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Tour in Scotland, Highlands and Speyside, October 2019

For the photo gallery, click here.


Strathisla distillery in Keith and part of the shop selection

After several years of absence to Scotland, I made my first family trip to this lovely country.
With no good connection to Inverness, we flew to Aberdeen (too late for a visit at Glen Garioch distillery unfortunately), with our first stop in Keith. After enjoying a good night there, I managed to make a quick shopping tour at the Strathisla distillery. They are a very large selection of Distillery Collection, exclusive single casks from the Chivas (Pernod Ricard) distilleries, including an excellent Strathisla 26 years old.

As a long drive North to Dunrobin castle was waiting for us, we drove North. We had a short stop at Dalmore, unfortunately the visitor centre was closed and work was ongoing for its extension.

Dunrobin castle

I left then my family at Dunrobin castle, the seat for the 1st Duke of Sutherland to take a photographs of the distillery he founded in 1891, the old Clynelish (Brora) distillery, as the light was good.

Heavy work ongoing at the old Brora distillery

I returned then the castle for its visit. It is a remarkable castle and it deserves well its reputation of Jewel of the North.  After a good night of sleep at Dornoch Castle, we travelled to Brora, starting first with the visit of the Clynelish distillery. The Brora distillery being under heavy renovation, there was no opportunities of getting close to it. With construction of a new visitor centre at the Clynelish distillery, they reopened the old one, in the back of the distillery.  As Clynelish distillery was not in operation in that morning, more flexibility was offered with regards to photography.

Clynelish distillery (top) and its still house (bottom)

Since the upgrade of 2016, the production has increased from 3.8 to 4.8 mio LPA, use exclusively the Mauri yeast (previously, mix of Kerri and Mauri), and the fermentation extended from 80 to 85 hours. At Brora, the reconstruction is progressing well and it should be operational by November 2020. At the shop, there was an empty case of the new Brora 1978 40 YO, as well as the new Clynelish Distillery Exclusive batch 1 and still a few Clynelish 20 YO 200th Anniversary bottlings.  We had a lovely walk in the afternoon with an acquaintance of mine. It was time for a rather short dinner at the Royal Marine Hotel, before I gave my presentation about the old Clynelish distillery for the Brora & Clynelish Heritage Society, with a full attendance.  As a token of gratitude, I received a bottle from the Clynelish staff, containing the ashes from the last coal fire at the old Clynelish distillery in 1965. After driving back to Dornoch, I changed of clothes and headed back to the bar of the Dornoch Whisky Bar to taste the Clynelish 10 YO hand-filled and the Clynelish 20 YO 200th Anniversary, but unfortunately, it was 11.00 PM by then and the bar was closed.

the Dornoch distillery Still house and a warehouse

In the morning, before driving towards the Speyside, I made a short visit to the Dornoch Distillery to greet Phil and Simon Thomson. Their new distillery being slightly delayed in terms of application, the first one located in the Fire House of the Hotel is still running strong. Production has increased the last 5-6 months, and they are running with 1 tonne of malt per week. They are using spent yeast with overpitching, in order to have high amounts of yeast in their wash, for a flavoursome wash. The fermentation is very long and last 7 days. With Simon, I then visited their cramped warehouses, which are used containers. as well as their bottling hall. Due to time constraints, I unfortunately had to shorten my very interesting discussion with him but after the opportunity of tasting a sample from a 4-5 Month old single malt matured in a Rye cask: a very oily distillate, rather malty, with a nice freshness and some green apples. A well made malt. 

On the way to the Speyside, Cawdor castle was unfortunately closed and drove further to Fort George, a most interesting military fort the end of the 18th Century, still in use by the British army.  I am always puzzled by the ingeniosity of Adam in its design.

A view of Fort George

In the next morning, we drove to the new Macallan distillery for a visit. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we were informed that all tours were booked for the next two days, so I booked one for Friday. The design of the new distillery is very impressive, very modern and luxurious. There is a nice little café, a large shop, but only standard Macallan for sale, with a few exceptions. The only special is one that you can buy after a tour (Macallan Classic Cut 2019 for £95). On the top, there is a bar, where you can taste several expressions of the distillery, including the 50 years (but for over £2,000 the 25 ml). If my memory is correct, there was also the 72 YO but for over £7,000 the measure.  I opted for a flight of Distillery Exclusives (10 ml of the Edition 4, Estate and ESC 2017) and a dram of the Genesis. The Estate was rather spicy, but otherwise rather simple and smooth, while the ESC was richer, heavier on the sherry and dried fruits, on top of smooth flavours. The Genesis was more complex, but remained very sweet and smooth.  I still miss the complexity of the Macallan bottled in the early 2000s though.


