A trip to
Orkney Speyside et al.
Officially not in Speyside but very close, both geographically and in spirit: GlenDronach.
(Forward to Day 10 / Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 / Day 4 / or back to Day 2 or Day 1)
First lesson for newbies campervanners: nights spent in a camping are waaaaay more resting. We woke up feeling great in the morning, but maybe because we were anticipating what was waiting for us: the GlenDronach distillery. The drive from Aberlour to Huntly was quite smooth, with just a quick stop to Asda to pick up some folding camping chairs (another rookie mistake not to get them beforehand…).
Since its foundation in 1826, the GlenDronach distillery went through some troubled history including a fire, bankruptcy, government ownership, and mothballing. Now the distillery is owned by the American giants Brown Forman (does Jack Daniels ring a bell?) which acquired it together with Benriach and Glenglassaugh from Billy Walker. He was the responsible of GlenDronach revitalisation started in 2008, and hugely contributed to its current popularity.
We had our visit booked late in the morning. Since tours of the production had not restarted yet, we opted for the sherry masterclass. After checking in the visitor centre, the guide Vicky led us into a very nice mansion on a hill just a couple of minutes walking from the centre and in front of the warehouses, with a stunningly beautiful garden. This is called the Glen House, and it is where distillery managers used to live.
The tasting was ready for us and abundant beyond our expectations! We started with a “dram” (not sure if we are supposed to call it this way) of Oloroso sherry, golden colour and very dry, followed by one of Pedro Ximenez sherry, this one much darker, sweeter and syrupy. Then, we tasted their newmake spirit, which to be honest was one of the best we tried so far, already rich with sweet and fruity flavours, but delicate as well. Moving on to the whiskies, we first tasted the GlenDronach 15y (which we learned is made with whisky matured 50/50 in ex-Oloroso and ex-PX casks, unlike the 12y which is 30% ex-Oloroso and 70% ex-PX, and the 18y 100% ex-Oloroso), and then the cask strength Batch 9 (bottled at 59.4% and aged between 6 and 12 years). Finally, two gems: a vintage 1995 matured for 23 years in an ex-PX puncheon, and a vintage 1992 matured for 26 years in an ex-Oloroso butt. The tasting also included a dried fruits and chocolate florentine, which perfectly paired with the drams. It was a unique tasting for us, because for the first time we tried the sherries alongside the whiskies, which allowed us to better understand the influence of the casks on the spirit maturation. Vicky did a perfect job at guiding the tasting, and although she said she was feeling a bit “rusty” because of the long visitor centre closure, we really enjoyed the experience.
Unfortunately, the price of the two single casks was a bit steep for our pockets (we’d like to tell you, but our brains removed that information too quickly), and the price of all core range bottlings a lot higher than specialist retailers. Therefore, we “settled” for a 15y bottle your own (although, because of Covid, it was pre-bottled) matured in an ex-PX cask for around £120 which Vicky, very kindly, made us taste (the other option, an 11y ex-oloroso cask was a bit cheaper but unavailable at the time).
We drove away (ehm, Teresa drove…. driver drams for her again) to go back to the village of Huntly, where we had a quick lunch. Since the day was still long and our whisky activities were over, we decided to first visit the Huntly Castle.
The castle was the ancient home of the Earl of Huntly. Version 1.0 of the castle was made of wood and on a motte, and only later it was replaced with a stone building right next. As many other castles in Scotland, the external structure is still well preserved. A good guided tour through the remains helped us understand a little bit of the history of the castle and the region. A fascinating, unexpected detail was the presence of Catholic religious symbols engraved on the external wall – a clear message to visitors. The garden around the castle was very well kept as well, with the river Deveron running on one side in a very picturesque landscape. We left Huntly but stopped again right outside the village for a walk at the Bin Forest. The walk was very nice and relaxing as well, we chose a fairly short trail (around 6.5 km), which led to the top of the hill. The view was very nice despite the overcast weather, but what surprised us the most was the different vegetations along the path, including some magnificent forests.
After the walk, we drove back to Speyside to get closer to the distilleries booked for the next day. We should have had an online tasting with our Leith based Quarter Gill club, but everything else went wrong. We had chosen a pub’s parking lot to spend the night as it was recommended by the Park4Night app, but we found out very late that they didn’t have food. We went to another one which unfortunately treated us very poorly (we won’t name names here, we already left a review on the appropriate platform), and we missed the online tasting. The night was saved by a few drams and the joyful crowd at the Fiddichside Inn, including a stunning 1995 Tormore bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in their Connoisseur’s Choice range. A rainy, happy night.
GlenDronach Sherry Masterclass
Price: £40.00 pp (July 2021)
Tasting: 5 drams + 2 sherry, oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenex sherry, new make spirit, Glendronach 15y, Cask Strength Batch 9, 1995 single cask ex-PX puncheon, 1992 single cask ex-sherry butt
Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks, in particular sherry bombs lovers
Value for money: Good
Highlights: the tasting venue and the drams
Things we did not like: the prices in the shop