitors.

One of our favourite events of the “whisky-year” is a relatively small festival, expertly organised by the entrepreneurial duo of Justine (Kask Whisky) and Karen (Angel’s Share Glass): the Fife Whisky Festival. It starts on a Friday in early March (carefully chosen to avoid clashes with the 6 Nations) with an opening dinner, followed by two sessions on the Saturday at the Corn Exchange in Cupar, and it ends on the Sunday with a few events at local distilleries or other venues. Simple and effective, and this year edition was no different.

Like in 2022, this year the opening dinner was at the Lindores Abbey distillery, in Newburgh. We were welcomed at the bar with a cocktail based on their Aqua Vitae, which we enjoyed in the adjacent production room (not working during the evening). Dinner was served downstairs, in the “huge table hallway”.

Happily waiting for dinner and drams.

As last year, we had four drams, an opening one and three paired with the delicious courses. This year we started with a Lindores Abbey (Friar John Cor cask strength), and then we had a Nc’Nean (The Huntress 2022 edition), a Loch Lomond and finally another Lindores Abbey (the leftover of their inaugural release, reserved to the members of the 1494 Club). Before the event, Justine kindly asked the distillery staff if we could sleep in our campervan in the parking lot, which they agreed (thanks again!). We are not sure that everyone was up to speed though, as in the morning we spotted some puzzled faces among the workers…oops. As we woke up, we quickly dressed and drove towards Cupar to grab some breakfast. For the second night we had booked a B&B, and fortunately we could check in early.

That’s the closest we slept to a distillery.

The festival went very smoothly. We were on tickets duties at first, and during the second session we also checked in Roy Duff (from the Aqvavitae Youtube channel) and other whisky-pals from Glasgow, among others. During each session, after most of the attendants got in, we helped the standers by bringing coffee, tea, etc. Gianluigi even replaced temporarily Declan from Glenallachie to let him have a break, as he was alone at the stand. For a minute it was nice to “play brand ambassador” for one of our favourite brands! There were many volunteers, so work was not excessive, and it was nice to take a break from time to time to get a wee dram and chat about whisky with old and new friends. After cleaning and wrapping up everything, the night ended at a local restaurant with a good curry. 

Find the real brand ambassador…

On Sunday, after a sizeable Scottish breakfast at the B&B, we picked up our friend Stephen and drove to one of the events of the day: the visit to Inchdairnie distillery (the other was a Lady of the Glen tasting at Dalgety Bay). We were very excited about that, for a number of reasons. First, it was a rare occasion to visit a distillery usually closed to public. Second, we knew they were producing some very interesting spirits that we tried at the virtual Fife Festival whisky tasting in 2021 (the only year when the actual festival didn’t go ahead), including some rye, which we both quite liked. 

The distillery is in an industrial estate near Glenrothes. The parking lot is in front of two modern buildings, one for production and the other one for he offices (with warehouses behind the latter), and the entire (very tidy) area is surrounded by a green lawn. After a little wait, we were welcomed inside the offices, in the conference room. As we sat around the table, Ian Palmer (the managing director) introduced himself and started describing the distillery vision and production, soon delving into technical details (so much that we both started taking notes on our phones). 

Yes, Teresa’s hair went wild…

Production started in 2016, with a capacity of 2 million litres per annum, soon to be doubled. Because of this big capacity, they experiment with different mashes of malted barley, rye and oat. Thus, they have lot of different products in their portfolio and, unlike most new distilleries, they are keeping some to release themselves and selling the rest to blenders (including Macduff International, whose portfolio includes Grand Macnish, Islay Mist, Lauders and Waterproof whiskies…many of theese bottles were on display). Current plans will see their single malt (Inchdairnie, unpeated) released in 2029, and will be the result of Fife malted barley, from both spring and winter crops. Depending on the season it is distilled, the newmake will be put in different casks (here a scheme of the pairing between season and cask type).

At the moment, they are also producing an unpeated single malt, Strathenry, as their trading whisky (a few independent bottled ones already came out). There are also two peated malts: Kinglassie and Finglassie. The former is produced using Fife barley, while the latter is sold as a trading malt (to blenders and independent bottlers). A range of unique distillations, varied every year, will be released under the name of Prinlaws, and they will be experimental runs. Finally, the first product they released is the Ryelaw: a mash of malted rye (53%) and malted barley (47%), with second distillation in a Lomond still (the third we saw, after the Ugly Betty used to produce the Botanist gin at Bruichladdich, and Scapa’s wash still). Because there isn’t a definition for rye whisky in Scotland, it is classified as a single grain whisky. However, it satisfies all the criteria for American rye whiskey, except not being produced in USA, of course. It is currently available for the not wallet-friendly price of £110. 

A passionate Scott with a passionate audience.

After the thorough introduction by Ian, Scott Sneddon (the distillery manager) took us around the production plant. We first saw the boiler, currently running on natural gas, which will be replaced with a hydrogen fuelled one. Being so new, they don’t have neither a Bobby nor a Portheus mill, and the milling is done with slightly different percentages compared to the most common 70% grist, 20% husks, and 10% flour mix. This is to maximise the sugar production in the mash, which is obtained through a mash-filter, as opposed to the majority of distilleries that have a mashtun. Fermentation happens in stainless steel washbacks outside the production building. Other than the three stills (wash, spirit, and Lomond) used for production, they also have a wee pilot still, which they used to decide the various parameters for their spirit. Of course, everything in the distillery is highly automatic, as testified by the equipment in the control room. Outside, we saw silos utilised as spirit receivers, and a row of palletized warehouses, with barrels patiently waiting to be ready for bottling. They have also a small warehouse in a separate building for their cask club.

Main distillation and…
…experimental distillation.

Back inside, we had a very nice buffet lunch and a nosing experience of some of their spirits (including some oat newmake spirit, veeery different). To our surprise, no tasting on site, which was actually better for us as we didn’t have to pick a designated driver. Instead, they gave us a very generous tasting pack with four drams: 2018 Inchdairnie Palo Cortado, 2017 peated Kinglassie (probably ex-bourbon cask), Ryelaw newmake spirit and Ryelaw (distilled 2017). A very nice touch, and as we later found out, the drams are all delicious. 

A tasting pack makes you happy 🙂

Overall, one of the most peculiar distilleries we visited so far. While most of the new distilleries went down the road of a traditional building and process, others like the Cairn definitely embraced modernity. Inchdairnie, however, seems to push this to another level, and only with time we will see if their efforts will be rewarded. For now, everything looks very promising. 

Until next time, slainte!

Fife Whisky Festival

Inchdairnie Distillery (not generally open to visitors)

#28 Visiting Glenturret

A stop in Crieff on the way to Skye


TL;DR: In summer 2020, in the brief period it was possible to travel, Gianluigi’s parents came to Scotland. We decided to go visit the Isle of Skye, with a quick stopover in Crieff. A nice visit at Glenturret distillery, just before their complete range revamp. 

(Another pandemic story…Sorry, it will be the last one!)

