An educational whisky trip to Speyside
It was a Wednesday evening, Shona was picked up from Eden.Mill distillery in St Andrews by Liz (mum). Timezone 4pm in the late afternoon, the skies are getting a wee bit dark, driving over to Perth to collect Paul (and more importantly – some may say – the whisky). From Perth thery set off north to Aviemore in the highlands, where they turned for Spesyide, passing Glenfaclas in the dark, en route to Elgin. As a staff educational visit it was decided to stay 4 star, well, why no? After the girls drammed a wee bit in the car, the hotel appeared out of the gloom in Elgin, a quick check in then, what all whisky tour operators do, hit the bar. A catch up for Paul, more for the girls, a 3 course dinner followed. Relaxing later in the lounge (you guessed it – with a bottle), chatting over the next day itinerary, could things be better? Decant to the rooms, select the largest one, start the whisky tasting – all for educational purposes you understand. Drams aplenty followed, Paul stopped at 9pm, the next day driver!
Thursday morning: Shona and Paul appeared for breakfast, Liz? Dinnae ask. Around 9am all three departed for Cardhu distillery, where we had called into previously (Liz and Paul the week before) to set this up. In 1811 John and Helen Cumming sited their first still at Cardow Farm on the Mannoch Hill, above the River Spey. It is alleged that Helen Cumming distilled the first gallon of Cardhu, the only malt whisky to be pioneered by a woman. For many years Helen Cumming produced only the smallest quantity of malt whisky in Cardhu’s little still as quality was her chief concern. She continued to contribute to Cardhu’s success well into her 90’s. Cardhu is not only a world renowned brand but has a close connection to Johnnie Walker – the biggest selling blended whisky in the world. By the way, all three are Friend of the Classic Malts.
From here a wee detour (just to look) to Dalmunach distillery, a superb new distillery in the Chivas family, Liz and Paul had a private tour here a while back – it has been said, ALL what they produce will go to blends, so hard luck Imperial lovers (it’s on the old Imperial site). Doon the road the next stop was Macallan. Work is well on at the new site – Edrington Group boss Ian Curle hailed “an exciting new chapter” in the whisky firm’s history as work is under way on a £100million new distillery and visitor centre. It is one of the core brands of Glasgow-based Edrington, whose other products include The Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark blended whiskies and Highland Park single malt. Designed by international architecture firm Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), the new home of The Macallan is scheduled to open to the public in spring 2017, from what there is to see – including the wooden model – it will be another superb place to visit. The design is essentially a series of a grass-covered undulating roof forms that are sympathetic to the area. “LUNCH followed at Glenfiddich – just to keep the theme going strong!” Paul McLean.
With full bellies they drove the short distance to the Cooperage to see coopers at work, a favourite stop on their tours, like all visits before, they know them well with many friends and contacts. The trip finale arrived at Strathisla distillery. Of the many whisky distilleries you will find in Speyside, none is older or lovelier than Strathisla in Keith. The smooth, flavourful single malt whisky for which Strathisla is famous has been produced here since 1786. James and John Chivas never actually owned the distillery themselves. It was only later, in 1950, after many twists and turns, that the company was finally able to purchase the distillery – safeguarding the precious stocks of Strathisla single malt whisky for Chivas Regal. After a tour and tastes, the road to Broughty Ferry beckoned … the girls happily ensconced in an alcoholic haze while Paul sat there driving homewards totally sober!
PS He caught up when they got home!
Liz and Paul own/run http://www.whiskytours.scot/ and http://www.mcleanscotland.com/ and http://www.angelswhiskyclub.com/ Shona (Gillespie) works at Eden.Mill distillery/brewery/gin palace.
Here is the same trip as told by Shona Gillespie (Liz’s daughter) …
This week I had the luxury of spending twenty four hours in the marvellous region of Speyside. As a budding whisky fanatic I was thrilled to be shown the root of several of my favourite drams. Paul and Liz selecting the most adorable accommodation – Mansion House, in Elgin. Historic and classic, this quaint hotel has open fire places, heavy curtains and creeky doors, the ideal setting for an atmospheric whisky tasting. Paul, the whisky master, brought a selection of unusual whiskies from his private collection including some extremely niche spirits paired with chocolates! We sampled whiskies from across the globe, the most surprising spirit was actually all the way from Paul John Distillery in Goa, India! This particular whisky was less than seven years old, mellow and peated, at 59.7% it was exceptionally smooth, delicious. My top three drams were definitely Speyburn, Octomore and Balvenie 22!
Thursday morning was beautiful- a perfect cold, sunny Scottish day to explore the best of Speyside distilleries. First stop was Cardhu, the first distillery in Scotland built and run by a woman – what a sister! We sampled three single malts, the Amber Rock and the Special Reserve were particularly memorable. Special thanks to Lorraine for a lovely tour, a great addition to this distillery was the takeaway drams and the nosing of malts. Our travels took us next to Macallan, who are currently in the process of building their new distillery. Coming from such a traditional distillery like Cardhu to the modern giant that is Macallan was quite a jump. I was pleasantly surprised by the Sienna, an incredibly rich whisky which appealed to my sweet tooth- definitely worth the stop for this dram alone!
The highlight of my day was without a doubt Speyside Cooperage. The video played at the beginning of the tour sets the scene beautifully and the photography is stunning. I was completely fascinated with the coopers, their skill and speed. Towards the end of the visit I had a go at making my own cask, surprisingly I was actually good at it. There may be a career as a cooper for me yet. After a few more wee drams in the car and lunch at Glenfiddich (poshest toilets in the world) we found ourselves at Glenmoray for a tasting! Glenmoray is the biggest selling whisky in France, it is clear why – delicious whiskies with incredibly memorable flavours. Their port finish stood out to me particularly as it reminded me of strawberry jam. Now all I need is the rice pudding to drizzle the whisky over.
As the sun went down, our final distillery was Strathisla, picturesque and beautiful, it felt more like visiting a five star hotel than a distillery. Strathisla’s own single malt was lovely, I will most definitely go back to sample their currently maturing Japanese oak cask whisky. After an extremely busy trip Paul and Liz chattered the entire journey home as the final drams began to send me off to sleep! Aside from the vast amount of new knowledge I have acquired from the dynamic duo I now have a new found respect for coopers and those who can drink over twenty drams in a day. An exceptional trip around Speyside with even more exceptional company.