In the words of Aqvavitae, this week was a good whisky week. Whisky Show in London on Monday, and then three whisky events up in my hometown of Glasgow including a friend’s whisky night at his house and also getting to meet Roy from Aqvavitae in the Pot Still. But the third thing I managed to do while up for the weekend was to take some time out to visit Auchentoshan Distillery. As I have only discovered a love for whisky after moving down to London, I’ve actually not been able to go to any distilleries until now. I did go to Talisker when I was 18 years old but I wasn’t really paying attention and that was many years ago, before I liked whisky, so I was very much looking forward to seeing a working distillery in action this week.
I went with my local friend Simon who is developing a stronger passion for whisky every year. I had flown into Glasgow that morning, on a crisp blue day, and I could see the distillery from the air as my plane landed. Well, I knew it was roughly ‘over in that direction’ anyway, but I couldn’t pinpoint the building.
I got a cab straight to the distillery from the airport, at about 10am and picked up Simon from the local Dalmuir train station and then went on to Auchentoshan. It really was a beautiful day and the site looked very nice indeed as our taxi dropped us off. I hadn’t expected it to look so beautiful, given that it’s a city distillery. Several staff wearing Auchentoshan shirts were offloading boxes from a van and all cheerily said Hi to us as we arrived. We found the whole atmosphere to be very relaxed, friendly and intimate.
Auchentoshan Distillery offers several levels of tour, and we opted for the second level, called The Experience, where you get a 90 minute tour, including a look in their warehouse, and you also get 4 drams to taste. I assumed these would all be at the end, but they actually spaced them out throughout the tour, which we felt worked well. It really is great to taste a dram whilst you are in amongst the smells of the working distillery.
Our tour guide was Dougal, and he came across as being very experienced and knowledgeable. I’m no expert on all the processes in a distillery, so my facts and vocabulary may be wrong here, but my passion is certainly present. Please correct any facts in the comments below if required! It was great to finally get some first hand experience of the whisky making processes that I have been reading about for a few years now. Firstly we saw the lauter tun containing the early porridge-like substance. We learnt about the water that is used in the process and that it comes from Loch Katrine which I know is the main water supply to the residents of Glasgow. At this stage of the tour we had a dram of the Auchentoshan American Oak, a whisky I know well and was a very pleasant initial ‘breakfast dram’.
We then went through to the Washback Room, where we saw four big washback containers. Dougal explained that the washbacks (which are essentially like big barrels) are made from tall Oregon Pine trees so that each strut can be made from one long piece of wood, without any knots. We could see the difference in age between the washbacks due to the level of degradation of the wood. We were allowed to smell of a couple of them to compare the different levels of fermentation. It really is just like a blonde beer at this stage. We learned that the CO2 that is a bi-product of this stage is recycled by selling it off to the Prosecco industry. And here we had a second dram, an Auchentoshan Three Wood, which was very pleasant and certainly aided by the strong smells in this room.
From here we moved through to the Stills room. It is widely known that Auchentoshan is triple distilled, so here we saw the three stills. A Wash Still, an Intermediate Still and a Spirit Still. We also got a taste of their new make spirit here. Just a finger dab, mind. Strong stuff.
At this point, we were taken outside to walk over to one of the warehouses to see some of the casks. This was my first time in a whisky warehouse and it was indeed very special. Just to share a tranquil moment with these silent workers, the casks, patiently adding their character to this spirit over years and decades. It really gives you a sense of the level of patience and respect that each dram deserves. We eagerly looked at the dates on the barrels. The oldest we found was from 1987. It was also fascinating to see the difference in size of the barrels, from American Bourbon barrels, through Hogsheads and all the way up to Sherry butts, which are pretty massive.
To round off the tour we were taken through their main bar and leisure area which looks very nice indeed if you’re hosting corporate events etc, through to their small bar which has an array of historical photos and whisky bottles hanging up on the wall. Here Dougal poured us two drams to compare. Firstly an 18yr old and secondly a Distillery Cask Oloroso. Both delicious. Two of us also cheekily asked for a wee taste of the Blood Oak red wine cask that we could spy behind the bar, and Dougal kindly obliged.
We also got a taste of the Auchentoshan experiment known as ‘Auchentoshan and Ale’ which consists of Auchentoshan American Oak mixed with IPA beer and also some lemon and honey. Very nice indeed, I have to say.
All in all we were very impressed with the Auchentoshan tour. It’s a lovely little distillery, with extremely friendly staff and they are proudly doing things their own way, slightly unique from other distilleries.
I even got to visit their very well stocked gift shop twice, because when our taxi was halfway into Glasgow City Centre I had to ask the driver to turn round and go back to the distillery because I had left my bag there! I made up for that last minute stress by going to a pub in Glasgow for some haggis, neeps and tatties. Hard to beat.
Thank you Dougal and everyone else at Auchentoshan for a great tour.
Here’s the full photo gallery.