It was 2020, summer. After the first wave, the daily macabre count of cases/hospitalised/deaths from the dreadful virus slowed down. As a consequence, for a brief couple of months, borders reopened, some flights were restored and it looked like life was going back to normal (fun fact: the day pubs reopened, we went to Diggers to have a couple of drams and not think about the pandemic, just to find out that Gianluigi’s boss was on BBC talking about it, ah-ah!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case: by early autumn pubs closed again, and we entered another long lockdown. Thanks, science, for vaccines!

However, between lockdowns, we managed to book a flight for Gianluigi’s parents to come to Scotland for a week-long visit in the middle of August. It goes without saying, we involved them in a couple of whisky activities during those days. First of all, we booked one of Justine’s tours (a slightly different version of her current Edinburgh Whisky Trail): from the silent Cameronbridge Distillery, behind Haymarket train station, to the lovely Stockbridge neighbourhood passing along some closed distilleries (like the Dean), former DCL offices, and some other historical landmarks. The day was sunny and the walk very nice. It ended at the Whisky Forager restaurant (now closed, but Colin is now running the Tipsy Midgie bar near Holyrood) for a great meal and some fantastic drams. Not sure how much Gianluigi’s parents grasped (their English is not that…proficient), but they enjoyed the day out anyway.

Sharing tasting notes of delicious whisky.

But it was already their fourth time in Auld Reekie, so we decided to drove them to the Highlands, destination: the magnificent Isle of Skye! Of course, depending on the route, there are a number of distilleries available to visit. To bag a new one, choosing among the ones opened at the time (not many), we opted for Glenturret. Back then we were not very acquainted with this whisky, we had only tried one or two of their core range expressions (which at the time included the Triple Wood, Peated, Sherry Cask and a discontinued 10 years old, all bottled at 43%) and some excellent bottlings from the SMWS, mostly peated whisky in re-charred casks. We didn’t know that they were about to revamp their entire core range, which only a few months later came out with different expressions: a non-age statement Triple Cask (similar to the previous one), a peated 10y, a sherried 12y and a high-abv 15y. Oh well, we’ll go back sometimes.

It took some time to get all the barrels in the picture!

The drive from Edinburgh to Crieff was quite nice. We left the main road in Crieff and took a very nice wee one passing through a wood, it was almost like driving to the Shire. We finally got to the distillery well ahead the first tour at 10am. Owned by a joint venture led by The Lalique Group since 2019, Glenturret is allegedly the oldest working distillery in Scotland (earliest record dating 1763). Definitely not a big one (around 340,000 lpa), the distillery used to be home of the Famous Grouse.

A tribute to the legendary distillery cat.

The distillery tour was socially distanced, with markers where we needed to stand, and only 6 people: the four of us and a couple. The guide kindly agreed to leave us some time after her explanations to translate for Gianluigi’s parents (which, truth to be said, took away some of the enjoyment from the whole experience). We couldn’t take pictures inside the production, but we were generally surprised by how manual everything was, from mashing to distilling.

At the end of the tour, near the filling room, we got our dram: a taste of their Triple Wood, but at the shop we also got two tiny samples of their Peated and Sherry expressions. Both solid, but not mind-blowing: we now totally understand why they felt the need to revamp their range – at the time it was OK but a bit dull. After the visit, we stopped for a coffee and a bite at their café (now there is also a Michelin starred restaurant) before hitting the road again.

A nice wee stream near the distillery.

The drive through Bridge of Orchy and Glencoe was amazing as usual (we stopped a few times to let Gianluigi’s mum take a gazillion pics), and we managed to stop to Ben Nevis distillery to pick up a great (now unfortunately discontinued) bottle of Glencoe 8y blended malt. We had not been on Skye before, and thanks to that visit we now understand all the frenzy about it: it is truly incredible.

The Old Man of Storr, breathtaking!

The landscape is amazing, and something incredible at every turn. Some not-so-great stuff as well, like the difficulty of finding a place to eat in Portree without a reservation (although a late dinner at Dulse and Brose was worth the wait), and being almost eaten alive by midges at the Fairy Pools. The day we visited the Fairy Pools was also the day Talisker distillery reopened: the website reported that you could either call or send an email. We tried to call all morning to see if we could get in, but no reply. We got there anyway (it was only a 10 minutes drive), where we found a queue and another Italian couple explaining us that we should have sent an email…Still wondering why they wrote “call” on the website, but hey ho.

Nest Point, probably our favourite place on Skye.

We left Skye driving along the north coast through Applecross, Torridon and Ullapool, then heading south from Elphin to Tain, where we booked a last minute B&B. The evening program was to take a cab and go to have dinner and drams at the Dornoch Castle Hotel, a 10-minute drive away. Unfortunately, Gianluigi’s dad injured his eye in the hotel (something very minor, turned out), so we spent the night at Inverness ER instead: bummer. The final day we managed to visit Cawdor Castle and its nice gardens, and we crossed the Cairngorms (always a great view) before driving through Peth, Fife and finally getting to Edinburgh. Another distillery bagged, while exploring another bit of this incredible country.

Until next time, slainte!

Glenturret Distillery*


* No summary because everything changed dramatically since then

#27.5 Speycation

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.

A nice dram 🙂

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!).

Celebration time!

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!!!

An almost ready distillery, yay!

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.

The future malting floor, so exciting!

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!

A still to be…

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

Link: https://www.thecairndistillery.com/

Dunphail Distillery*

Link: https://www.dunphaildistillery.com/

*No summary because it is not open yet!

#27.4 Speycation

Out of Speyside and back:


TL;DR: Sunday was a busy day: we started off with a trip to Huntly, to check out Glendronach distillery. After the tour and a very nice (but stingy) tasting, we jumped on the bus again to go to Strathisla, a beautiful distillery where we tried some cask strength Chivas Regal. 

(missed Part 3/Part 2/Part 1?)

Sunday was a big day: not one, not two, but three distilleries! Not all of them were in Speyside though. Because of the planning issues we wrote about last week, we had to go outside, but just: Glendronach, in Huntly. This distillery is very popular although some of the recent choices they made, plus a price increase in the releases, are making them being less on geeks’ radars (at least the ones we follow). Nevertheless, their stuff can be really superb – for example, when we visited the distillery in 2021, we tried some great expressions. Similar to Glenallachie, at the time it wasn’t possible to do a tour of the production because of Covid, so the possibility to visit their production this time was definitely a bonus for us. 

The picturesque courtyard.

When we arrived, the weather was still very nice and sunny. They split us up in two groups, one starting off with the tasting, the other with the tour: we were in the latter. Our guide was Vicky, a very funny and knowledgeable lady who had also hosted the sherry masterclass tasting we did in August 2021. The tour started in front of a very old building in the corner on the right with respect to the road coming in. In our understanding, it is one of the first buildings on the site, with a very nice internal courtyard. There, we took a quick look at the milling room with its old malt mill. We moved to the rest of production, which is mostly located in the big windowed building right in front of the parking lot, characterised by a more modern (and not particularly nice) architecture, with the bonus that the stills can be seen from the outside. At the moment they have six stills, with the last four installed in the 60s. However, there are currently plans to have more to increase the production capacity. They have six warehouses on site – we visited one of the three dunnage, just next to the visitor centre.

