#2.3 A very Scottish summer holiday


A trip to Orkney Speyside et al.
(day 3)

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 GlenDronach distillery from the Glen House.

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.

A very generous tasting!

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.

A not so great photo of 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.

“Rocking” in the Bin Forest!

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

Link: https://www.glendronachdistillery.com/en-gb/

#2.2 A very Scottish summer holiday

A trip to Orkney Speyside et al.

(day 2)

Busy day (fortunately, given the weather…): we officially entered Speyside and visited a couple of Glens, Glenlivet and GlenAllachie! 

(Forward to Day 10 / Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 / Day 4 / Day 3 or back to Day 1)

Unfortunately, our first night ever sleeping in a campervan was not particularly resting, aided by an incessant rain pounding on the van’s top. Teresa waked up particularly nervous because this day was going to be the first time she drove on the left side of the road. However, we jumped in the van and the drive was (surprisingly) smooth until, just round a single-track corner, a behemoth of a distillery appeared: and here we are at Glenlivet!

Happy faces at Glenlivet.

Here, the tasting guide Andrew welcomed us very kindly, leading us to the newly built visitor centre and bringing us a nice coffee. The room is quite nice, with a very relaxing and cosy atmosphere, almost like a chalet on the Alps. It has a cocktail bar and comfortable chairs. That brings us to the tasting room, with soft lights and themed to look like an 1800s whisky cellar.

For that day we chose the “Single Casks” tasting, where we were given four samples of the big range of single cask bottlings available at the distillery, all cask strength. Andrew was extremely knowledgeable and passionate; we could listen to him talking about whisky and whisky making all day! As a first dram, he picked a 12y aged in an ex-oloroso butt, very dark in colour and a typical sherry bomb style. Second and third a pair of 16y, one golden coloured, almost like a wheat field in June, and the other again deep amber. Of course, this was to show us the difference between maturation in ex-bourbon barrels and ex-sherry casks. Finally, a real gem: an 18y matured in a refill sherry cask, lighter in colour than the previous sherry matured drams, but more delicate and nuanced. Overall, a great experience.

What a lineup!

The Single Cask bottles at the shop were a bit expensive (among the ones we tried, the cheapest was £85 for a half-litre bottle), so we decided to buy a “bottle your own” expression. They had three, all cask strength but not single casks: a 12y (£55 for a 70cl bottle), a 15y (£70 for 70cl) and an 18y (£110 we think, but we might not remember correctly); we chose the 15y, whose cask make-up reminds a lot the one of their 15y core range, although this one is not chill-filtered. To note the impressive collection of Glenlivet expressions available at the shop, as well as whisky from other Pernod-Ricard distilleries (these ones in the single casks range).

Gianluigi’s first bottling experience.

Of course one of us could not taste these beauties right away, and today Teresa picked the shortest straw. Back in the van, we drove towards the village of Aberlour, where we had booked a pitch at a lovely camping. The second and last distillery of the day is one producing a whisky we both really enjoyed so far, so we were very hyped up and we didn’t want either of us to miss the tasting. So, after checking in at the camping, we walked towards the distillery on a nice trail, and 50 minutes after (someone miscalculated and thought there were only 20 minutes…ehm, Gianluigi for once) we arrived at GlenAllachie!

Here as well, tours were not available, so the experience offered to us was a video tour and a tasting. The video was very entertaining and one of the best substitutes for a walk into a distillery that we have experienced. The guide Graham interrupted the video a few times to give us the opportunity to taste the delicious drams (although with a very tiny version of a Glencairn glass, almost could not stick our noses into it!). These were: a GlenAllachie 15y, two of their distillery single casks (2009 Grattamacco finish and 2006 ex-oloroso full maturation, both cask strength, priced £100 and above) and finally a 21y McNair Lum Reek (46%). He also gave us a taste of theMcNair upcoming rums, two 7y (one finished in an ex-peated whisky…very interesting!) and a 15y. Gianluigi in particular appreciated this, as he is starting getting more and more into rum as well (oh noooo).

Again, what a lineup!

