#23.1 On the run again: Dramathon 2022

Visiting Glenfarclas before a run-y day


TL;DR: Oops we did it again…the Dramathon! After all the fun we had in 2021, back in October 2022 we participated for the second time. This year we both ran the half-marathon, always quite a challenge, but we rewarded ourselves with 3 distillery visits: first off, Glenfarclas! 

First of all, Happy New Year! We hope you had a great start of 2023 and that your year will be as good as you wish, full of joy and (possibly) great drams! We just started a 4-week dry January-ish which, after a couple of weeks back in Italy and the New Year celebrations, we both felt was much needed.

Last year was full of drams and great whisky experiences, so for the first post of 2023 we are going back a few months, in mid-October. Following the great experience we had in 2021, last year we decided to run the Dramathon again. However, this time we both decided to run the half-marathon: Gianluigi with the objective of improving his 2021 timing, Teresa with the objective of completing her first long race.

Similarly to the previous year, we left on the Friday morning to sneak in a distillery visit in the afternoon. You know, while in Speyside…Because of our multiple trips, there are no many distilleries left to visit in the area, but we were still missing a very special one: Glenfarclas!

This distillery is famous for a few things: still family owned, it was the one that converted Pip Hills, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society founder, to whisky appreciation, which in turn led to the Society foundation. They mature almost all their stock in ex-sherry casks (a few exceptions in ex-bourbon are mostly for independent bottlers), and all their doors are painted in red (and no, we didn’t want to paint them black).

Wee stop to nose around Ballindalloch.

The drive there was mostly uneventful. We only realised too late that on the road from the A9 exit to the distillery, the main Speyside road, there are very few places where you can get a warm meal. Fortunately, another distillery came to our help: the Lagmore Cafè at Ballindalloch was open, and it was a very nice one too: lovely staff, good food and reasonable prices (we’ll be back!).

Unfortunately, the distillery is open to visitors only during weekdays, so it’ll have to wait (and tours are a bit pricey too). After lunch, we arrived at the distillery and checked in. We were a bit early, so we had time to scout the shop: we were glad to see that they are maintaining reasonable prices (in spite of the increase of their 25y from £125 to £220) and that they are quite competitive compared to the speciality shops prices.

First distillery visit of the weekend, yay! (Yes, one of us needs a haircut.)

The guide of the day, Rosie, started the tour in the milling room, where barley is grinded into grist (with a usual component of 10% of flour and 20% of husk), in this case by Milly the mill, a more modern looking machine than the usual Porteus ones.

Not a Porteus mill.

We proceeded to the closed mash tun and the 12 wooden washbacks. The temperature rose substantially as we walked into the huge still room, where some of the 6 bulged directly fired stills were working. Rosie explained that their cut for the distillation “heart” (i.e. the middle part of the run that will be effectively casked) is 74% to 54%, quite large compared to other distilleries we visited.

Two of the six stills.

We then moved towards the warehouses, with the signature red doors. At the visitor centre, our tasting was ready with two very well-known drams: their 10y, still today one of the few whiskies bottled at 40% that, in our opinion, still hold, and the 15y, probably the yummiest of their core range, together with the 105…which of course is not 105 years old, the number refers to the imperial proof (corresponding to 60%abv). Because of the race the next day, we didn’t drink them right away, we put them in our sample bottles brought from home (always with us!) and we went to the shop. There were many of their celebrated “family cask” expressions on display, with vintages of every year and bottled at cask strength. Even for recent vintages the prices are a bit steep, but the selection is very big…A pity we couldn’t try any!

So much whisky behind those red doors!

After the visit, we drove to Dufftown, to register for the run and check in at our accommodation, the Commercial Hotel. We decided to have dinner at the hotel (not before a short warm-up run for Gianluigi). In spite of us booking about 9 months in advance (and paying 90 quid per night!!!), we were given the ‘cursed room’, room number 5. No, it’s not the plot of a horror B-movie, and no ancient burial ground was involved: it’s just the room directly above the pub, including their juke-box machine with questionable music selection and no soundproofing whatsoever. That meant that until the bar closed (11pm), we couldn’t sleep. The music wasn’t that loud in the corridor, and in fact in one of the bartenders accused us to be the first complaining…well, not according to other reviews on Booking.com, but we appreciated that the issue might be for this room only.