The still room, from outside the room.

After the tour, the tasting was waiting for us: five drams, at Justine’s request without any of their regular core range (so NOT the 12, 15, 18 and 21). We started with the Portwood (46%) and the cask strength batch 10 (58.6%). Moving on, we tried one of the distillery bottlings (or fill your own) at the time: a vintage 2012, 10y, matured in an ex-oloroso puncheon (61%, £105). The fourth dram was a 1989 vintage (29y, bottled in 2019), from an ex-PX puncheon (49.9%), while the final was the second distillery bottling: a 1993 vintage (again 29y) from an ex-oloroso puncheon (54.9%, costing an eyewatering £550). The drams were all delicious, however while decanting an extra set that was poured by mistake (to gift the bus driver) we realised that they were only 10ml measures…a bit stingy for the £50 we had paid. At the bar, most of us took another dram: we got one finished in virgin oak (definitely one of the strangest drams we had) and a 12y (vintage 2007) matured in ex-PX cask which was delicious.

A special tasting!

Back on the bus, we only had time to grab a meal deal at a big Tesco on the way to our next destination, Strathisla! As we arrived, we remembered how beautiful it was, one of the prettiest distilleries in our opinion. This time we didn’t do a tour (which we had already done it in 2019, together with a blending experience), but a tasting of Chivas Regal, in the warehouse number 3.

Cute, sooo cute.

The guide gave us a brief introduction about the distillery and its role in being at the core of this very popular blended whisky. Chivas 12 is very popular indeed, in Italy is omnipresent at grannies/aunties houses, and it was during our trips back home that we realised that, compared to its peers (ie ”value blended whiskies”), it is actually not a bad offering. After the introduction, we moved to a caged part of the warehouse, where 5 casks were laid out. We knew these already: as part of our tour in 2019, we could choose two of them to try. These were cask strength expressions of the main Chivas Regal bottlings: the 12y, the Extra (13y), the 18y, the 25y, and the Ultis, which is a blended malt (so without a grain component). However, because of the pandemic, these casks lasted much longer, so we’ve been told by the guide that we needed to add 5 years to each of them…quite a great deal!

A wee treasure in the warehouse.

The drams were all very good, the 18y (actually a 23y) very chocolatey, reminding us how blended whisky can be great. Unfortunately, none of these were on sale…at the shop the offering was a bit pricey (as in most Pernod Ricard owned distilleries), and because we couldn’t try any, we just gave it a pass. We were surprised that some bottles of 12y single grain from Strathclyde we bought after our visit in 2019 were still there: a sign of how grain whisky is underrated sometimes.

You wouldn’t say we just had 5 cask-strength whiskies…

Back to the bus, we finally headed to the last working distillery visit of the holiday. More about this in our next post, just a tiny clue: the distillery is in Grantown on Spey. Until next week, slainte!

Glendronach Distillery*: https://www.glendronachdistillery.com/
Strathisla Distillery – Home of Chivas*: https://www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com/strathisla/

* No summaries because there experiences were bespoke

#27.3 Speycation

From Glenallachie to the
blend of Doom


TL;DR: Saturday morning we visited a distillery that is special to us, Glenallachie. After an amazing tour and a few drams, we spent the rest of the day walking around Dufftown, enjoying the sun. We finished the day with a sip of the infamous Blend of Doom and a pizza at the Craigellachie Lodge.

(missed Part 2/Part 1?)

That Saturday morning was a very nice one, warm and shiny…We’re told that’s unusual for Speyside in October, but it’s not the first time we got one. After breakfast, we jumped on the bus towards Aberlour (the village, not the distillery again) to reach our next destination: GlenAllachie distillery!

Such a beautiful day for a distillery visit!

We were super excited about that. When we visited it in August 2021, on a much colder and wet day (so much that we couldn’t light up our BBQ in the evening!), it wasn’t possible to tour the facility because of Covid, so we only had a tasting while the guide played us an interesting video. It wasn’t one of those ‘let’s celebrate Scotland’ videos with deer, waterfalls, glens, mist, etc…, but literally a worker filming and explaining production with their phone, so much more interesting in our opinion. This time, we could finally visit production. And mostly, we really like their stuff. We know some whisky geeks are put off by the big use of secondary maturation and finishes, but we love their bottlings anyway and we regard the whisky as top notch, so far it never disappointed.

That morning the distillery was (almost) all for us. Sue, Brenda and Karen warmly welcomed us with a dram, a special one to start with, one we hadn’t tried before: a 15y GlenAllachie finished in Virgin Scottish Oak wood (48%, non-chill filtered, NCF, and not artificially coloured NC). Then, they split us into two groups, to have a bit more space while wondering around: our group started with the tour. We had a look at the usual Porteus Mill, and the huge stainless steel closed mashtun.

Milling, safely.

The washbacks are made of steel as well, and there are 6 of them. Currently the distillery is running way below capacity, a bit less than a half in our understanding. This started when Billy Walker bought the distillery in 2017, to improve the produced spirit. In particular, fermentation is now about a week long, and they don’t work during weekends. In the still room, two wash stills and two spirit stills were off for the weekend…so we could take a sneak peek inside (just another occasion for a silly photo). Finally, we went to the warehouse to admire the maturing stock and the huge variety of casks (wine, various size of sherry and bourbon, etc.); they laid out not a typical dunnage warehouse, but a racked one.

Fun or creepy? You decide.

Back at the visitor centre, we had another two delicious drams in the tasting room: the 16y Present Edition (48%, NCF, NC, Mizunara and Virgin oak) released in celebration of Billy Walker 50 years in the business, and the Glenallachie 21y Batch 2 (51.1%, NCF, NC). Well, it looked like that was it. Instead, we moved upstairs to join the other group, to have two last drams all together. Such a nice touch! The two drams were the bottle-your-own (or distillery casks) on sale at the shop at the time: an 11y ex-oloroso puncheon (60.5%, NCF, NC) and a 16y finished in refill ex-bourbon barrel which held peated whisky before (59.5%, NCF, NC), both amazing (and of course, we came back home with one)!

Overall, this was one of our best distillery tours ever: Sue, Brenda and Karen were all very funny and knowledgeable, and we could see how they love their job. Karen even told us that she followed Billy Walker after he acquired the distillery, after Glenglassaugh was sold to Brown Foreman (together with GlenDronach and Benriach).

So delicious!

