Picking up from where I left off in my October journey across Scotland with my Klondike Fine Malt Society comrades, Kath and Jim: following a tour of the Talisker distillery, I reclaimed the MacRae castle on the Isle of Skye.
Jim reluctantly headed to Glasgow to fulfill family commitments, and Kath and I carried on to Speyside. Fortunately, by this time, she had her driving licence faxed to the rental company, and was now legally and comfortably behind the wheel.
In the village of Aberlour in Speyside, we found a bed and breakfast. Our host was a whisky aficionado himself, and shared an instructive video about nosing, as well as the positive aspects of whisky blends.
We went to the 2 p.m. tour at the Aberlour distillery, which was one of the most informative and interesting of the several tours we attended.
Our guide, Boa, was a sommelier from Sweden. He taught us that the black mould on the outside of distillery buildings and surrounding trees and shrubbery, grows on the whisky vapours and is found at every distillery.
We tasted the mead (which was not very good), and stuck our heads inside a furiously fermenting vat (which caused burning of the nose and lungs, and an involuntary head jerking to avoid any more fume inhalation). Boa seemed amused.
After the industrial tour, we retired to the tasting room where we sat in front of six malt glasses and a small glass of water (most distillery tours give you one dram).
According to Boa, the glass on the far left contained colourless whisky directly from the still (non-aged) and was 70 percent alcohol. It was close to toxic.
We poured a small amount into one of our palms, rubbed our hands together until the alcohol was gone and sniffed our hands. If the still run is perfect, it should smell like barley. If the run has too much “heads” it will smell of acetone, and if the run had too much “tails” it will smell of cabbage.
The still run where the best whisky comes off is called “middle of the run” or “heart of the run”. This is what distilleries aim to capture.
The second whisky was 16 years old and aged in American white oak casks. As the raw alcohol reacts with the sugars in the wood over time, it takes on colour and is imbued with distinct flavours. In this case it was pepper and vanilla.
Moving on, it was a 16-year old, aged in a sherry cask, which imparted richness and tastes of fruit, spice and liquorice.
And after that, a glass of regular 10-year-old Aberlour: “the liquorice and honey phrases somehow finding a perfect balance with the sherry,” according to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
Then, a 12-year-old Aberlour double cask matured, described by Murray’s Bible as “sweet and attractive serious juice at first drowns the barley but the oaky spice heralds its return.”
Finally, the sixth and final glass was a taste of Aberlour A’bunadh, which translates from Gaelic as “the original”.
Scotch was originally consumed at cask strength (around 55 percent alcohol), rather than the slightly watered down 43 percent, which most regular whiskies are. This one is sherried, somewhat sweet and quite delicious.
We left the building in a very good mood and crossed the road to the enchantingly beautiful Aberlour church cemetery and onto the path beside the River Spey for an afternoon stroll.
The following day we rose early to continue on the whisky trail. There are quite a few distilleries near Aberlour in Speyside. Although, as Scottish roads are narrow and winding, a mere 12 miles can take 45 minutes.
We stopped at Cardhu for a test of their aromatic jars used to alert your nose to the many aromas you may encounter while nosing whisky.
The friendly staff made a fun game of it, encouraging our questioning faces after every sniff. Oh, and we did sample a wee dram of Dalwhinnie and the Cardhu “special edition”.
Next we visited Cragganmore where we sampled the regular, and the double matured in port wine casks. I purchased a bottle of the double matured as it was only available at the distillery.
And at the Glenfarclas distillery, we gazed lovingly at bottles on display from 1953 to the 1990s!
The Dallas Dhu is no longer in operation, but a government owned historic distillery, but it still sells the last few casks of their 1983 whisky – Kath bought a rather pricey bottle.
The store clerk/tour guide took us aside and gave us a dram of “Roderick Dhu” and, since there wasn’t enough time for an official tour, offered us the leisure to wander around ourselves and take photos.
We were instructed to just close the door behind us when we were done. How kind!
As we drove through Speyside, I noted we passed by the Glen Moray, Benromach, Ben Raich and Longmorn distilleries. These were only the ones visible from the road, so I’m sure we passed many more.
I could see we were able to make a start, and that a more comprehensive tour may have to be planned for the next trip!