So while in Scotland, we visited a LOT of whiskey distilleries. I can now expertly tell you how a single malt, Scotch whiskey is made! The ingredients and process is pretty identical, with other a few things that change the flavor of each whiskey.
I have never really had a taste for whiskey, but since we were in Scotland, and receiving free drams on all our tours, I did my best to try them out along with Dave! Almost all of them were pretty good, and I am starting to enjoy some whiskeys. More importantly, I am learning to cook with it, and seeing that it adds a great flavor to many things (including ice cream!).
So it is very difficult to rate the whiskey distillery visits, because they need to be rated on many different scales! I will try to do a brief overview of each, and at the end will talk about my favorites 🙂
1. Glenfarclas Distillery
This is a small, family owned distillery that was right on the outskirts of Aberlour. This was our very first distillery visit and it was good. We were welcomed with a nice dram of whiskey, and then given a list of other options, and told they would pour us a dram of anything else we might like to try, while we waited for our tour. It was a really nice welcome! The tour was nice, but unfortunately, Glenfarclas, like many other distilleries were in silent season, so no production was occurring. We still had a great tour guide, who showed us around, and explained the process to us. The tour guide was a nice elderly gentlemen, who was really knowledgeable and happy to answer our questions. It was a great tour 🙂
2. Aberlour Distillery
They are located right in Aberlour, and we passed it often as we drove around the town. They only do two tours a day, and we had to book in advance. The tour met in the gift shop, and left from there to head to a room where they showed us a small powerpoint slide show about what makes Scotch whiskey what it is. There are rules and regulations necessary in order to call it a Scotch whiskey, one of them being it has to be aged in a cask, for at least 3 years, in Scotland. Then it was off to tour the distillery. They were not in silent season, so everything was in full swing. After the tour, it was off to the tasting. We walked into a room with tables set up, with 6 whiskeys to taste per person. There was also an option to pour your very own bottle straight from a cask, which set you back about 60 pounds! A few people did it, so it was fun to watch the process. We also met some other Americans, who had spent some time as ex-pats, so it was fun to chat with them. Another fun, informative tour 🙂
3. The Macallan
This is one of Dave’s favorite whiskeys, so we had to go to the distillery. Macallan was also in silent season, so the distillery was quiet! (And cold, it was a rainy day!). It was a good tour, we had a nice tour guide, named Jennie, who showed us around. Along with the whiskey process, Macallan also talked a little more in-depth about how their casks are made. It was interesting. They use a lot of American wood, which I would not have expected. After the tour, we received a free dram, and explored the souvenir shop. This was also the first place we had whiskey ice cream 🙂
4. Glen Grant
We stopped by here on a Sunday morning when we were switching cottages. Luckily, the day we went was a gorgeous, summer day in Scotland, unlike all the rainy ones we had had the past two weeks. This distillery is gorgeous, and definitely one to spend some time at. First, we browsed through the gift shop, and signed up for a tour. We had an hour to wait, so we headed to the coffee shop, where we had a really good cappuccino. After relaxing outside in the sunshine, it was time for the distillery tour. It was good, although it ended up just being me and Dave, with our tour guide. So that was fun 😛 At the end, we got to try 2 drams of the Glen Grant, and it was quite good. My favorite, by far! After the tour, there was a lovely, sprawling garden to explore. It was green and lush, and even had a big waterfall with a bridge to walk all around it! I think we spent about an hour exploring the garden and just enjoying the weather.
This is probably one of the more widely known whiskeys in the USA, and its distillery is certainly a tourist haven. It was no doubt built for tourists, they offer free tours 7 days a week. We stopped by on a Sunday afternoon and it was packed. We stopped in to see if they had tours available, and they did, we just had to wait about half an hour. Again, we browsed around the gift shop until it was time for the tour. It started with a brief film about the history of Glenfiddich, and then they split our group into smaller groups to go through the distillery. No silent season here, and everything was in motion! We were allowed to take pictures and you could see a large part of the process of the whiskey being made. After the tour, we got to sample the 12 year old, 15 year old and 18 year old whiskeys. They were good, but I think the 18 year old was my favorite. Also, we learned that Glenfiddich means Valley of the Deer. (Glen in a whiskey title means valley of, and the fiddich means deer in Gaalic I think). A lot of whiskey names start to make sense once you know this!