Here, we have to make a little digression. Speyside is by far the biggest whisky region, not by size but by number of distilleries and production quantity. Therefore, in the planning phase of the trip, at first it looked like we had a plethora of possibilities that we wouldn’t know where to start, like for a kid going to Disneyworld or Legoland. Unfortunately, it didn’t go down like that, and according to Justine filling the schedule was much harder than prevented. In some cases, she was told that there was personnel shortage. Others still have to come back to her (6 months after…ahahah). This felt really weird and very much in contrast with our first EWG trip to Campbeltown – the smallest whisky region, and by far the smallest production (according to the 2023 Malt Whisky Yearbook the 3 distilleries combined don’t get to 2.5 million litres per annum of alcohol), so with a limited number of available activities. Still, despite this and Covid restrictions at the time, we managed to have a very full schedule fairly quickly (Cadenhead’s warehouse tasting, Springbank, Glengyle, and tastings with Mark Watt from Watt Whisky, Ian McAllister from Glen Scotia and Kyntire gin).

Things you see if you take a walk in Dufftown.

We discussed a few times about this ‘Speyside struggle’ in the group, and probably the main cause was the lack of personnel indeed (thanks Brexit, “the gift that keeps giving”…), but we suspect that some of them just couldn’t be arsed to organise an open day for 22 thirsty whisky enthusiasts. A bit unexpected, but in the end we managed to have a great holiday anyway, as Justine came up with some great surprises for us.

Anyway, all this to say that, as a matter of fact, the Saturday afternoon was free from whisky activities, and we decided to spend it in Dufftown. After a brief lunch in a café near the clock tower (characterised by some quite rude staff), the day was still so nice that a group of us decided to walk around, and we basically repeated Michelle’s walking tour we did in 2019: from the clock tower to Dufftown distillery, then Mortlach, Glendullan and we finished off at Glenfiddich. This time, however, we checked out Balvenie’s castle, which unfortunately was still closed (together with a worrying number of Historic Scotland sites, we later found out). Here our pal Joe opened a Glen Scotia Double Cask rum finish, a novelty of that period, and shared it with us.

Balvenie castle, not the distillery.

Back to the bus, we moved to Craigellachie, and as we had some time to kill before dinner at the Craigellachie Lodge, we went down to the Spey’s bridge where Justine had something “very special” ready for us: THE BLEND OF DOOM!!!

That’s the Blend of Doom for you.

This is a bottle she filled throughout the years with all the whisky samples she tried but didn’t (or couldn’t) finish. It was very funny to see people faces – to Gianluigi it tasted like old bathroom cleaning products, but most people went directly to “piss”. It was truly dire, and almost felt like an initiation ceremony for the Edinburgh Whisky Group. Fortunately, the pizza together with a pint and a dram, bingo and music set things right again in our mouth, so we could go to bed happy again.  

GlenAllachie Connoisseurs Tour*
*ours was a bespoke tour, but from the description and price it looks very similar to this one

Price: £50.00 (Oct 2022, now £60)

Duration: 2h

Tasting: 5 drams, 15y Scottish Oak (48%), 16y Mizunara Billy Walker 50th year anniversary (48%), 21y Batch Two (51.1%), Vintage 2011 11y distillery cask ex-oloroso puncheon (60.5%), Vintage 2006 16y distillery cask ex-peated bourbon barrel (59.5%)

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the guide team was superb, knowledgeable and very funny!

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Distillery exclusives: there are always two distillery cask bottle-your-own available

Recommended: absolutely!

Link: https://theglenallachie.com/

#27.2 Speycation

Single casks tasting vs. warehouse tasting


TL;DR: Second day of the Edinburgh Whisky Group Speycation! In the morning, we headed to Aberlour distillery where we split into two groups for a single casks tasting. In the afternoon, we went to the (dismissed) Coleburn distillery for a warehouse tasting with Murray & McDavid. We ended the evening at the Windswept brewery, in Lossiemouth, enjoying pints, music, and good company. 

(missed Part 1?)

We woke up quite rested on the Friday morning. The day looked very interesting: a tasting at an already known distillery, followed by a warehouse tasting (as we said a few times, always our favourite) and a visit to a brewery…Not bad, eh?

We had a quick breakfast in the room with some food bought the day before. The alternative was a heavy breakfast at the near Brewers Fayre, but we left it for another day, considering we wouldn’t workout nor run for four days, as we are used to. For this and the next couple of days Justine had arranged a bus: Speyside is a big area to cover, and of course if we used our vehicles, at least 5 of us couldn’t have enjoyed the drams along with the others, defeating the purpose of the trip. There weren’t many others options, as public transport in the area is…ehm…(euphemism alert) not the best? And with cabs it would have been way more expensive. The company sent us a young driver, Lyndsay, which was super nice and it turned out she was a whisky fan too (must have been a torture to watch over 20 people getting pished for three days and not being able to have a sip!).

Ready for the first tasting of the day!

The first visit of the morning was at a distillery we already knew, Aberlour, but that we have overlooked since our visit in 2019, except for a bottle of A’Bunadh which for a while was our “Teresa’s mother house dram”. Reasons being, their other core releases are a bit dull in our opinion, and there are not many independently bottled. The distillery, however, offers many single cask bottlings (the Distillery Collection). This is a feature of all distilleries owned by Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard (Glenlivet, Scapa and Strathisla): they have many bottlings from the distillery and sometimes from the others. Only down side: they are 50cl bottles priced like 70cl ones. We personally have nothing against smaller bottles – we like exploring, so smaller bottles allows us to get more variety, in theory a win-win. However, in some cases (included this) we feel like they are just an excuse to sell less at a higher price.

The group had to split in two because they couldn’t accommodate us all at the same time, and we happened to be in the second, so as usual when we are in Aberlour, we had a coffee and a snack at the Gather’n café. Back at the distillery, we were welcomed in a very nice tasting room overlooking the distillery, some of us on chairs, some of us on comfy sofas.

Even more ready!

The four drams were in front of us, as well as a small gift: a set of three branded black glasses, very useful for blind tastings. Gianluigi was super happy, Teresa not so much (you have to know that Teresa thinks we have too many whisky glasses in the house and she’s not too keen on more, but no worries Aberlour, you made at least one of us super happy!). The tasting was hosted by Shirley (that’s her name, if memory serves us well!), initially a bit shy, but ultimately very funny and knowledgeable (also, with a family heritage in the whisky industry). The first dram was a 10y from a first fill ex-sherry butt. It was cask strength (CS, 58.3%), of course not-chill filtered (NCF) and not artificially coloured (NCF), like all the drams. It was followed by a delicious 18y from a 2nd fill (probably ex-bourbon) hogshead (51.6%), a 17y from a first fill ex-sherry butt (58.5%), and finally a quite nice 21y from a 2nd fill ex-sherry butt (58.9%). A good reminder about how delicious Aberlour can be.

The single casks tasting.

We came out from the distillery quite satisfied, had lunch at a nice café nearby, and after a bit the bus picked us up in the village. The next stop was the now not operational distillery of Coleburn, on the road between Rothes and Elgin. The former distillery’s warehouse is now used by the good folks at Murray McDavid (independent bottler) to store some of their casks. So of course, we were going to do a warehouse tasting, hurray! This is the same type of experience they offer during the Spirit of Speyside festival (by the way, if you look at the picture on the festival webpage, that’s us in the photo in the orange vests!).