Something that we both always experienced, since the beginning of our whisky journey, is a connection with the red wine finished whiskies. We grew up in different parts of Italy, but both our families come from the countryside. There, red wine is almost always the drink of choice during meals. All this to say that the Grattamacco had to come home with us (nice excuse, isn’t it?), together with a miniature of the mighty 10y cask strength, a dram now very hard to get hold of when a new batch is released. After we left GlenAllachie we walked back to Aberlour through a wood, near the Linn Falls and along the Aberlour distillery (…no worries, just walking past it, we already visited it in December 2019, but it’s a story for another time).

The quality of pictures decreases after two tastings…

We had a quick pint and a warm soup in a pub before heading back to the camping, tired but happy. Our first attempt to grill failed miserably as the charcoal was too humid after all the rain of the night before. So, we sadly cooked the meat on the portable cooker, and we quickly went to bed, to get ready for another adventure!

Glenlivet The Single Casks Tasting

Price: £30.00 pp (July 2021)

Tasting: 4 drams from the Glenlivet single casks bottlings (for us 12y 1st fill ex-sherry butt, 16y 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel, 16y 1st fill ex-sherry butt, 18y 2nd fill ex-sherry butt, all cask strength)

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the drams and the renovated visitor centre

Things we did not like: the single casks bottling prices

Link: https://www.theglenlivet.com/en-UK

GlenAllachie Premium Experience

Price: £30.00 pp (July 2021)

Tasting: 4x20ml drams, GlenAllachie 15y, two distillery exclusive single casks 2006 ex-oloroso hhd and 2009 Grattamacco finish, MacNair Lum Reek Blended Malt 21y. Complimentary mini glencairn.

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the drams and the video distillery tour

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://theglenallachie.com/

#2.1 A very Scottish summer holiday

A trip to Orkney Speyside et al.
(day 1)

Our first day of our supposed-to-be in Orkney holiday, but actually we went to Speyside. First stop: Royal Lochnagar! 

(Forward to Day 10 / Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 / Day 4 / Day 3 / Day 2)

Here we are, almost ready to start our summer holidays, after months of hard work! We decided to avoid unnecessary risks and to stay in Scotland, so despite our stock of Parmigiano Reggiano is finished, we decided not to travel back to Italy to visit our families. Instead, a destination we craved for long: Orkney! But then…PING!

Unfortunately, Gianluigi had a contact with a person who tested positive for Covid (who at the time forgot to get his jab…please trust an epidemiologist: go get it now if you haven’t done so yet!) and at the time the rule was still self-isolation for 10 days no matter what. So, the holiday is “oot the windae” (including visits to Highland Park, Scapa, Wolfburn, and Pultney…). However, we rapidly bounced back: we used the days in self-isolation to regroup, cancel all the reservations and make a new plan. We took advantage of a voucher for a campervan which we were supposed to use for a holiday on Islay last year (first victim of the pandemic) and we rented the vehicle for 10 days. Since Highland Park was fully booked for the period, we changed our destination: Speyside + “let’s see what we can fit in”.

The wee campervan.

We were very excited because it’s our first trip with a campervan, which gave us a great freedom to travel around the country without being worried of not finding a room. We arrived at the rental place in Broxburn loaded like mules, and here we go!

After a quick stop in Perth for gas, a coffee and some groceries, we got to the Cairngorms, which is always a pleasure because of its spectacular landscape. We parked at the Balmoral Castle parking (where overnight stays are allowed and there is also a drinking water fountain), and we bet that by now you guessed which distillery we were heading to: Royal Lochnagar!

The Cairngorms in a typical Scottish summer day.

The distillery was built in 1845, after two previous establishments were burned to the ground, and it gained the Royal Warrant after a visit of Queen Victoria in 1848. Today it’s the smallest in the huge Diageo portfolio, with a capacity of just 500,000 mlpa and, unlike others we recently visited, it’s completely manual. We arrived there after a 20-minute walk, the distillery is made by a bunch of lovely stone buildings, almost hidden in a very picturesque landscape.

The tour started in the former mill room, since today they get the barley already milled. The guide Cara was knowledgeable and although sometimes we felt she was sticking to a script, she was able to sneak in some quite funny jokes. The tour moved swiftly to the next stages of production: mashing, fermentation (two wooden washbacks), and distillation: a magnificent couple of onion-shaped stills.

Teresa in awe in front of the Royal Lochnagar stills.

