Back to the Glens
(Grant and Garioch)
TL;DR: The day after the Dramathon we took advantage of being in Speyside to visit two distilleries we’d only had tastings at: Glen Grant, in Rothes, with their unique rectifiers, and Glen Garioch, in Oldmeldrum, which has been recently renovated. Both worth returning.
(missed Part 1?)
So, after a (not so) resting sleep in Dufftown (guess why), we found ourselves with a spare Sunday (the drive home is about 3 hours only): plenty of time for some whisky stuff! Deciding which distillery to visit in Speyside and its surroundings, however, is becoming more and more difficult. Despite being the biggest single malt producing area, most distilleries are closed to the public, and a bunch of them are closed on weekends. Let’s also say that we already had the opportunity to visit a few of them (ehm, ehm, ehm, ehm).
Nevertheless, because we’ve been there also around Covid times, we only saw the visitor centre or the tasting room of some distilleries, so this was a good occasion to catch up with the production tours we hadn’t done yet. First off: Glen Grant! We’d been there for the first time in July 2021: at the time we could only visit their marvelous Victorian gardens (if it’s a beautiful day, they are worth the price of the ticket alone), have a quick tasting at the shop, and an Illy espresso at the café (spoiler: this time the café was closed, so no Illy, ouch!).
The distillery is owned by the Campari group, reason for the Italian flag in the courtyard: after Wild Turkey, this is the second distillery we visited from this owner. Glen Grant is in Rothes, almost in front of the famous copper still-producer Forsyth (also, where Caperdonich, nicknamed Glen Grant 2, was located). Founded in 1839, except for the modern and polished shop/visitor centre, it has maintained a classic distillery feel. A notable fact is that their master distiller, Dennis Malcom, is one of the longest serving workers in the whisky industry, with over 60 years of experience under his belt: impressive!
The guide of the day was Kirstie, very knowledgeable and professional. Since it wasn’t raining, her explanation of the history started in the courtyard. We swiftly (or schwifty) moved to production, where we went through the usual path: milling, mashing (closed stainless still mashtun), and (wooden) washbacks.
Here came the interesting part: the still room. Like Glenfarclas and others, the room is separated from the rest of the production. As we walked in, we noted the curious shape of the wash stills, with a copper cylinder-ish bulge at the bottom of the neck, rather than the usual round one. The spirit stills have a classic round bulge, but the most fascinating characteristic, however, is the rectifier installed at the end of the lyne arms, looking like another small still. This was an intuition by John “the Major” Grant, who took on the business in 1972, and their purpose is to allow only the lightest vapor to be condensed. To produce a light spirit, they also set quite a short and high cut for the spirit heart: from 73% down to 68%.
We then visited the warehouse before the self-guided tasting at the visitor centre. At the time of booking, we asked if we could pay more to upgrade our drams: not because they are bad (because they are not, in our opinion), but just because we had had the very same drams during our 2021 visit (Arboralis and 10y). Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible, which was a pity because it would have been a simple but relevant improvement to the experience, in particular for more experienced drammers (other distilleries do it), but oh well.
After sipping (Teresa) and nosing (Gianluigi) the two drams, we went back to the car and drove towards the Aberdeenshire for the second distillery of the day. While driving we did some distillery spotting, first Glentauchers and then Strathmill, in Keith, reached after a nice short walk along the river Isla (the day was truly gorgeous!).
Glen Garioch is in a very different setting: even older than Glen Grant (it was founded 1797), it is almost stuck in the village of Oldmeldrum (near Inverurie): it looks like the village grew around the distillery. Funnily, it was the distillery we visited after our 2021 Dramathon as well, but at the time it wasn’t possible to visit the production due to a combination of Covid safety rules and ongoing renovations, so we were quite excited about the tour!
Our guide Iona started the tour from the new malting floor, one of the parts under renovation the previous year. There was one originally, but it was dismissed back in the day when industrial maltings became too convenient to be ignored. This happened across the entire industry, so that now only a handful of distilleries malt their own barley in a malting floor (Benriach, Balvenie, Kilchoman, Laphroaig, Bowmore), and to our knowledge, only Springbank/Kilkerran do it for the 100% of their production (waiting for Dunphail), so bravo Glen Garioch! They also re-introduced the use of peat in their kiln, to get peated malt from time to time.
We moved on to follow the phases of whisky production: milling (classic red-painted Porteus), mashing (again, closed stainless steel mashtun), and fermenting (stainless steel washbacks). In the still room, we saw the other result of the renovations: they removed one of their three stills, and the spirit still is now directly fired (a flame is burning below, heating the still, instead of the usual steam coil inside it). Again, this modification is a step back into the past of whisky production, as direct-fire stills aren’t usually as efficient as steam coils. Their cut is wide, 73% to 63%, which contributes to giving body to the spirit.
This is reflected in the malts that we sipped in the tasting room, back at the visitor centre (after a wee tour in one of the warehouses). The 12y is a solid whisky, but the Founders’ Reserve (NAS) is good too. Similar to last year, the visitor centre offers a choice from their core range, the Renaissance range (a series of four expressions, the youngest 15y and the oldest 18y), the American cask trilogy (single casks sourced in Missouri, Minnesota and Kentucky), the virgin oak finish (a vatting of multiple casks), and a couple of distillery exclusives (see below).
Again, another very interesting visit, to a distillery that made efforts to bring back some features of the original production. We know that, with the re-discovery of flavours in single malts, there’s a question about the effects of each part of production. While most of the flavour has been attributed to casks, now people started exploring the effect of other factors, such as malting and distilling, and doubts about more recent modernisations have arisen. For us nerds and geeks (and generally consumers), this exploration is quite exciting as it brings us a lot of new (or old?) flavours!
Until next time, sláinte!
Glen Grant Tour
Price: £7.50 pp (October 2022), including the Victorian gardens
Duration: 1hr 10min
Tasting: 2 drams, Glen Grant Arboralis (NAS, 40%) and 10y (40%)
Target: Anyone, but geared towards tourists and novices
Value for money: Very good
Highlights: The still room and the rectifiers
Things we did not like: The very limited tasting options…or “option”
Distillery Exclusive: Glen Grant 13y (2008-2021), 56.5%, single cask (NCF, NC) 50cl for £120
Recommended: For the price, definitely yes
Glen Garioch Founder’s Tour
Price: £15.00 pp (October 2022)
Tasting: 2 drams, Founders’ Reserve (NAS, 48%, NC, NCF) and Glen Garioch 12y (48%, NC, NCF)
Target: Anyone, but whisky geeks might appreciate it more
Value for money: Good
Highlights: The new malting floor and the direct-fire stills
Distillery Exclusives: Glen Garioch 1991 (single ex-bourbon cask, 46.4%, NC, NCF, £325) and Sherry Cask 2009 (1st fill ex-sherry butt, 58.3%, NC, NCF, £130)