Day three (we were officially in holiday mood and lost track of what day it was), the car is getting heavier already, and with the places still to visit in mind, we feared that we needed to repack the car for our trip home, and use the backseats that we had left clear “for no special reason”.
We were up early, to get the most out of the day, and arrived well before official opening times at the Aberfeldy “World of Dewar’s” distillery. There are many large enough sings at the sides of the road, so it is easily found and even without these signs the GPS* did not have any alternative location planned for us to visit.
Although we had arrived a tad early, the doors of the large visitor’s centre were already open and a friendly bearded face asked us if we would like to participate in a tour. There are several tour-choices at Dewar’s, and we choose to do the connoisseur’s tour, where we would get a series of Dewar’s current selection to taste. Mixing and matching of the tours is also possible, which comes in handy when one has to drive, and the other has to drink.
The Aberfeldy tours start with a video presentation in a nice auditorium, where a film is presented with some of the history of the distillery. After the film, we were requested to have a look in the distillery’s museum, where a lot of materials are presented for the visitors to explore. You will be guided through this museum by a truly museum-esque handset, where you can type in a number corresponding a number on the walls and floors.
The cantina serves a nice selection of food and beverages, and after the compulsory “Fill Your Own Bottle”, we decided it was time to get moving again and drive north, where we would finally reach our “home” for the next two weeks. On our way there we had originally planned to stop and visit Dalwhinnie, but because of the good time we had at Aberfeldy, we had only time to wave at the pretty distillery, clearly visible from the motorway A9.
Following the A9 further north, we were directed to the A95, where some GPS systems* would have kept us on that road following the south banks of the river Spey until we would have arrived in Graigellachie. Our GPS device decided the north banks are about half a mile shorter (not faster), and send us via the A939/ B9102 through some of the most beautiful woods. Woods means darkness. Woods means narrow, bendy and curvy with upcoming traffic. Woods also means lots of red squirrels and suicidal pheasants. Fun.
After we had found the house (nothing to do with the GPS*, but with the fact that the UK has an aversion against house numbers in combination with street-names, and sometimes only provides a house name and a postal code that covers a whole block of houses), we were welcomed by our Canadian friends Johanne and Graham, whom we had not met before other then via the internet. By the time Canadian number three Linda came home from Whisky School (something we really would like to partake in someday), Graham had cooked a really nice stew for the five of us. Johanne had arranged with the owner of the house that we could get a tour at the Macallan later that evening, so not knowing what to expect next we ordered a taxi, which would lead us to the Estate.
We were welcomed at the Macallan by one of the stillmen who snuck us into the backdoors of the bowels of the distillery. We started at the plant where the distillery-tours are guided trough as well. This area holds a huge stainless steel mashtun, several pretty and new wooden washbacks which each feed one of the two shiny washstills that in turn feed two of the four blinking spirit stills. The second plant, housed in another building, holds another huge mashtun, feeding many stainless steel washbacks, which feed into a large number of washstills that are again split into two spirit stills each. We lost count on the immense number of – not so shiny – stills.
This behind the scenes tour was an eye opener, where we could really see the difference between what the public gets to see and what actual is going on in the big plant. What amazed us most, was that everything – from receiving the malted barley, milling, mashing, (cleaning), fermenting, (more cleaning), distilling, (more distilling), to filling the immense containers is nowadays controlled by one operator at a time, from his cozy chair in a computerised control room. On evenings like this, no one is to be found in or around the machinery, and the only interaction between people is when shifts change, or when drivers arrive with malted barley. Quite a lonely job, it seems.
Back home we needed to warm up with a pour of one of the house-drams in front of the fire, and we had our first good chat face-to-face with each other. It is good to see how you can get along fine with people you have never personally met before and only know you have this one thing in common, but you get to realise there are more overlapping interests as you get to know each other. The #WhiskyFabric is great.
Day four of the trip, the last day before the festival would start. We had arranged a tour at the GlenDronach distillery at 10 o’clock, and our GPS send us via a nice route via the A941/ A920 and A97, where every once in a while we would see a sign telling us that after “Glass” the A920 would be closed. Neither the GPS nor the old fashioned paper foldout maps could tell us where the village of Glass was, so we trusted the A920 would go on for some more time long after we would have left it. However, it appears that “Glass” is not a village but an area, just like “Harlem” is for New York – but smaller. A lot smaller and therefore not printed on paper maps, or mentioned in the GPS. Our GPS being our GPS*, decided to give us a hard time, where we ended up driving an entirely different route back to our house and starting over with a left turn, instead of a right, following the A97 via Keith. Much easier, but it took us about 45 minutes extra, including the detour.
GlenDronach itself was really nice. After apologising for arriving late, we bought our tickets for the tour and could join with a group of French people, who were directed around by a French-speaking guide, so we got ourselves a semi-private tour by the lovely and well informed Karen. The store was well equipped with a wide range of GlenDronach expressions, and there is a possibility to bottle your own (fantastic) 21 year old.
From GlenDronach we continued up the A97 through Aberchirder (or as the locals call it; Foggieloan), where we were recommended to have lunch in the New Inn. We enjoyed a great Fish ‘n Chips, after which we drove further towards the Glenglassaugh distillery.
This time we arrived when a tour was halfway (no GPS* discussions here), and we found ourselves in front of a closed visitor’s centre. A printout with a phone number brought us a lady who – after some minutes of allowing us in the store, more or less suggested we would walk around the distillery for a series of pictures, and come back when the tour would start, after which she closed the shop again and went back to her fireplace. During the tour, the guide missed some facts, or named things different then we expected (read: wrong), but all in all the distillery itself is a nice place, where the new owners are building and remodelling a lot. In a few years we will come back for another look around the place and see if they have grown out of these small growing pains.
Next part will contain some of our adventures during the Spirit of Speyside Festival. Finally.
*) our GPS is great, although she might think some routes are more practical then others, which does not always turns out as being true. Having a speed limit of 60mph outside of urban areas in the UK gives our GPS a hard time deciding whether or not a small, single lane, bendy and curvy road would be the better choice over the main road, where one can actually get to 60mph.