In the filling store we learn that the most used cask here is refill sherry butts, which (as you can guess) have been previously used by other Diageo’s distilleries. They have around a thousand casks storage capacity on site, the rest goes to the warehouse up in Moray, at Glenlossie.

After briefly visiting the courtyard (btw, nice view of the worm-tub condenser from there), we went to a warehouse space for a sensorial experience: Cara made us dip a few pieces of paper into cask-strength whisky drams, each characterised by different cask or flavour profile, one was a Lagavulin). Unfortunately we could only nose those drams…. But no big deal, as the tour ended with a tasting, which we could both enjoy since we had already parked (hurray!!!).

The old malting floor..and, behind it, the Queen’s estate.

The first dram was their main core range expression, the Royal Lochnagar 12 year old (bottled at 40%). Second, their Distillery Exclusive (batch 1), which includes maturation in first fill European oak and refill sherry and bourbon casks (NAS, bottled at 48%). The last two drams were quite spectacular: the Selected Reserve, despite its 43% abv (NAS but apparently around 20y) and the 175th Anniversary edition, a 17y cask strength (56.3%). Unfortunately, the last two bottles were well above our budget (between £170 and 250), as well as the “bottle your own” (a 14y, 54.9% for £150), so we decided to get the Distillery Exclusive (£90)…and as a travel dram (or “sacrificial whisky”, like two pals of our whisky group taught us) a bottle of the 12y: with the 10% discount it was quite convenient.

A great final tasting!

We slowly strolled back to the campervan, and we barely had time to cook some dinner before it started to rain cats and dogs. So, we took a dram of our other travel whisky, a young but quite tasty Miltonduff from the SMWS…as an anticipation of what was waiting for us in that incredible region that is “Speyside”.

Royal Lochnagar Expressions Tour

Price: £17.50 pp (July 2021)

Tasting: 4 drams (12y, Distillery Exclusive, Selected Reserve and 175th Anniversary)

Target: both whisky novices and more experienced ‘drammers’

Value for money: very good (also, it includes 10% discount on the Diageo range)

Highlights: the buildings and the sensorial experience

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/royal-lochnagar

#1.3 Dramming around again after lockdown

A quick escape to the Highlands (Day 3 & 4)


Next in line in our May 2021 Highlands trip: Deanston and Tullibardine. 

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

Day #3 started with a 3-hour drive from Muir of Ord to the village of Doune, in the southern Highlands, famous for its castle which was used as a set for popular movies and TV series. Despite not being able to find our coconut shells (probably a swallow stole them from us), we toured the castle anyway.

Doune Castle <>insert coconut shells noise</>.

After that, we checked in to a lovely, local B&B and went straight to Deanston distillery, just a 15-minute walk away. The staff are very professional and welcoming, Brian led us straight to the warehouse where 3 casks were waiting for us and only us (a private tasting, yay!).

The first expression was a 2013 vintage 1st fill ex-bourbon, quite delicious, full of all the notes you’d expect from a great bourbon cask (vanilla, honey, caramel), but very balanced despite the young age. Second up, an incredible 2001 fino hogshead, re-casked from 1st fill ex-bourbon. Brian told us that this cask was supposed to be finished earlier, but because of the pandemic it aged for an extra year or so. It was surprisingly good, very different from a typical sherried style whisky (drier, and orchard fruits notes), which instead came in the form of the last, and delicious, 2004 amontillado butt, a classic sherry-bomb.

The tasting location: Deanston Warehouse 4!

In the store they kindly gave us a wee taste of an ex-calvados and a marsala finished expression (12 and 15 years old), both quite interesting. We were spoiled for choice, but we went with the 2013 full bottle and the 2001 small bottle (too good and peculiar to be left there), plus a plethora of 30ml samples, including the new make spirit. At this point the credit card was crying. As it was a very nice day, we sipped one of the samples (a 2002 vintage ex-port pipe finish) in the beautiful gardens behind the castle, next to a wee stream: a liquid picnic.

Happiness after the tasting at Deanston.

As per the previous day, the rest of the evening was quiet…mostly because the only pub in the village was closed (we were told because of a restrictions breach), so we ended up drinking some previously collected samples in the B&B while re-watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail (of course).