The Macallan still houses over time (from the oldest to the newest)

We took afterwards the opportunity of walking around the old distilleries. The contrast between these older still houses and the new one is huge. We decided to drive to Dufftown for a light lunch at the Glenfiddich distillery. The café offers a very good value food and at the bar, you can taste a large selection of Glenfiddich and Balvenie single malts, including a flight of Glenfiddich 30, 40, 50 and 60 years.

The current and the new still house of Glenfiddich

After lunch, I walked around the distillery and discovered the new still house in an L shape. The previous sill house was already impressive, but the new one is even more: on the main hall, there was 2 series of 6 stills. In the smallest part of the L, work was in progress, but another series of stills were being installed. This should probably allow the distillery to produce in excess of 20 mio LPA. The afternoon was spent at the Speyside cooperage, a nice educational place to understand the work of the cooperage. They were proud to have the world record man working for them, who managed to assemble a cask in 3 min 3 seconds. On our way back to the cottage, we passed Carron, where I discovered for the first time the Dalmunach distillery. This distillery was built in 2014 over the site of the former Imperial distillery and shows. It is a very nice modern distillery, with a still house remaining me strongly of the Glenburgie distillery.

The distillery museum of Dallas Dhu

The next day was more academic, as I spent the morning at Elgin library, after a short visit to the Cardhu Distillery shop. The shop was small, but offered several bottlings from the Special Releases as well as a large selection of whiskies for tasting, the Cardhu single malts, but several Johnnie Walker or Game of Thrones. I bought a sample of the Cardhu Distillery Exclusive for future tasting notes. The afternoon was cultural, with a visit to the Brodie castle and a brief stop at Dallas Dhu for taking a few photographs of the distillery, now a museum.

The Knockando woollen mill

On the following morning, we went to the Knockando woollen mill. Located close to the Tamdhu distillery, it is an old mill restored by the local community. The old loom was still in activity and we were lucky that an expert from London was there and could show us how it was working.

Visit of the new Macallan Distillery, the still house (top) and the tasting room (bottom)

After a light lunch in their nice café, we drove to Macallan for the Six Pillar tours. Several tours are organised, but we opted for the “basic” one, lasting 1h30 min for £15. The roof is made is made of Scandinavian pine and self-supporting, and following a “sinusoidal” curve inspired from the nearby Benrinnes mountain. The architecture is impressive and the distillery is composed of 3 groups of 12 stills (4 wash and 8 spirit sills), as well as a huge mash tun of 17 tonnes capacity. The current production is around 11-12 mio LPA with a maximal capacity of 15 mio LPA. However, the distillery is ready for a further expansion, as place for an additional mash tun is already there. They have stopped using Golden Promise malt, which used to be the signature of the distillery.  From a yeast perspective, they switched from the Mauri/Kerry yeast to liquid Kerry yeast. The fermentation is short: 60 hours.
After the visit of the distillery itself (around 40 min), you move to another section of the distillery, with displays on the wood, videos about cooperage and the whisky makers. Finally, you go down to the ground level for a tasting of the new make, Macallan 12 YO double wood and Macallan 15 YO triple cask.

The Dalmunach distillery at Carron

To close the day, we walked from Aberlour to the Craigellachie Bridge before going to our final dinner in Scotland.

Travelling with a family to Scotland reduces the number of distilleries that you can visit, but this is still possible. However, this might be slightly tricky with rather young children. In the Diageo distilleries, you can visit them starting with the age of 8, while at Macallan, the age limit was set to 14 years.

A last walk in Scotland, from Aberlour to the Craigellachie bridge

It was really good returning to Scotland after several years. Since my last distillery tour in Scotland, it is nice to see that the offer at distilleries are increasing, as most of them offer 3 different tours, costing e.g., at Macallan £15, 40 or 100 per person. While the duration for the most expensive tours is longer than the most basic ones, the price difference is often justified by a smaller group size, as well as the opportunity of tasting more exclusive whiskies. Many distilleries have now a café, allowing eating some light and good value food for lunch. A very appreciable change is the bar, allowing to taste many expressions from the distillery or the group. For instance, at Cardhu, one could taste a large range of single malts from the group, with the ones from the Game of Thrones series at £3 per 15 ml. At Glenfiddich, the whisky flights might be expensive, but offer a good value. For instance, you can get 25 ml of each Glenfiddich 30, 40, 50 and 60 yo for £2500, while you would get only the 50 YO Macallan for this price. Well, needless to say that the tours at £5 with a £5 voucher are gone…

In terms of distillery exclusives, the most of the Diageo distilleries visited offered distillery exclusives for around £90 per bottle. At Glenfiddich, the distillery exclusive is a 15 YO cask strength Solera hand-filled for £120, while at Macallan, after taking a tour, you get a voucher to purchase a Macallan Classic Cut 2019 for £95.
And well, it is safe to book your tour in advance, as numerous tours, especially the non-basic one, require booking.

Want to go back more often to Scotland!