What once was Coleburn distillery.

So, we spent the following hour and a half wondering around the warehouse, stopping in front of certain casks where Dan and Steve would get some whisky and fill our glasses with a mighty valinch, and happily drinking the drams. First off, a young Caol Ila (about 5y), followed by an old Allt’A-Bhaine, 22y, finished in an octave from Koval distillery. They have a great relationship with this producer from Chicago, and we could see many of their octave casks lying around. After another bit of wandering, we had the third dram, a magnificent Glentauchers from a wine cask (continuing the series of “no” answer to the question “have you ever had a bad Glentauchers?”). Finally, a Glenburgie from a sherry cask (oloroso? We don’t remember exactly), another tasty dram, albeit the winner for both of us was the third one.

A lot of valinch work!
Who are you, little one?

Unfortunately, they had no shop on site, so we returned the vests and jumped back on the bus, this time heading to the Windswept Brewery in Lossiemouth. The day was nice, so instead of going straight inside, a small group of us decided to walk to the nearby beach. It was a very nice and relaxed stroll, and at the beach we could see the anti-landing concrete blocks from WWII.

Beautiful early evening in Lossiemouth.

Back at the brewery, we had a couple of nice pints and a not-so-good meal from a local burger joint (won’t name names here, but someone told us they have closed). Spending the evening chit-chatting inside, we realised too late that there was a band playing outside…ouch! Overall, it was a nice close to a very nice day, and we went back to the hotel in Elgin very happy!

Aberlour Single Casks Explored tasting

Price: £40.00 pp (October 2022)

Duration: 1hr

Tasting: 4 drams, all CS, NCF and NC: 10y from a first fill ex-sherry butt (58.3%), 18y from a 2nd fill (probably ex-bourbon) hogshead (51.6%), 17y from a first fill ex-sherry butt (58.5%), and 21y from a 2nd fill ex-sherry butt (58.9%), plus three black copitas

Target: Whisky enthusiasts

Value for money: Good

Distillery Exclusive: Most single casks Aberlour bottlings

Recommended: if curious to try non-standard Aberlour’s

Link: https://www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com/aberlour/

Murray McDavid warehouse tasting

Link: https://murray-mcdavid.com/

(No summary because this was a bespoke experience)

#27.1 Speycation

Dramming in Elgin


TL;DR: After the fun of the Edinburgh Whisky Group trip to Campbeltown in 2021, a year later we replicated with another one, but to Speyside! Plenty of whisky activities and fun, starting from Elgin, where we attended a bespoke tasting at G&M and we visited Glen Moray distillery, both great experiences. 

During the pandemic, one of the things that helped keep us sane was the very nice people we met after joining the Edinburgh Whisky Group, on Facebook. While the group grew almost exponentially in numbers, during the lockdown a small part of it, mostly spread all over the Lothians (with some exceptions in London and…Norway!), started having regular Zoom whisky tastings. When the restrictions slowly phased out, we started meeting in person for drams, which was very nice and at times surprising (on Zoom we hadn’t figured out that John and Joe were that tall!). And in October 2021, we even went all together to Campbeltown. Storming the Wee Toon was very fun and therefore a big success, so we obviously replicated the experience in 2022. This time, however, the idea came from our brilliant friend Cath (part of the group, of course), to do a Speycation! So, Speyside it shall be!

Left Edinburgh very early, and we still managed to be late!

The plan Justine organised was easy: staying in Elgin (most of us booked a room at the Premier Inn, a good solution to keep us all together although a bit pricier than expected and not that close to the centre), spending the first day there, and then travelling around the region with a rented bus that could fit the entire group of 22 people. The appointment was at 11am for the first activity of the holiday, a tasting at Gordon & MacPhail old shop in Elgin in South St (now undergoing renovation, in our understanding). The travel from Edinburgh or elsewhere was done by car or car sharing. We travelled with Justine and because of a wee late start, a break a wee too long, and a freaking huge and slow truck on the road, we got there late, fortunately just a few minutes.

“Breakfast” drams.

The tasting was a bespoke one Justine had agreed with them: 5 20ml drams for 50 quid. The drams came from their Connoisseur Choice range, except for the last one, and of course, were all non-chill filtered (NCF), not artificially coloured (NC) and cask strength (CS). We kicked the day off with a delicious 13y Strathmill from a refill ex-bourbon barrel, distilled in 2008 (57.3% abv). This is one of those Diageo’s workhorse distilleries whose product mostly goes into blends (there is a big J&B sign on the road leading to Strathmill distillery in Keith), but we are starting to appreciate it more and more thanks to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and other independent bottlers. The following dram was again a 13y, distilled in 2008 and from a refill barrel, but was a lightly peated Ardmore (whooping 62.5%), another distillery with little core range these days, but fortunately very prevalent with indy bottlers. The third dram was the best for both of us, a Tormore distilled in 2000, matured for 21y in a first fill ex-bourbon barrel and bottled in 2022 at 58.6%. Tormore is another of those distilleries we’d love to visit. It changed owner recently, from Chivas Brothers (Pernod Ricard) to Elixir Distillers, so we are hoping they’ll open to the public at some point.

Our favourite!

The fourth dram was from a demolished distillery in Dufftown: Pittyvaich, distilled in 1993, matured in a refill American hogshead for 29y and bottled in 2022 at 48.6%. Finally, a sherried dram, a Speymalt from Macallan distillery, 20y and 55.9%. A nice one, but it didn’t blow our socks off as we were expecting. Overall it was great tasting, with a good overview of the whisky produced in the area (Ardmore is just outside Speyside), and we particularly appreciated the ex-bourbon casks heavy line-up, which gave us a better idea of the distilleries character.

What a line-up!

Lunch was “free”, so we walked towards Elgin main square, where many diners and cafes looked full. We had a very average lunch in a quite anonymous one on the square (we chose a half-empty to be quick…probably it was half-empty for a reason), and we soon walked towards the next destination: Glen Moray distillery.

Glen Moray is one of those we initially underestimated due to their cheap expressions in supermarkets, but that now we are big fan of! And actually, we like them more because of their ability to provide cheap but still decent quality drams, as well as more serious stuff for the whisky nerds, like their Warehouse 1 series, featuring the amazing 8y peated whisky from an ex-PX cask we bought a couple of years ago: a treat! We’d been at the distillery in 2019, only for a (not so) quick tasting though, so visiting the production was a real novelty for us.

Clouds over the big silo.

We had booked the Intermediate Tour, which included an in-depth visit of the production, followed by a tasting of three of their bottle-your-own casks (all NCF, NC and CS). Emma took us around the distillery, which combines old and new elements, as it underwent recent renovations, including the addition of new shiny mash-tuns. The courtyard is dominated by a huge black silo used as malt storage, which can be spotted from far away, including from the near highway.

Someone is listening very carefully!