The final day of our trip started with a quick morning visit of the Dunblane cathedral, which was on the way to our next and last distillery: Tullibardine. We were very curious, as despite its presence in local grocery stores, the only expression we know is the (quite nice) 15 y/o, tasted a few months back through our Whisky-Me subscription. In our understanding the distillery is going through some refurbishment, but the visitor centre looks already quite new and spacious. The guide, Gavin, is a veteran: has been working there for 17 years (and as a matter of fact, one of the distillery exclusive bottlings is named after him), and he was visibly happy to have visitors again. We were the first visitors, as they reopened for tours on that very same day. He explained to us that the distillery is owned by the Famille Picard, a French beverage company which, among other things, allows them to access premium ex-wine casks. He first showed us where the malted barley comes through and the milling room. After, we entered a space where it is possible to admire all 3 parts of the process equipment together (mashtun, washbacks and four stills). This was quite unique to us because in most of the other distilleries we visited these are located in different rooms, despite Tullibardine being far from a craft distillery (3mlpa production). Next, we spent some time in the warehouse, which is always among our favourite parts.

Tullibardine distillery.

Finally, the tasting takes place in the shop: Gavin was quite generous, and to our request he was happy to give us one of the Murray range instead of the 15y that we had already tasted, as well as a taste of one Distillery Exclusive, a 12y cask strength Moscatel finish (£95, the other one available was an ex-bourbon cask: same age, same price and cask strength), and a Marsala finish from the Murray series (which we happily bought). This was one of the most engaging tours we had…It was very easy to connect with the distillery “spirit” (in all meanings).

The rest of the day went smoothly. Lunch and a stroll in Perth, followed by a short but enjoyable walk at Loch Leven before driving back to the home base in Leith. As in our previous trips around Scotland, we ended up talking about how lucky we are to live in this gorgeous country, while starting to plan the next trip.

Deanston Warehouse 4 tasting

Price: £35.00 pp (May 2021)

Tasting: 3 drams straight from the cask, 2013 ex-bourbon barrel (£65/25 for 700/200ml), 2001 organic ex-bourbon with 3-4y finish in fino hogshead (£120/35), 2004 amontillado butt (£120/35), and a complimentary glass (high-stem copita)

Target: whisky enthusiasts, geeks, and experts

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the whisky and the friendly staff

Things we did not like: nothing really

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

Tullibardine Bonded Tour

Price: £30.00 pp (May 2021)

Tasting: 3 drams, Tullibardine Sovereign (43%, NAS but ~7y, wink-wink), a choice of the cask finish series (225 Sauternes, 228 Burgundy, and 500 sherry, all 43% NAS but ~8y, wink-wink), and the 15y (43%), and a complimentary glass (short highball glass)

Target: both whisky novices and enthusiasts

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the friendly guide and “hey, I can see the mashtun, washbacks and stills from this spot!”

Things we did not like: nothing really

Link: https://www.tullibardine.com/

#1.2 Dramming around again after lockdown

A quick escape to the Highlands
(Day 2)

Day 2 of our trip to the Highlands in May 2021, this time we adventured to two Diageo’s workhorses: Clynelish and Glen Ord distilleries.

(go to Day 1)

We were really looking forward to day 2, because our first distillery stop was where they produce one of Gianluigi’s favourites: Clynelish. As usual, we arrived there a few minutes early, among the first ones, so the distillery staff waved from the balcony…nice welcome. The distillery, and in particular the visitor centre, has been recently renovated to be included in the “Johnnie Walker Four Corners of Scotland Experience” (together with Glenkinchie in the Lowlands, Cardhu in Speyside, and Caol Ila on Islay) and the building looks quite beautiful.

The tour started in a dark room, the very experienced guide Daragh seated us along a very big table. As he told the parallel stories of Johnnie Walker and Clynelish distillery (including the ominous Highland Clearances operated by the Dukes of Sutherland), the middle of the table rose up, and each one of us was faced with mysterious drawers. These contain various objects (jar with, supposedly, characteristic Clynelish aromas, wax stamp…) or games (find the Highland Wildcat on the map, 16 pieces jigsaw…) and their opening was connected with coloured hollows with things like the Striding Man, the Wildcat, etc.. While the historical information and context was extremely interesting, we wondered whether such a spectacle was really needed. We would have happily exchanged the “fancy table” experience with an extra dram. Fortunately, things became much more interesting as we went through the distillery’s production (which is highly automated and, to my surprise, works 24/7), although not in the warehouse.

