One of the goals of The London Whisky Club is to create shared experiences. This is usually through our monthly London meet ups, however on August 14th, four members met in Inverness for a few days of whisky touring. Myself, Jez, Conor and Shiv, stayed in Elgin, in a small picturesque cottage on the banks of the river Lossie. I’ve included a sample of images from various moments of the trip, however all the images will be added to the gallery page in the near future.
The first day was spent getting to know each other better. We visited Gordon and MacPhail, came to appreciate how competitive everyone was when playing the board game Articulate and were treated to a wonderful dram of Brora from the ever generous Conor Strang. It set the tone for the trip and from then on things only got better.
On day two we started out early to get to GlenDronach for the Connoisseurs Tour at 10:30. Our tour guide was Frank, a wonderful host who appeared to have done every job going at the distillery over many years. He really took the time to tailor the tour to our group and provided some great insight into various parts of the distillery. He explained how the mill had been bought for a fraction over £5 decades earlier, and how the whisky used to be transported via cart (which can still be viewed in the distillery courtyard) and tractor when ready for bottling. At the end of the tour we tried GlenDronach new make alongside 5 wonderful drams.
Next came Macallan. This really was something else. I personally have never seen anything like it and the scale of what they’ve accomplished was truly awe inspiring. You could argue till the cows come home about the quality of the liquid, or the way the brand has positioned itself. What cannot be denied is that they’ve created something unlike anything that’s come before. The tour was good and in places very interesting, but in reality it was really just a vehicle to look around the new site. One of the six presentation tables wasn’t working which was a shame, hopefully they’ll get it back online soon. At the end of the tour we sampled the three 12 year old releases and the Rare Cask.
Thanks to Jason Whisky Wise and Conor Strang having all the right connections, we then managed to take a tour around Glen Moray, hosted by the Master Distiller himself Graham Coull. It was incredibly generous of him to give us an unplanned tour and the insight he could offer was very well received. After the tour Graham was generous enough to pour a couple of drams from behind the counter. We bought a very reasonably priced distillery only bottle, a Cabernet Sauvignon finish for £50 that will be brought to a London meet up in the near future. Dinner was taken at The Mash Tun in Aberlour before heading back to the cottage for some more drams and whisky chat.
The third day was another early start, this time heading back down the A941 to Ballindalloch. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this particular tour but it turned out to be one of the real highlights of the trip. Our tour guide Brian was extremely hospitable and generous with information. He went into greater detail than I’ve experienced in any previous tour, explaining exactly how different valves worked, which pipes led where and how the whole distillery jigsaw fit together. At the end of the tour we were treated to 3 excellent whiskies from the Ballindalloch estates own stock. These included two very different Bourbon casks and one Sherry cask, all old, all interesting. It was also at this time I picked up the nickname “the heathen”, for mixing my three glasses into one. I still maintain it was a valid experiment, although it did slightly ruin the whiskies!
Leaving Ballindalloch we made a quick stop at the castle for lunch before heading to Glenfarclas for the Five Decades Tour. This was another highlight and not only because of the 1966 cask, sampled in the tasting, but also because of our tour guide Matthew. He was very professional and offered a bit of insight into his own background and story, which helped create a connection between himself and the group. During the tour the weather took a turn for the worse. Maybe it was my careless blending earlier in the day that angered the gods, but either way a biblical downpour began whilst we took shelter in the warehouse. At this point the warehouseman allowed us to delve into a couple of casks, all because Jez couldn’t resist asking for a freebie! The tour ended with a tasting of 5 whiskies from the 1960s and each decade after, along with the new make. We made our way back via The Whisky Shop Dufftown where contrasting bottles were bought. I picked up a lovely bottle of Glen Grant 29yo and Conor bought some Beinn Dubh, I ask you now, who is “the heathen”? The day ended in the Craigellachie Hotel with a superb meal, ropey cocktail and then some real unicorn drams.
Our final day was mostly spent travelling (and nearly fainting at the duty free price of Aberlour A’bunadh… since you ask, £115), but we did manage to cram in a tour of Tomatin. The drive from Elgin to Tomatin was yet another highlight. We briefly passed through the North-Western corner of the Cairngorms and were given a reminder about why the Scottish landscape is so special with stunning scenery around every bend. The tour itself was slightly basic but still a worthwhile endeavour and a good chance to stand inside a mash tun, see inside a condenser and observe a coopers workshop. We finished the tour with 5 single casks and some new make. To conclude, everyone had a great time and hopefully it won’t be long before we can do it again, there was talk of Campbeltown in the spring…