A peculiarity is that the wash stills in the old stillhouse, the one right in front of the entrance, have all been converted into spirit stills. The tour ended in the warehouse, where a number of empty (d’oh!) casks were aligned. They used to contain various types of sherry, Sauternes, Bordeaux, Rioja, bourbon, and many others. We nosed all of them, it was definitely interesting to understand how different they can be!

Yes, we nosed them all!

In the café, the three drams were waiting for us: first, a controversial (some people loved it, some definitely didn’t, including us) vintage 2014 (bottled 2022, so 7 or 8y) unpeated whisky from an ex-cognac cask (60.2%). It was followed by a vintage 2006 (so 15 or 16y) in an ex-oloroso sherry cask, definitely a sherry bomb (60.9%). Finally, a 2012 (so 9 or 10y) peated matured in an ex-Rioja red wine cask, another delicious one (58.4%). As a bonus dram, we got another peated, but matured in an ex-Sauternes cask (vintage 2013, 58.9%), of which they still had a few bottles.

Happy after a great whisky day!

After walking back to the centre, we finished the day with a nice meal at the Drouthy Cobbler, a cute restaurant hidden in a small lane near the main square. We finally got to Premier Inn after a quick cab ride, where we had a restful night looking forward to the following days!

Gordon & MacPhail

Link: https://www.gordonandmacphail.com/#

(No summary because this was a bespoke experience)

Glen Moray Intermediate Tour

Price: £35.00 pp (October 2022)

Duration: 1h 30min

Tasting: 3 drams from the current bottle-your-own range, for us Glen Moray Vintage 2014 (7-8y) ex-cognac cask (60.2%), Vintage 2006 (15-16y) ex-oloroso sherry cask(60.9%), Vintage 2012 (9-10y) peated ex-Rioja red wine cask (58.4%)

Target: Whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Very good

Highlights: Smelling the empty casks in the warehouse

Distillery Exclusives: Three bottle-your-own casks (see above), and the travel retail range (Elgin Classic, 12y and 15y but bottled at 48%, NCF and NC, and one litre bottles)

Recommended: Yes!

Link: https://www.glenmoray.com/

#26 Winterfest or Dramfest?

A day out at Deanston


TL;DR: In early December 2022, we spent a day at Deanston distillery for their Winterfest. Many drams were sipped throughout lots of fun whisky activities. Definitely a day to remember, and hopefully to repeat next year! 

The first weekend of December, right after Gianluigi’s birthday and to celebrate the passing of huge deadlines for both, we were looking for some whisky activity. At first, we thought about going to the West Highlands, Ardnamurchan or Mull, but then we decided to postpone this trip: we would have had to rent a car, book accommodations…We wanted something simpler. However, having visited most of the distilleries in the area, it wasn’t easy to pick something new. But well, who said that it had to be new? The solution was there all along: Deanston, Warehouse 4 tasting. We figured the casks would have definitely been different from the ones we had sampled from in May 2021. When we checked out their website though, there was no availability for the day. Unlikely, a bit strange, but oh well. It’s after some snooping on their website that we found out that something different was going on: the Winterfest! Tickets were £50 pp, for a tour and some tastings, plus a snack and a meal. Couldn’t believe it, so off we went!

Third time, lucky again.

So, there we were, on a cold Saturday morning, jumping on train at Waverley (train we almost missed, thanks for the n-th time to Lothian Buses), direction Stirling, similar to our January 2020 trip. And if here you are asking: “wait, January 2020, May 2021…is it the third time you visit Deanston?”, the answer is yes, and probably won’t be the last. Anyway, we had some time to kill before the bus to Doune, so we had a quick pie and a coffee. The bus was on time and in about 20 minutes it brought us to Deanston (on the bus we bumped into Rachel from The Grail Tastings, which we’d seen only on screen before!).

When we arrived, the shop and café were already full of people ready to start the day at the distillery, some were from the Friends of Deanston Facebook group, others from the East Linton Whisky Society. We checked in (to find out that our badge names were Teresa…and Teresa 2, ahah) and joined one of the three groups. Ours headed off to the production plant, where we did an in-depth visit, including the water turbine.

The open mashtun.

This time we paid more attention to the open mashtun and to one interesting characteristic: there is only one receiver where low wines, foreshots, and feints mix together. For the non-geeks: the low wines are the result of the first distillation (usually around 20%abv) in the wash still. The second distillation, in the spirit still, is what produces the new make spirit, which will be put into cask and matured. However, not all the product is kept, only the middle part (or “heart”). At Deanston, it is taken between the abv of 75% and 67% (the “cuts” or “cut points”). The foreshot (or “head”) is the first part of the distillation which contains a lot of methanol so no good for drinking, while the feints (or “tail”) are the end of the second distillation, too low in abv and containing some undesirable compounds. These two don’t go to waste, they are distilled again. At Deanston, they mix it with the next batch of low wines, and the receiver tank never goes empty: according to their master distiller, this is the reason why the spirit is so waxy. Very fascinating.

A beautiful warehouse.

When the tour finished, the guide took us back to the café, where breakfast was served: coffee (or tea) and a yummy morning roll. After this half-hour break, we started the second activity of the day, a warehouse tasting…nope, not the usual Warehouse 4, but Warehouse 2. Here, they gave us a tote bag with plenty of gifts (funnels, glasses, etc.) and we started the tasting. Unlike the Warehouse 4, the Warehouse 2 tasting consisted of three bourbon-matured drams of Deanston directly from the cask: one young-ish (5y old, can’t remember the abv), one a bit older (12y, 57.2%), and finally a 21y (54.3%). The aim was to understand how the cask affects the whisky, which was a great purpose, very educational (similar to what we did at Lagavulin). The 12y old sample probably came from a very active cask, as it was much darker than expected, darker than the 21y as a matter of fact, but all three were delicious.

Bourbon bombs in Warehouse 2.

After a short break, we went to Warehouse 4, for yet another tasting: this time the drams were four, and they were all matured or finished in sherry or other casks. We started with a 10y finished in an ex-Lepanto brandy cask (59%), followed by a vintage 2004 in an ex-amontillado butt (58.7%) and an organic distilled in 2001 and matured in an ex-fino hogshead (55.3%). We finished with a sublime 29y (vintage 1993) which spent 11y in an ex-bourbon cask and 18y in an ex-port wine cask (47.5%).

Los tres amigos.

They were all delicious, and very happy to have tried them (unfortunately, once back to the visitor centre, we noted a steep increase in single cask bottling prices since our 2021 visit…probably a bit more than what would be caused by inflation alone). The variety of the drams we tried was huge, and we could see how Deanston’s spirit can deliver in ex-bourbon casks, and how it holds up in stronger casks, like port or sherry: a chameleon of a spirit, and we’re very happy to confirm so after these tastings.

Valinch ready to go in Warehouse 4.

