We woke up to this beautiful sunny Wednesday morning at the house we rented on the banks of the river Fiddich in the beautiful village of Craigellachie, Aberlour, Scotland. The sun was out early and the birds were performing their most beautiful compositions in our windowsill, reminding us we had a beautiful day ahead, where we would be going to see our 50th distillery from the inside; Glenfarclas – our Golden Promise*.
From the first sniffs of malting barley we got to inhale on the grounds of the Springbank distillery in 2012, we already had a pretty good feeling how we felt about whisky and distilleries, and we both caught the virus we have been feeding into ever since (the start of our whisky journey can be read here). Along the way, we decided that with every new distillery we saw the inside of the still-house would count as one, would we visit the same distillery more than once, that would not add to the number. Our trip to Speyside in 2014 we had planned to see some 20+ distilleries we had not seen before, and with that, we would certainly be hitting the 50 mark, which still blows us away that we managed this in only three years time.
Although the process in all distilleries is the same, we love to find out the small details that makes every distillery unique, and see the passion (or in some cases; indifference) the people show when they are making their special product. Every distillery has something we can learn from, and makes us more and more curious to investigate further, find out what we have missed in earlier visits, and discuss the explanations behind some of the chemistry alchemy we encounter. It is just an amazing world to discover. And fun, loads of fun.
We would start this specific Wednesday relaxed because the Glenfarclas distillery was only a fifteen minute drive, and the time in the morning we had spare we filled to talk some more about whisky-geeky details with the newly made friends we had only met for the first time on this trip and with whom we would be visiting this distillery.
Driving South on the A95, one cannot easily miss the sign of the distillery, that is located on one of the most beautiful green hills in the area. Professor Tolkien must have visited the area once or twice for “inspiration”. The distillery is one of the last family owned distilleries in Scotland and honestly; we had expected it to be smaller and more… crafty, but with possibly the ugliest and biggest mill in the industry, the huge 16.5 tonnes mashtun, their 12 stainless steel washbacks (liquid yeast), and 90.000 litres of alcohol per week, it is very hard to call the place crafty.
What makes the distillery special, is that they are the last of the bigger, old Mohicans that have all their (three sets) of stills direct fired. With gas, and fire. The washstills each still have a rummager, and all of the stills have their own controls in order to set the temperature of the flames. The distillery believes this is part of the ultimate and distinctive flavour of their drams. We tend to agree with them, for reasons the Alchemist have yet to tell us.
Quite recently the distillery has made some changes where their main focus has been on the colour green. After all, the name Glenfarclas means Valley of the green grass, and they would like the name correspond with the fitting location, so they have built a waste disposal plant, where the spent lees are converted into clean water that can be used as as cooling water, or fed back into the river.
After a nice tour and walkabout on the distillery premisses, we were invited into the beautiful tasting room, the Ship’s Room, where the walls have been decorated with panelling of the RMS Empress of Australia. We were spoiled for choice, literally, because we each could select a dram from one of the Family Casks, from a year of our own choosing. Between the five of us, we shared a 1954 (!), 1965, 1975, 1979 and a 1994, all mostly ex-Oloroso matured, and each and everyone a beauty.
Time to move on, and after we had a nice lunch back in Aberlour at the Fresh! on Spey bistro, we joined a six pillars of the Macallan tour at the Macallan distillery, that would take about 2 hours. We already had a private behind the scenes tour in the days before the festival, but we wanted to get our geek up and see what would be told on the regular tour, where the biggest difference was that we did not get to see the second, larger production site – multiply everything by three whenever you see the insides of the Macallan, and imagine the other washbacks as stainless steel. Besides that, they are planning to double the distillery’s capacities in the future.
After the tour in the distillery, we were directed to a beautiful built area, where we were guided through the whole process of growing and cutting oak-trees. Besides using ex-Bourbon barrels, the distillery buys oak-trees in Spain and America. The American oak gets to be dried in America, after which is is transported to Spain where it is made into casks, filled with sherry for at least two years, before they transport the casks Scotland, where the Macallan fills them with their spirit. The casks get used only twice, after which they get used as marrying vats, because “by then, the wood does not release any more flavours”. Fair enough.
Concluding the tour, we were poured five different Macallans; their New Make Spirit, the 12yo – fine oak, the Amber, the 18yo – 1st fill Oloroso and the 21yo – fine oak. The 18yo was everyone’s favourite by far. In between the showers, we decided to go to the mansion and make some pictures and selfies while we were there.
After the very short trip home, we had some home-cooked dinner, after which the men went for another exploration of the bar at the Highlinder Inn, and the ladies raided the house whiskies. Good times.
* Golden Promise, only because it fit in the sentence, we know they also use Optic or Chariot malts, but that would make a strange sentence.