6. The Glenlivet
This is another popular, well known whiskey in the States. Their facility was new and very tourist friendly. We walked right in and were offered a free tour, which would be leaving in the next 20 minutes. So we headed to the cafe for some coffee before our tour. We had a good time on the tour, and our tour guide, although young was quite knowledgeable about whiskey and answered our questions. At the end of the tour, they showed us 3 whiskeys that were available for sample, but we were only allowed to try one. They had a 12 year, 18 year, and a cask strength called N’Adurra. I selected the 18 year old, while Dave selected the cask strength and then we shared. Both were good! We browsed the gift shop and museum downstairs, and had some ice cream before heading to the next distillery.
7. Strathisla Distillery
After The Glenlivet, we decided to head to Strathisla, which is a smaller distillery, but is considered the home of Chivas Regal. We read that we would be welcomed with a dram of Chivas, but since we arrived just as the tour was leaving, they said we would receive it afterwards. The tour was 10 pounds, and it was a decent tour. The Strathisla distillery is a small one, compared to some we had seen, but it was still neat. (I included a picture of the pagodas, instead of the Strathisla sign, because they were so pretty). After the tour, we were offered drams of Chivas 12 and 18, as well as the Strathisla 12 year. We had a fun tour here, and enjoyed having some Chivas, since in a blind taste test, it was Dave’s favorite blended whiskey.
8. Cardhu Distillery
This is also a smaller, lesser known distillery, but it is considered the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker. It’s also one of the few distilleries that was owned by a woman. For 6 pounds each, we purchased a tour with a free gift glass afterwards along with our tasting. This was a fun tour, they had a neat model that displayed the process of the malting floor for the barley. Most of the distilleries have their barley malted elsewhere and brought in, so we heard about this process but never really got to see it (until our final tour coming up next). After our tour, we tried a Cardhu, an Oban and Knockando (I think!). We enjoyed them all. Since they are the home of Johnnie Walker (meaning Cardhu is used in all JW blends), we had to pick up some JW mementos for a friend!
9. Balvenie Distillery
Let me just start by saying that if you are in the Highlands of Scotland and can only visit one distillery, make it this one. This is an intensive tour, that lasts 3 hours and is 25 pounds, but is absolutely worth it! We had to schedule our tour in advance, and they keep the groups small, so you need to be flexible! Balvenie is owned by Glenfiddich, so we actually were told to go there to meet our tour guide. Balvenie is still working on their visitor’s center and parking, so meeting at Glenfiddich is easier, and then the tour guide drove us to the site.
First, we started out with coffee, tea and shortbread while our tour guide talked to us a little bit about what we would be doing. After that, it was off to see the barley malting floor. Remember how I said most distilleries don’t do it on site? Well, Balvenie still does! It’s amazing! Long story short, they take the barley, run water over it, and let it sprout. Then to stop the sprouting, they put it on a floor, which is heated and steamed from below, in order to stop the growth process. The pagodas I showed from the earlier distillery? That is the roof top of the malting floor. We were able to touch, feel and even eat the barley. It was really neat!
After that, it was off to the distillery where we learned about the process, as usual. Unlike most distilleries, Balvenie also has a cooperage right on premises. A cooperage is where coopers work to build and repair the casks that will hold all that whiskey! Sadly, my camera was malfunctioning, so I don’t have as many pictures as I would like After the cooperage, it was off to the tasting room!
We got to try 5 different Balvenie whiskeys, all very different. We tried a Double Wood 12 Year, Signature 12 Year, Portwood 21 Year, and 2 others that I can’t remember 🙂 All were good in different ways, and they told us about a whiskey that is aged in whiskey casks, then in Rum casks the final few months. Sounds good to me 🙂
That is all I can think of for now….if you have any questions about the distilleries we visited, feel free to ask! And if you can, experience it for your self. It’s really fun! (Even for non-whiskey lovers!)