Then, the three groups got together, and we headed to a big tent outside (someone joked: “like the Dothraki in Game of Thrones”) where we enjoyed a full meal, including a delicious soup, coffee, etc. Once finished, we were asked to wait a few minutes to clean the tables and prepare the final tasting (yes, another one!). This time, the tasting was hosted by the Master Distiller Brendan McCarron, who’s always very funny and insightful to listen to. We tried four cask-strength drams (this time 10ml only, fortunately for our livers). We started with the (at the time) newly released Deanston Virgin Oak cask strength (57.5%), a celebration for the 10th anniversary of the visitor centre. It was followed by an Organic 2000 vintage (50.9%), a 2009 Bunnahabhain Coterie (Winter 2022), finished in Amarone casks (59.7%), and by a peated dram, a Ledaig Ink Doublewood (Winter 2022, 53.8%).

Listening carefully to the Master.

We left the distillery soon after the tasting (thanks Ronnie for the lift back to Edinburgh!), not that tired, but definitely happy. What a day, probably one of our best whisky-days so far. Deanston is one of those distilleries that we didn’t fully appreciate at the beginning, it was not immediate “love” like Tobermory/Ledaig or Glen Scotia. However, over time it grew on us, so much to become one of our favourites.

Until next time, slainte!

Deanston Winterfest

Price: £50 (December 2022, inclusive of tour, three tastings, breakfast, and lunch)

Duration: All day

Tasting: SO MANY DRAMS (see above)

Value for money: Very, very good

Highlights: Great atmosphere, great whisky, very friendly staff

Recommended: Absolutely

Link: https://www.deanstonmalt.com/

#25.3 Highlands trip bonanza!

Back to Edinburgh through Aberfeldy and Pitlochry


TL;DR: The final day of the trip was dedicated to slowly driving back to Edinburgh. Still, we were able to fill the day with a few distillery visits: Aberfeldy first, followed by Edradour and Blair Athol! Phew

(missed Part 2/Part 1?)

We woke up early that day, skipped breakfast, and drove straight to the ferry terminal at Fishnish, on the Isle of Mull, to catch the ferry back to the mainland under the morning sun. After a quick ferry trip (we believe it’s the quickest Mull route), we arrived in Lochaline, on the Morvern peninsula (home to another distillery, Nc’Nean, which at that time we didn’t even know existed). We had breakfast, finally, at the Lochaline Snack Bar, which serves delicious sandwiches, rolls, and other goodies at very reasonable prices. We enjoyed our breakfast in the good company of a nice English couple, who told us how they decided to spend their retirement on Mull…not a bad idea at all!

Not a bad morning!

Back in the car, we soon arrived in Corran for another quick ferry (this time just to save us over an hour drive), and then drove for the first time through Glencoe: what an incredible place! It felt like being in the middle of American canyons, but green.

We followed the road to Bridge of Orchy and Tyndrum, then we turned left (eastward) and drove almost straight towards the first distillery of the day: Aberfeldy! It was not a new name for us, we had seen it in supermarkets and at the airport, but we had never tried it before, so we were quite curious. The distillery is in the village of….yep, you guessed it: Aberfeldy! Lovely place, the landscape was not as dramatic as the ones we had crossed earlier in the morning, but hilly and cosy. The distillery itself sits in quite a beautiful spot, almost like a postcard, with a small walking bridge to cross before entering the visitor centre.

Teresa wasn’t ready for the picture.

The distillery is owned by Bacardi, together with Dewar’s, one of the most prominent blended scotch whiskies, and a few other single malt distilleries (Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Aultmore and Macduff). Before the tour, we could take a look at the museum on site, with lots of memorabilia and documents about the history of John Dewar and related brands.

Then, we started the tour of this very pretty distillery. Around production, the signals of being owned by a big corporation were obvious, with a lot of signs that reminded Gianluigi of his environmental consulting days (not a bad thing, on the contrary: emphasis on environment and safety are a must!). It is on this tour that we realised that we could remember all the stages of production…after all, that was the 5th distillery in 4 days.

At the time we didn’t really know what it was…

Then, we moved on to the warehouse, where a dram taken from a cask was served, but only to those with a more expensive ticket (3-4 people on the tour, including Teresa). It was a 1999 (so almost 20y old) Aberfeldy ex-sherry cask, and it was truly delicious. The fact that it was served with people with the regular ticket just waiting and watching was not the best however, a bit awkward. Anyway, back at the visitor centre, we could try a dram each: we chose the Aberfeldy 12 and the Dewar’s White Label. Not very memorable the first one, more memorable (but not in a good way) the second one.

We had lunch at the café in the visitor centre, but we soon left to get to the next distillery of the day: Edradour! It is a very small distillery, located near the village of Pitlochry. It used to be one of the smallest, if not the smallest in Scotland (called ‘the little gem’), but then they lost the record because a few smaller distilleries opened and because they built a second production line in a separate building on site, increasing the stills from 2 to 4. Edradour is owned by Signatory Vintage, an independent bottler, and indeed the shop stocks quite some of their range.

Ready for the second tour of the day.

This time, drams were served at the beginning of the tour (so Gianluigi could sip a tiny bit of it): we picked the flagship Edradour 10 (40%) and the peated version Ballechin 10y (46%), and decided not to go for the whisky cream liqueur. We started the tour with a big German group, but after a while, we and another 3-4 people branched off to get the tour in English. As usual, the tour guide went through the story of the distillery, which was founded in 1825, although their first single malt was only released in 1982! We visited the new distillery first, while the old production plant was showed to us from the courtyard as we walked back to the visitor centre. It is on this tour that we discovered what the ‘monkey shoulder’ is. At the shop, we found out that for a few extra quid, we could get the Signatory Vintage version of Edradour, still 10y old and vintage 2019, bottled at 46%, non-coloured and not chill-filtered: a very delicious treat to ourselves! We also got the whisky cream liqueur for a friend, who gave absolutely positive feedback!

Back in the car, we drove towards the final stop of the trip, the neighbouring Blair Athol distillery, in Pitlochry. We went first for a coffee in the village (the early start was catching up on us), and then checked in at the distillery. After a bit, our host for the day, the very knowledgeable Calum, took us to the table for the tasting (after two tours in a day, we didn’t feel like going for the third one…Well, we would catch up later on).

We can’t remember whether this was before or after the tasting…

We hadn’t had any Blair Athol before, and actually rarely heard anything about it, so we weren’t surprised when Calum explained to us that the majority of the whisky produced there goes into blends. Now that we are a bit more experienced, we can say that Blair Athol drams can be fantastic, but mostly the independently bottled ones. There, we were given Blair Athol 12y and Distillers edition 2019, followed by a range of Diageo products: Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Lagavulin Distiller Editions, and a wee tiny sip of Johnnie Walker Blue Label – the first and only time we tried it, not impressed (instead, we determined that the much cheaper Green Label we had at home was more enjoyable). After collecting “our” driver’s drams and a quick stop at the shop, we finally drove home.