Clynelish distillery stills.

The tour ended in the tasting room, where we had 3 drams (and they kindly provided the sample bottles for the driver), and a pre-prepared cocktail if you wanted to use one of your drams for that. The room is very nice and the view from the balcony quite spectacular. Unfortunately, they could not give us a dram nor a sniff of neither the bottle your own (12y, 51.2%, £120) nor the Distillers Edition (15y, 46%, double matured in oloroso casks, £65). We ended up buying the latter anyway, as the Distillery Exclusive included in the tasting was nice but a bit pricey.

Overall, we were probably not the right target for this type of experience, but we were happy to visit the distillery anyway. We hope that when tourism is fully resumed they will introduce a more “whisky enthusiasts targeted” experience.

After the distillery we made two brief stops, one to check out the impressive Dunrobin Castle (the morning fog spoils the view though), and one for a warm soup in the very cosy Golspie Coffee Bothy.

The magnificent view of Dunrobin Castle from the beach…

Then a quick drive and we arrived at Muir of Ord, home of the Singleton (of Glen Ord distillery) single malt. As this brand is mostly reserved for the South-east Asia market (contrary to the Singleton of Glendullan and Dufftown, respectively reserved to the American and European ones), we were quite curious to taste it. So far, we had only tried very few expressions from independent bottlers. With a production of 11mlpa, this is one of the biggest distilleries we have ever visited. We were also impressed by the malting facility visible from the road, which we were told it serves all the Diageo’s Northern-Highlands distilleries.

After we checked in the visitor centre, we could take a look at the exhibition about the history of distilling and scotch whisky in Scotland, which included some old equipment used during the illicit distilling era.

An old times still and condenser (from the Glen Ord distillery exhibition).

Our guide Dave ably walked us through this massive site, working 24/7 and highly automated as well. The fact that only around 10% of this malt is used in blends surprised us, and contrasts with Clynelish where this fraction is above 90%. The tour ended in a nice tasting room with a window on the warehouse, where only a minority of their casks is stored. As we booked a guesthouse within walking-distance, we could both taste the 3 drams, which we both really enjoyed (a lot of orchard fruits). Deciding which one to buy was a challenge.

Glen Ord distillery warehouses.

The village was very quiet, we quickly got food at a fish-and-chips shop nearby (and which, to be honest, I’m still trying to digest) and spent the evening on an online tasting with the lovely Mark and Kate Watt and their latest releases.

Clynelish The Flavour Journey

Price: £30 pp (May 2021)

Tasting: 3x10ml drams, Clynelish 14y (46%), Clynelish Distillery Exclusive (NAS, 48%, £90), Johnnie Walker 18y Gold Label (40%)

Target: whisky novices and casual tourists

Value for money: not great (but please consider that it includes a 10% discount on the Diageo range available at the shop)

Highlights: the tasting room and the view from it

Things we did not like: no tour in the warehouse, not possible to try (or nose) other distillery exclusive bottlings, too much time on the first part of the tour

Link: https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/clynelish

Glen Ord The Tasting Tour

£31.50 pp (May 2021)

3 drams Singleton of Glen Ord 15y (40%, £52), Artisan (ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso cask NAS 40%, £90), and Distillers Edition (ex-bourbon cask NAS 48%, £90, but 10y, wink-wink), and a complimentary glass (round tumbler)

whisky novices and casual tourists

Value for money:
OK (but please consider that it includes a 10% discount on the Diageo range available at the shop, including the Singleton of Glen Ord range which is usually not available in the UK)

the exhibition in the visitor centre and the size of the site

Things we did not like: nothing really


#1.1 Dramming around again after lockdown

A quick escape to the Highlands (Day 1)

 In our first post, divided in three parts, we describe a May 2021 trip to the Highlands. On the first day we visited Tomatin distillery.

The morning started with a bad sign: we broke the Buddah’s statue, souvenir of a trip to Thailand. Despite this ill omen, the morning went smoothly: picked up some food, bus was on time, check-in at rental car was quick (car slightly bigger than expected…but, hey!), and we are on the road again, baby!

