We have had a great, but busy time at the Spirit of Speyside festival 2014. Many evenings ended with us crashing on the couch talking to our new friends with a fine dram, our feet up and a fire blazing in the fireplace, or we ended at the kitchen table, trying to get some text together, mostly resulting in us ending up on the couch talking with our new friends with a fine dram, our feet up and a fire blazing in the fireplace. The days after the festival were possibly even more busy, so that we are only finding the time to write some stuff down now that we are home.
The day started with a Canadian influenced Skalk, where the house was invaded by three more Canadians, bearing breakfast gifts in the form of a forty year old Forty Creek – a great dram to start the day. Lucky for us, we had some time to recuperate, before we had to go to our first festival-appointment.
Before our travels started, we had decided that during the festival we would visit as many distilleries that are normally closed to the public, and skip on the many tastings the festival programme offered. Our first distillery of the programme would be the Strathmill distillery, more or less opposite the road from the Strathisla distillery, in Keith. Before we headed there, we decided to indulge ourselves with a lunch from the great bistro at the Glenfiddich distillery, where we once again met two of the Canadians from the Skalk this morning.
Strathmill distillery is one of the Diageo distilleries that produces a single malt portion for the J&B and Johnnie Walker blends. Only around two percent of the 2.3 million litres of the malt is found in Diageo’s own Flora and Fauna series or from independent bottlers. While waiting for the group to be complete, we started talking with yet another group of Canadians, which turned out to be acquaintances of our friends at the house where we were staying. It is either a small world, or half the Canadian population was in the Speyside region during the festival. Two of the Canadians, Frank and Jacqui Scott, were announced whisky festival ambassadors later that same evening at the festival opening dinner – an event we had decided not to partake in, although next time we will surely try to get tickets. Our evening meal consisted of an average meal at the Aberlour Hotel and a dram or two of the ‘house whiskies’ at the house.
Our second festival day started with a tour at the Tormore distillery, right besides the A95, and one of the better looking distilleries in the region, with its copper roof and melodious – yet currently disabled – clock-tower. No Canadians this time, but the Dutch were well represented at this event with an almost complete representation of the Maltstock crew. As with many single malt distilleries owned by the larger conglomerates, this distillery produces almost ninety percent of its malt for use in their own or other’s blends, leaving a small ten percent available to bottle as a single malt, where the larger amount of this percentage disappears to France.
Saying goodbye to the Dutch delegation, we had decided to eat a sandwich in the car and drive downhill towards Cragganmore distillery. Five minutes later, after a short ride on the B9137, straight through a farmer’s field (no GPS failure, just the only road leading there), we were still chewing the bread and had already arrived at the pittoresque location. Diageo being Diageo, there was no picture taking allowed in the production area, so we had to do with some from the outside, where many workmen were busy in renovating the place, because one of Diageo’s head-honcho’s would appear on Monday. Cragganmore is a charming little place, where most of the old techniques are still being used right up to a set of wooden wormtub condensers outside the building.
Driving back up to the A95, past the under construction Ballindalloch distillery and castle, we followed the small B9102 towards the home of Johnnie Walker: Cardhu distillery. This malt can be found in all Johnnie Walker blends, but she also has a wide range of single malts available. The wooden washbacks that have been replaced in recent years, have been used to built houses that can be found in the village of findhorn, or have been re-used as flooring in the Mashtun – a great bar in Aberlour, where we would have our wonderful supper this evening.
At the Castle we once more met the Maltstockers, had our first IRL connection with the Miss Whisky, the Whisky Belle and Blair Bowman, had a chat with some members of the band during a warm and very welcome stovies intermezzo and when the late-coming beard entered the pavilion during the encore, it was time to get home again and warm ourselves at the fireplace.
In the next part, we are going to visit even more “closed” distilleries, where we learn something about the secrets of distilling and the fact that the industry is trying to unravel the Alchemist’s mysteries behind the science…