Finally, race day! As we reached the buses that would have brought us to the starting point (the Tamdhu station), it started pouring rain, so we mentally prepared for a wet run.

Warming up…not goose-stepping.

However, as soon as we got there, the rain stopped, and the run was quite pleasant. We both reached our goals, Teresa finishing her first (hopefully not last) half-marathon, and Gianluigi shaving a couple of minutes from his 2021 timing (not getting below 1h and 20m though, one of his goals).

Tired but happy!
Tired but veeeery happy!

After the run we had a well-deserved early dinner at the local French restaurant, the Seven Stills: it was truly great, yummy food and delicious wine. As a dessert, Gianluigi had a crème brulée, with the French chef coming to the table to light it on: bravo!

Lighting up a crème brulée with whisky.

We went back to the Commercial hotel for some drams…Teresa was falling asleep in the pub, so we went to bed. The issue of the night before was still there, but Gianluigi decided to go put a few bucks in the juke-box: “if I have to stay awake listening to some sh*t, I want to listen to my sh*t!”. Probably some people felt puzzled when Slipknot, Nirvana and Tool started to play, so whoever walloper was in charge decided to skip the rest of the selection (Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam) only saving No One Knows by the QOTSA. Not cool at all. In the morning we complained with the manager about the noise (not about the skipped songs), who agreed to discounting 15 quid per night. It was nice but still not ideal, so we won’t be back unless we really have to, in which case we will ask not to be put in room 5.

Anyway, going back to the tour at Glenfarclas, we had selected the basic one because we knew in advance we wouldn’t drink. It was excellent, but we are both very keen to go back and do an experience with a more comprehensive tasting. Slainte!

Glenfarclas Tour

Price: £7.50 pp (October 2022)

Duration: 1hr 15m

Tasting: 2 drams, Glenfarclas 10y (40%) and 15y (46%)

Target: Anyone

Value for money: Very good

Highlights: One of the prettiest we’ve seen

Distillery Exclusive: Several bottlings of the family cask range, depending on which is available

Recommended: Definitely!

Link: https://glenfarclas.com/our-home/

#5.2 Run through the stills

Race day and Glen Garioch

(Day 2 & 3)


After weeks of training, the race is finally here! And after the run, a well-deserved trip to Glen Garioch distillery. 

(missed Day 1?)

The day of the Dramathon is here, finally! We woke up very rested after a dram-less night. Off to a quick breakfast (toasts and jam for Gianluigi, a huuuuge porridge bowl for Teresa), then we drove to Dufftown to the race meeting point, the Glenfiddich distillery parking lot. Because of Decathlon gear colour choices and a lack of attention, Gianluigi looked like a smurf…at least he matched Cliff!

The RunnerSmurf.

At this point our destinies separated, Gianlugi took the “half-dram” (i.e. half marathon) coaches to get to the start at the Tamdhu station, while a bit later Teresa got to the “wee dram” (i.e. 10k) start in Aberlour.

G.: As usual, I was a bit nervous before the race started. The day was ideal to run: not-too-cold and sunny-ish. The first part of the trail, along the former Speyside train line, was mostly downhill, therefore I could keep a nice and steady pace. A few kms in, I could admire the newly built Dalmunach distillery, on the site of the now demolished Imperial: a truly beautiful building, which I hope to visit someday. The middle of the course is in the Aberlour village, and from this point it’s almost all (very mildly) uphill. My GPS was a bit wrong about both the total ascent (180m on paper vs. 80m on my device) and the distance (900m short)…when I saw the Balvenie distillery I realised that I was about to finish, so I sprinted towards the end line, finishing in about 1 hour and 25 minutes. It was a very nice experience, and I loved the course, probably one of the best I ran so far (not that they are many…). The prize was quite fitting for the event: a wooden medal from a dismissed cask and four 50ml miniatures: Balvenie 12, Glenfiddich 12, Monkey Shoulder and Glenfarclas 12 (unfortunately, no Tamdhu, which I’d have loved!).

The prize: Speyside drams and the original “medal”.