On the A9 motorway, right after the village of Pitlochry (where Blair Athol and Edradour distilleries are, by the way) we took a little detour to have lunch at Queen’s View. This is a small park overlooking Loch Tummel, just a 15-minute drive from the main road. Not the easiest drive (typical single-track road) but the impressive scenery makes it worth it. Instead of driving back to the A9, we kept driving along Loch Tummel and had a tasty coffee at the Loch Tummel Inn, in their garden which overlooks the Loch, lovely! After that, we continued driving around the Tay Forest to re-take the A9 a little further north.

The Queen’s View and Loch Tummel

We arrived at the Tomatin distillery at around 2.30 pm. It’s very easy to find as the signs are very clear, and we were impressed by the size of the site. In fact, we will learn later that the distillery, built in 1897, during the 1970s and 80s it became one the biggest single malt production sites in Scotland, counting up to 23 stills.

We checked in easily, and before our tour started, we were able take a quick look at the shop, which features all the core range of Tomatin, Cù Bocan, and Antiquary blended scotch, plus many special releases (including the French wine finishes released in Spring 2021) and not one, but five (5!!!) bottle your own, starting from £75, up to a 1990 vintage ex-bourbon cask for £375.

The guide (Stewart) immediately gave the impression that he knew his stuff, and took us and the others to a small room to watch a quick introductory video. After that we were finally inside the distillery, for the first time in almost a year. First stop: the milling room. Again, we were struck by the size of the machinery, as we were expecting a smaller distillery – we were about to learn that despite their current production of ~2 mlpa, their full capacity is over 5. Also, we learned that the peat for the Cù Bocan comes, as we suspected, from Aberdeenshire. Here was one of the best parts: they kept an old semi-Lauter mash tun for display purposes…and of course we had to take a picture from the inside (ps: Roy from the Aquavitae YouTube channel will record one of his vPubs from inside the same mash tun a few weeks later, check it out https://youtu.be/iEyfop-KwDA)! Moving further, we entered the fermentation room which is equipped with twelve stainless steel washbacks.

A mashtun from the inside!

The still room is also interesting: you can clearly see how the distillery was down-sized at some point, as only a portion of the building is actually used. Interestingly, they have a shell-and-tube condenser on display, which we could closely inspect to try understand how these things work (with mixed success). We also nosed some empty ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before they were filled with new make, which was very interesting. Finally, as with every good tour, we moved into the warehouse…we’d missed the dumpy smell! At this point Stewart was literally bombarded by questions from some enthusiasts at their first distillery tour ever. We were running way over time, so the tour was rapidly wrapped up in the tasting room. Teresa had 3 small sips of Tomatin Legacy, 12 y/o and a Cù Bocan Signature, Gianluigi “won” a miniature of Tomatin 12 (the perks of being the driver). At the shop we had a further sip (or smell) of Tomatin Cask Strength, which we ended up buying…we couldn’t leave the place without a souvenir.

Teresa inspecting a condenser.

We drove back to the main road, past Inverness, heading north. We finally arrived at Dornoch, where we had our accommodation booked…it was not the Dornoch Castle Hotel, as we believed, rather the (500m away) Dornoch Hotel (sad trombone). Not too bad though, after dinner we spent a couple of hours having (a few…ehm) drams at the Dornoch Castle Hotel bar, where we were literally spoilt for choice. This included some 80’s Glen Grant and Tamdhu, and a That Boutique-y Whisky Company blended malt.

A bottle of 1980’s Tamdhu from the Dornoch Castle Hotel whisky bar.

In our understanding the Dornoch distillery could not be visited at that time, and we did not find their own single malt on the menu, which we were (and still are) both very curious to try. However, we could not leave that place without tasting some of the Thompson Brothers releases as independent bottlers, which were all very well enjoyed.

Tomatin Legacy Tour

Price: £10 pp (May 2021)

Tasting: 3 small drams (Legacy, 12y, Cù Bocan Signature) or a 50ml miniature of Tomatin 12y if you drive

Target: whisky novices and casual tourists

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the “open” mash tun

Things we did not like: nothing, really

Link: https://www.tomatin.com/