The question I get asked a lot is always a compound question. What distillery in Scotland should I visit and when should I go. Which distillery in Scotland to visit is very subjective I would go to anything which you have a knowledge and appreciation for their products in the first instance. Coming into the experience with a background knowledge of what they produce is always a great place to start. However, if you aren’t quite there yet in the geekery of whisky then go for the closest one 🙂
A far more interesting question is when to go to a distillery. At this point I have visited around 10 different distilleries in Scotland and I have developed an understanding of the product. Broadly speaking most visits are now well orchestrated and rehearsed commercial experiences. You are in a group with a mini bus sized crowd of people and whisked through the production area while being given a standard script with optional cheesy jokes randomly interspersed throughout as seasoning. The tour will generally complete in the gift shop with a dram of their, probably, cheapest product.
You do not want to go on this tour.
Please do not misunderstand these tours are not bad in anyway. They just aren’t geared towards someone who already has a solid base of knowledge. When I visit a distillery I always try to do two things.
- Pay for a more expensive tour: The more expensive tours are essentially just the same tour around the distillery but with more expensive or rare whiskies at the end. However, what it does do is thin the field down to just the people really interested in the distillery and its whisky. This in turn allows the guide to be more detailed and to tailor the experience to the participants: ie You
- Go off-season Nov-Feb: By going off-season you can hopefully end up in a private tour. This has happened to be in about 25% of the tours I have done. By far these are the best of the best tours I have ever gone on. The one-to-one nature of the tour and tasting means you get the absolute most out of your day.
So that is the back story to how I ended up on the Warehouse Tour at Glenturret between Christmas and New Year completely on my own. To drive home the point I will say Glenturret was really busy when I went with bus tours and fully booked standard tours kicking off before and after me. So to have a private one-to-one tour was purely down to buying the extra for the warehouse tour which includes a trip across the road to the eh.. warehouse.
The tour itself was interesting with the guide explaining as many of the unusual facts which you might not know as he could. So many in fact most have been forgotten already which doesn’t make for great blogging content. What also doesn’t make for great content is the rule against any photos in the production areas or indeed to have your phone on so no visuals and no way to make notes (Who has paper and pens anymore?!?)
The distillery is the oldest working distillery in Scotland and is on a compact site. In the picture below we can see the input and output locations of the 100% Scottish barley which is used. The malted barley is delivered into the storage area from a hole in the ground before it is ground, mashed and fermented and turned into Draff which is fed to the local cows from the trailer in the picture below.
The grinding machine is the usual one you see in a lot of older distilleries from Porteus. The standard story is the company went out of business because once all their potential customers had mills they never required replacing so the company was equally no longer required. Obviously, that isn’t the actual story which involves poor management and an inability to diversify. Regardless, if you don’t know what one looks like you will have to live with one from Bowmore since again no pictures are allowed inside.
The pair of stills are quite unusual as well which are kind of wedged into the still room and actually the spirit still seems to almost be in a different building. Notice the completely different shape of the spirit still as well which is very angular. The first picture is the wash still which has a window retro-fitted at some point in its life. The second is the spirit still.
The distillery is quite cool in having two cats which are looked after at the distillery. They seem to be able to go anywhere with a cat flap even into the still room for them. Infact, while taking advantage of my £5 off voucher in the shop the assistant and I were confined to a small area of the till desk while the one of the cats (named Glen and Turret) took ownership of the rest.
The tour provided a couple of interesting nuggets of information which I didn’t really consider. The first is all the white spirit is put into barrels onsite and then either transported off site for storage or kept in one of the dunnage warehouses across the road. In those warehouses includes mostly Glenturret but there are a number of barrels from other Edrington distilleries as well apparently to mitigate against a complete loss on another site.
At the end of the tour we went across the road and into the warehouses to sample a number of different whiskies. The ones I got to try were the unpeated new make, the peated new make, the 10 year old, the peated, the 30 year old and a single cask distilled in 1987 (the year I was born). The warehouse is fantastically cold so perhaps not the best place to try whiskies but it is nice surroundings. Sadly, like almost all warehouse experiences you cannot get up close and personal with the casks you are in a sealed off glass area and looking in like a spectator at the zoo.
With that the tour was complete and all that was left was to stop off at the shop for a Bottle your own purchase. At the moment it is a 13 year old sherry butt which from the small sample I had packs a big punch. I enjoyed the visit and I am looking forward to seeing how the distillery and brand develop under the new owners. I asked a few of the staff about how they felt about the distillery changing hands. There seems to be a real positive vibe from everyone and a hope the Glenturret name will be developed and invigorated by the new owners. The production facilities are old and traditional with a strong determination to keep the old ways alive. The Famous Grouse branding did not do this craft product justice so I hope things can be improved in that area as well.