T.: I strongly disagree with Gianluigi’s “not too cold”. After waiting 2 hours for the bus (with just a wee stop at the Dufftown whisky shop to nose around) and then at least half an hour for the race to start, I can safely say that it was freezing! Not too bad, as I normally perform (well, survive) better when it’s cold. I don’t have much to add on the course itself (the 10k course was the same as the second part of the half marathon), except that it was very enjoyable. The view of the huge warehouses as I was approaching Dufftown was stunning. Same prize at the end except for the Glenfarclas (fair enough, it was still the wee dram), and I was soooo happy for making it under the hour!

Hooray? Hooray!

After Teresa finished, we grabbed a warm soup and tea while waiting for the award ceremony and went back to the hotel in Rothes. A bit of relax sipping from the hardly earned miniatures, a shower, and for dinner we had a special plan: we had booked a table at the Station Hotel. This hotel/bar/restaurant is owned by the Forsyth company, and according to some is the place where the really important whisky meetings happen. We treated outselves with adult-cow meat and a delicious dessert. Then, a few drams at the bar (worth of mention, the now dismissed Arran 14y) before going back to the hotel for a well-deserved sleep.

We woke up quite early, and after breakfast Cliff drove us in a very foggy Speyside (the fog won’t leave us until we got in Fife, making Gianluigi homesick of Northern Italy). The first stop of the day was the Macallan distillery. Neither of us is particularly fond of this brand (it’s the only distillery not offering tours and tastings, rather “experiences”…) but we were curious to see the building. So, despite all available “experiences” were sold out for the day, we went in aiming for a coffee and the peek. We have to say, the building is quite spectacular, it felt like being in a modern art museum lobby…or in an airport.

The Macallan stills – hopefully one day we’ll get closer!

The courtesy of the receptionist, which welcomed us very warmly and explained where things were, was counterbalanced by the rudeness of the waitress who served us. After the quick coffee we could walk inside to admire the unique circular disposition of the stills. On the way out we also saw the old distillery building, and wondered if one of their “experiences” included that as well.

Back on the road, our next stop was a completely different one: Glen Garioch, in Oldmeldrum (Aberdeenshire), one of the oldest in Scotland. A few months back, in an interview on Mark Gillespie’s WhiskyCast, we learned that the distillery is undergoing many renovation works, including moving back to directly fired stills and the restoration of the old malting floors, which would be used to produce a peated malt, in contrast with what is produced today. Beam Suntory, the owner of this and a few other distilleries, is also pursuing a peatland restoration plan, since peat use has a fair impact on carbon emission.

Look what’s at the end of Distillery Road…a distillery!

The malting floors and the wee bothy.

As we checked in, our guide Rob walked us in a very nice bothy on the side of the malting floors, which used to be the excise man office. We sat on a very comfortable sofa with four drams in front of us, while Rob told us the story of the distillery and maaany details about the production (thanks for the patience answering all our questions!). We were very curious, since Glen Garioch is not one of the most common single malts for us – we had a bottle of their non-age statement core range expression (the Founder’s Reserve, 50%abv) early on but none since. The first dram was suspiciously transparent…In fact, it was the newmake! We moved on to the second (Gianluigi only sniffing), the Renaissance Chapter III (17y/o, 50.8%), a few years old series that marked a new phase in the distillery history. This was followed by a great dram: a 19y red-wine cask matured (48%). Finally, a very surprising dram: 2012 vintage cask strength, matured in a virgin American oak barrel from Missouri (single cask, 61.6%). This is part of a series as well, with the two others being matured in barrels made from Minnesota and Kentucky wood. The malt was really different, with very prominent bourbon notes (and colour), but still definitely a scotch single malt! Unfortunately, the price was a bit too steep, but definitely one to try!

The tasting.

Thanks to the lovely staff, at the shop we also tried the Renaissance Chapter II (16y/o, 51.4%), which we bought, and the Virgin oak (this time a vat of different barrels from North America, 2013 vintage bottled at 48%).

Back in the fog, destination Leith, happy for the Dramathon (yes, we’ll do it again) and another great whisky trip. Stay tuned and Slàinte!

Glen Garioch Masterclass

Price: £30.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: the newmake spirit and three drams: GG Renaissance Chapter III (17y, 50.8%, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry), GG red wine cask maturation (19y, 48%), and GG 2012 vintage Missouri virgin oak cask (61.6%)

Target: whisky amateurs and enthusiasts

Value for money: ok

Highlights: the tasting bothy and the kind shop manager

Things we did not like: we couldn’t take the newmake with us

Link: https://www.glengarioch.com/