This is the third installment on my three-part series on Scotch tasting, as I research and prepare for my upcoming trip to Scotland. In the first piece, I looked into how Scotch is made, and how one should go about tasting it. In the second installment, I examine how whisky – and Scotch in particular – is made. In the third installment, I will detail my itinerary and planned stops at distilleries along the way.
As my trip draws closer, I grow all the more anxious: there are over a hundred distilleries in Scotland – which ones should I pick to visit? I guess, my task is made easier in that I have to follow the itinerary I have mapped out. This trip, we would have to stick to the distilleries in the Midlands north of Edinburgh, Speyside, and the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately, we’d have to bypass distilleries in the remote Orkney Islands, as well as my favorite distillery in the Isle of Islay, Laphroaig. I’ve tasted probably different 20 Scotches in my life, so while a good number of my favorites hail from those places, I figure I should be a lot more open to other labels.
Still, it’s taken me a while to narrow down the distilleries we might visit on the trip. I’ll be traveling with a friend who has never tasted Scotch before, so I can’t possibly drag her around to half a dozen distilleries. Moreover, we have quite a limited time in Scotland, and we intend to use the bulk of it touring castles and hiking, so drinking, this time at least, shall have to take a backseat.
After much poking around the Internet, I have thus finally decided on the following five distilleries. I figure we could decide which three to go to once we get on the road.
Founded in 1717, Glenturret is Scotland’s oldest distillery, and also one of the smallest.
Description from Scotland.com:
This distillery has been around through tumultuous times over the centuries. Glenturret has had a long and colorful history beginning with illicit stills and smugglers. It was successful right from the start till the depression of the late 1830. Many distilleries were forced to shut down at that time. In fact it was the sole survivor among the many small distilleries on either banks of the burn. The situation gradually improved for the Scotch whiskey business.
In 1870, Mr. Thomas Stewart the owner expanded the plant warehouses and machinery to cope with the increased demand for Scotch whiskey. It flourished in the worldwide boom in Scottish whiskey but was almost wiped out in 1920, during the US prohibition days and after. In fact the distillery closed down in 1921, leading to it falling into disrepair. It remained in this dilapidated condition till in1957.
The Glenturret distillery was purchased by James Fairlie in1957. He began its refurbishing and revival. By June 1960, the plant was producing whiskey once again. It was mainly used to supply blenders. It continued to make whiskey in the traditional way using the same methods and equipment and the cool, clear waters of the Turret Burn.
In 1981 Cointreau ET Cie who had been one of Glenturret’s faithful customers bought the distillery. They pumped in fresh investment and expanded the distillery to a great extent. The distillery was bought by Highland Distillers in 1990. Even today Glenturret whiskey is made using the Pot Still process with age old copper pots. The whiskey is matured in their traditional warehouses.
Glenturret is the most visited distillery in Scotland and its Famous Grouse experience describes its history, takes visitors on a tour and ends with a whiskey tasting session. The distillery produces an award winning single malt, Glenturret Single Highland Malt Scotch Whiskey, renowned for its glorious bouquet and natural golden hue. Besides this bottling of the single malt in the pure form, Glenturret whiskey is used in the blending of Famous Grouse. They have a new range of blended malts, available in various ages from 10 to 30 years. Personalized bottles and labels to mark l special occasions are also available.
If you have been to the Edradour distillery it is easy to understand why it is so popular with visitors. Being the smallest and most picturesque distillery in Scotland it’s a must for visitors on the whisky trail, however it also offers a lot more.
It’s a charming and undisturbed niche of Scotland where the people are genuinely warm and hospitable, the landscape glorious and the lifestyle untouched by the perils of the twentieth century.
Situated in the heart of Tayside by the beautiful township of Pitlochry and surrounded by the wilds of the Grampians, Edradour is a wonderful diversion for hill walkers. If you’re en-route to Aviemore or Inverness it’s certainly worth dropping in.
I first tried Edradour at a Scotch tasting hosted by Sam’s Wine. My notes of the Edradour, S. Highland 10 Yr (86 proof) $53 bottle: thick, creamy, and sweet – due to the sherry barrel; interesting spice; made from water from spring flowing into peat; reminded me somewhat of Dettol, hospital, but a comforting scent; I like!
Known as the “Rolls-Royce of single malts” – how can we not visit?
Situated near the village of Craigellachie, the Macallan distillery got its first distillation licence in 1824 thanks to Alexander Reid.
When he died in 1847, his namesake son managed the distillery until his own death in 1858. Then the distillery was controlled by James Shearer Priest and James Davidson until it was acquired by James Stuart (from the Glen Spey distillery). James Stuart rebuild the distillery.
In 1892, this old farm distillery become the property of Roderick Kemp.
From 1968, The Macallan is quoted on the stock exchange list and shares were purchased by great international groups as Suntory or Rémy-Cointreau, but also by the workers and the inhabitants of the village. That’s why the whisky from the distillery was nicknamed “Malt of the People”. The distillery remained in the Kemp family until 1996, when Highland Distilling Ltd bought the shares of Rémy-Cointreau, and later those from private individuals.
In 10 years time (between 1965 and 1975), The number of stills of the distillery grown from 6 to 21.
Maturation happens in sherry casks for 100% of the production, among which 75% sherry Oloroso casks. Macallan uses a traditional barley type, called Golden Promise.
The Highland Distillers group has been acquired by Edrington Group in November 1999 for £ 601m.
The whole production matured in sherry Oloroso casks is sold as single malt, the remaining being sold to blenders, among which Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, J&B, Chivas Regal, Lang’s Supreme, Ballantine’s or Long John.
Glen Ord Northern Highlands Distillery
From the dozen distilleries which used to operate in the area of Black Isle on the East coast of Northern Highlands, Glen Ord is the only survivor. The Glen Ord distillery has been founded in 1838.
First owner were Robert Johnstone and Donald McLennan. The company which owned the distillery, “Ord Distillers Co” changed several times from owner until James Watson & Co purchased it in 1896. Watson was a blender from Dundee and he owned Pulteney and Parkmore.
Watson refurbished and enlarged the distillery by adding new stills and considerably enhancing the malting floors.
The distillery closed during World War I and was bankrupt in 1923, before John Dewar who recently entered the D.C.L. group belonging to SMD, acquired it.
World War II was synonym of a second closing period, because of a general lack of barley.
Important refurbishment works have been done in 1960 and the malting floors were replaced by a “saladin-box” in 1961, with the modernisation of the distillery.
A new malting was build in 1968 to supply the 7 other distilleries of the group, amongst others Talisker on Isle of Skye.
A new modernisation of the malting took place in 1996.
The whisky marketed by the distillery has had several different names during the last years: Glen Oran, Glen Ordie and Glen Ord.
About 10% of the production is marketed as single malt, the remaining being used in the blends Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s.
I also tried Glen Ord at the Sam’s Wine’s Scotch tasting. My notes of the 1998 Glen Ord N. Highland 8 Yr (86 proof) $65 bottle: “leafy, grassy”; leathery and nutty; whiff of barley at the end; aged in bourbon barrel; I like!
Established in 1831, Talisker is set in Isle of Skye, on the exposed west coast of the island. In 1900, the distillery had expanded to the point where it had its own pier, tramway, cottages, and currency, denominated in days worked. Talisker is the only distillery on the Isle of Skye.