It was a cracking weekend, one of the most memorable ones, and we took so much in from all these distillery visits. It’s when we switched from being whisky curious to whisky enthusiasts! Some of the experiences were quite touristy, which was OK with us at the time, but would not suit us well today after n more distilleries tours and tastings…We really appreciated Ardnamurchan for their environmental forward thinking (well, now we appreciate them ALSO for the stunning quality of their whiskies), while the range we tried at Tobermory was incredible. Edradour and Ben Nevis were unknown to us previously but revealed themselves as little gems in the scotch whisky landscape. Overall, a fantastic trip!

Until next time, slainte!

Distillery Links

Aberfeldy: https://www.dewars.com/gl/en/aberfeldydistillery/
Edradour: https://www.edradour.com/
Blair Athol: https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/blair-athol

#25.2 Highlands trip bonanza!

From Ardnamurchan crossing the sea to Tobermory


TL;DR: Second day of our trip, and for the first time, we visited a recently built distillery: Ardnamurchan! It was also the first distillery we visited openly talking about sustainability. In the afternoon, we took the ferry to Mull, had a stroll in Tobermory, and visited the local distillery, of course! 

(missed Part 1?)

On the second day of our long weekend we woke up very rested, after a great sleep in the very quiet Ardnamurchan Bunkhouse. The weather was overcast, so we skipped a potential walk in the woods and went directly for breakfast at the Natural History Visitor Centre, which also had a gift shop and a tearoom with delicious food (well, at the time at least…as we write it is closed for the winter, but there is a sign of business on sale). Then, a few meters away, the Ardnamurchan distillery.

Ugly picture of the beautiful lighthouse.

The distillery was funded and built in 2013 by the independent bottler Adelphi. According to the very knowledgeable guide, the decision was prompted by increasing difficulties in sourcing whisky casks. They started distilling in 2014, similar to many others (Wolfburn, Kingsbarns, Ballindalloch, Annandale) in what we can now consider the first wave of new distilleries (well, if we exclude the handful built in the ‘00s, like Kilchoman, Glengyle, or Daftmill). We liked the distillery, it is a combination of modern and classic styles, with a couple of classic pagoda roofs, one for aesthetical purposes (it’s above the visitor centre) but not the other (mystery…). A particularly interesting detail is that they use vegetable biomass collected in the area to heat up their boiler and rely on heat exchanges, showing how the whole production process was set up with sustainability in mind. They also have warehouses on site, so after the production tour we could take a sneak peek at the maturing casks.

The only picture we took at the distillery.

The tour ended in a very cosy tasting room/bar, where we were given two drams: the Adelphi house main blended whisky (NAS, 40% abv), and the Ardnamurchan spirit, aged for a couple of years in octaves. Because these casks are very small, the wood/spirit contact is higher and thus maturation is faster than in bigger casks – definitely a good strategy to get an idea of the direction the spirit is taking. Considering the age, we were impressed by the spirit, although the price was above the amount we’d spend on a 2y spirit. Well, we caught up afterwards. Since the first release of Ardnamurchan single malt in September 2020, we had more than a few drams, including a bottle of AD/07.21:05 we shared with friends in Italy over Christmas 2021, which “evaporated” in just over three weeks.

We left the distillery towards Kilchoan. We looked around a bit before going to the pier, where we got on the ferry to the Isle of Mull! About 40 minutes later, we were in the village of Tobermory, which probably many of you will be familiar with because of the very picturesque row of coloured houses on the waterfront. Well, fame deserved, it really is a special place!

Tobermory picturesque waterfront.

We drove straight up to the camping, where we had booked a pod for two nights. The camping was only 20-min walking from the harbour (and the distillery), so we could both enjoy our drams, finally! On the way to the distillery, we stopped quickly by a shop to get oatcakes … a move that will turn out to be very smart.

Can you tell we’re eating oatcakes? Yes, you probably can.

So, the Tobermory distillery was where the non-automatic booking system almost failed us (remember, this was back in 2019, now you can book online!). We had booked via email a tour with an extended tasting (4 drams each), however we were warned that tours were at risk of cancellation because of renovations. We checked in at the visitor centre, and the (a bit cranky) lady told us that there was no tour because of the renovations, and that someone should have told us before getting there. More worryingly, she said that there was no tasting, as the last one of the day had already started (indeed, we could hear the cheerful laughs coming from one of the tasting rooms). The tide turned when we showed her the email exchange, and it turned out that the person we had been in contact with (and that was supposed to tell us that there was no tour) was her! A bit of an awkward moment, but then she opened the door of a second tasting room, where she made space for us (apparently it was used as a storage room) and got eight bottles for the tasting: instead of both of us having the same set of four drams, she gave us a dram of eight expressions! Very well played, although, after a very quick description of the drams, she kind of disappeared…

The tasting – Part 1

The tasting consisted of three Tobermory single malts (unpeated) and five Ledaig-s (heavily peated). We started with the main flagship, Tobermory 12, to move on to an 11y distillery cask (ex-bourbon) and then to a 17y finished in Madeira casks, which was awesome. We also started the Ledaig series with the main expression, the Ledaig 10, followed by a 15y finished in ex-Rioja casks, and the 18y finished in ex-sherry casks, part of their core range and arguably one of the best drams ever. We finished off with a single cask expression, a 19y finished again in ex-Oloroso casks, and a 20y finished in ex-Moscatel wine casks. Being newbies at the time, we were mostly chasing big flavours, peat and strange finishes, so this combination of expressions literally blew our palates off! We came out of the tasting very happy, purchasing something for us and something to gift (and paying the tasting an extra fiver for some unknown reason, but we didn’t want to be bitchy about that).

The tasting – Part 2

Soon after (the tasting was at 4pm!) we went for an early but delicious dinner at Cafe Fish. We were outside the restaurant afterwards, enjoying the later afternoon sun, when a seagull landed on an apparently abandoned plate, grabbed something and left. When the unfortunate lady returned (nope, not abandoned), we had to break the news to her: she almost threw up and the waitress had to take her plate away, looking not too happy about that. After this “funny” scene, we slowly headed back to the camping (the return was uphill, d’oh!) to find another of the Highlands’ curses, after single track roads: MIDGIES! Gianluigi, as usual, got bitten a lot, Teresa much less…at the time it was surprising, after the n-th time, not so much.

Iona abbey.

We spent the following day visiting Mull. We left the camping mid-morning, drove towards Dervaig, Calgary and then along the west coast all the way to Fionnphort. We stopped a few times to admire the incredible landscapes, for a sneak at The Inn at Port nan Gael (delicious local mussels!), and another time to avoid driving over an incautious lamb. At Fionnphort, we crossed the sea to Iona, where after a quick stroll we visited the rest of the island running, trying to stay on a path along the perimeter. Unfortunately, at some point we ended up in a peat bog, but we were still able to return to Baile Mór, where we took the ferry again back to Mull.

Can you believe this is Scotland?

We then crossed the island eastward, to Craignure, and we returned to the camping in Tobermory, amazed by the incredible visit we had! Mull is definitely one of those must-go-back places!

Stay with us for the last day and the other distilleries. Until then, slainte!

Distillery Links

Ardnamurchan: https://www.adelphidistillery.com/
Tobermory: https://tobermorydistillery.com/