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Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival Report and Tour in the Highlands, September 27th-October 04th, 2009

For the gallery of photographs, please click here


Part 1, 2, 3, and 4

Part 1: September 27th and 28th

Day 1:

At the early hours of the day, I left Paris after a short night of sleep and vivid memories of the Whisky Live to rejoin the heart of the Speyside, Dufftown, and its festivities.

The traffic was really smooth on the Scottish roads and I arrived at Dufftown just before lunch time, so I took the opportunity to visit the Glenlivet distillery. Well, this was one of the last tours at the "old" distillery, since the new still house opens at the end of this month (October). Already, the old mash tun is silent and mashing is taking place in the new full lauter mash tun, allowing a reduced mash time from about 6 h to about 3 h 20 min. The new part of the distillery could not be visited, but 2 pairs of stills have been added to the new still house, with a capacity of 1 extra pair. When the stills will be operational, the capacity of production will be of 10 mio LPA, just short of Glenfiddich.

The new stillhouse at the Glenlivet distillery 1 month before the inauguration



At the Speyisde Whisky festival, the number of lots at the whisky auction was significantly lower as compared to the previous year, since the number of lots per seller had been limited to 5. Prices for the original Fauna & Flora from the former Diageo distilleries (e.g., Craigellachie) reached remarquable prices (over £200). In the evening, I attended the presentation of Robin Laing and his new book "Whisky Legends of Islay", evening complemented by songs and the tasting of 6 Islay whiskies (in the heart of Speyside!): the standard 12 YO Bunnhabhain, Bruichladdich 16 YO Cuvée Pauillac, the Bowmore 1998 NC2 46% from Duncan Taylor, the Caol Ila 1996 59.0% from G&M, the Ardbeg Still Young and finally, a 12 YO Laphroaig from Dewar Rattray. To my opinion, the Independent bottlings were better the official ones. And poor Robin, no break and numerous requests for extra songs. A perfect evening to start my Scottish week!


Robin Laing reading an extract of his new book "Whisky Legends of Islay"



Day 2:

Thehe next morning, I participated to the Dailuaine & Glenfarclas tour organized as part of the Whisky Festival. It was a rare opportunity to visit the Dailuaine distillery, normally closed to the public. After a short introduction by the distillery manager, our group was split into 2. Our guide was an operator who started 36 years ago to work at the Dailuaine distillery at the age of 16 years. He was a most knowledgeable man and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, in particular the visit of the old malt loft and its impressive carpentry work. The maltings were in operation until 1972. As of September 2009, Dailuaine, where mashing takes 62 hours, is producing a new type of spirit: green and grassy. This was done by changing the condensers. After a short tasting of the fine 16 YO Dailuaine F&F and a quick browse through the photographic archives of the distilleries, we had to move to our next destination: Glenfarclas.


A stunning view: the malt loft at Dailuaine distillery


At Glenfarclas, our guide was Robert Ransom. As part of our visit, our last stop was at the warehouse, where the head warehouseman joined us. In front of these old casks of Glenfarclas, we were keen on tasting the matured spirit. Probably carried over by the enthusiasm of our group, he to our delight started to dip his valinch deep into different cask. The rhythm was quite frenetic and with my photographic equipment, I could not match the speed of the glass passing through the group. The following casks were sampled: 1961, 1962, 1975 (all sherry), 1975 Bourbon, 1984 quarter cask, 1981 port pipe and a sample from 2001 (or 2002?). Well, this improvised tasting was extremely well perceived. What we did not know was that the scheduled tasting was to come!


A thirsty Norwegian waiting for the glas to be filled with some old Glenfarclas from 1961


In the tasting room, the following expressions were tasted: Glenfarclas new make, 15, 21, 30 YO, 1960 family cask and 1984 puncheon sherry family cask. Indeed, this was close to madness!

During lunch at the Croft Inn close to Dufftown, the atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly.

After this tour, I went on my own for my appointment to the Craigellachie, where I was toured through the distillery by the distillery manager, a most kind and pleasant man. In spite of its apparent compactness, the distillery is producing about 3mio LPA, with 2.2 mio going to Diageo, as part of the deal signed between Diageo and Baccardi, when Baccardi took over some Diageo's distilleries (e.g., Royal Brackla, Aultmore). Since Craigellachie is not anymore bottled as a single malt, all the rest is sold to other companies such as Inver house, Whyte & Mackay, Grant's and a few others. Prior to Craigellachie, the distillery manager worked at Cragganmore, Macduff (macdeveron) and the old Banff distillery. The later one closed in the early 1980s, although it was producing a very good whisky, according to what he told me. We then had a nice chat over the changes in the whisky industry over the last decades, as well as the most recent changes at the Craigellachie distillery.


The nicest mash tun house in Scotland? At Craigellachie distillery



From Craigellachie, I drove then to Carron and took some photographs of the old Imperial Distillery. One local contractor asked me if I knew anything about the potential re-opening of the distillery. With the extension of the Glenlivet distillery, this seems indeed unlikely.


The silent distillery of Imperial


The last event of that long day was the Dram Party at the Dufftown whisky shop. I met quite a few familiar faces in the shop. Since one is not anymore allowed to help oneself with whisky, due to new regulations, the staff was serving us. Always enjoyable and this increases your chance to taste a few whiskies if you arrive after the opening. The Convalmore 1981 from G&M was probably my favourite whisky of the evening.


With this, the Autumn Speyisde Whisky Festival was over.