Monday, April 25th 2016
As you might have read, we started our trip fresh off the boat at the Lakes Distillery in Cumbria, in the Northern region of England, only just a few kilometres South of Scotland. We drove up to Wishaw to meet up with the #whiskyfabric in the Artisan. Derek and Fiona had put something fantastic together from our idea of a relaxed and romantic dinner for two, that was hijacked by Eric and Laura and ended up in meeting with around 30 friends we knew from the interwoven online communities. A lot of food was ingested, accompanied by many drinks, both from the bar, as well as the BYO table that was set up for the meeting. Good times.
Tuesday, April 26th 2016
First morning in Scotland: a headache. How very fitting. We drove through Glasgow to find the Loch Lomond distillery (next time we really should stop in Glasgow at a distillery, some independent bottlers, one or two shops and a handful of bars) hidden away in the Trossachs. The site is purpose built in the 1960’s in order to produce bulk single malts and grain whiskies for blending. It is a huge site with roller coasters and merry-go-rounds lots and lots of interesting details for geeks like us. It is built like you would build a distillery in SimStillery (patent pending); around every corner another building is put down at another angle that seemed useful at the time, but probably turned out to be a design flaw right after said building was completed (in other words: it is a butt-ugly site). We will need more research into Thomas’ handwriting to sort things out, and will do something separate about this in the near future. Key is that we only saw happy faces and the people we got to speak would quickly respond with “since the new owner took over…” on as good as any question, with a smile in their faces.
After a late lunch at the Deanston distillery we went to visit the Blair Athol distillery where we appeared never to have toured before. As most Diageo sites, this was rather disappointing because (as ever) they seemed to be afraid we all blow up from the massive sparks constantly coming off of our cellphones and cameras. The B&B in Pitlochry however, was neither disappointing nor did we explode, just as the evening meal we had at Italian restaurant Victoria’s.
Wednesday, April 27th 2016
Another early start for us. Our heads were freshened up a little, which was a good thing because we had a little driving to do, all the way up to Speyside. Of the months of preparation we had put into our trip, a lot of time went into the organising of distilleries that would normally not be open to the public. One of these distilleries was Chivas’ latest addition to their portfolio of distilleries: Dalmunach. Hands down the prettiest distillery to be found in Scotland from an architecture point of view. Arisen from the ashes of the Imperial distillery, using the same still-designs but twice the size and re-using the old stones and parts of the washbacks into the new building design. Tipped by Chivas’ international brand ambassador Ann Miller, we drove through Aberlour and stopped at “Le Petit Gourmand”, a new French bar and bistro. For our stay during the festival, we had arranged a house with a group of friends – nine in total. To suppress the costs, we had found a house outside the festival mayhem in the lovely village of Cullen, well known for their Cullen Skink (a fishy soup). Contrast the intention, we had dinner with the group at an Indian restaurant. How very British of us.
Thursday, April 28th 2016 – first festival day
For us, the Spirit of Speyside festival started with a tour at the Knockando distillery, a Diageo site that is normally closed for visits. Distillery manager Polly did a great job guiding the small group around with a great sense of humour and some marvellous stories – true and false. With the Knockando wool mill & cafe around the corner, we treated ourselves to a good lunch and a new flat cap for Thomas, before driving to our friend Denny, who worked at the Speyside (Heather) Centre. Worked, because sadly, the centre burned down the night after our visit. We would have liked to recommend the place for a dram in the whisky-lounge, but sadly, it is no more. There are plans to rebuild, but how, if and when, is still too early to say.
Anyway, since we were way out of the festivities of the festival, but close to the Tomatin distillery, we decided to go there, say “hi” and adopt a bottle to share with our friends in the house. Before the day would end, we met with Diageo’s Donald Colville at the Auchroisk distillery, where a special tour for about 16 of the #WhiskyFabric people was organized, followed by a memorable tasting. Once more a day of meeting new and old friends and a cartload of impressions to bring home.
Friday, April 29th 2016
On our programme we had booked visits to the Inchgower and Tamdhu distilleries. At Inchgower, they have never been blessed with space, so most of the equipment is crammed tightly together. After several Diageo distilleries in a short time, we noticed that many of their sites are now operating only 5 days per week (with amended fermenting times to make up for the weekends), where most other companies’ sites are producing at (at least) maximum capacity. At Tamdhu we started with a Victorian high tea with whisky in the old station house, after which Distillery Manager Sandy walked us around the distillery in a leisurely pace. Some cask samples in the warehouse could not be left out, and as a cherry on top of the cake, we informed after the saladin boxes, which he was happy to show us. #PushingNerdGlasses.
Time to get going, because the day was far from over. The afternoon was set up by Peter Moser to meet with the enthusiastic people of the Glasgow distillery in the Quaich bar at the Craigellachie hotel in Craigellachie, interfering the liquid lunch of a famous Whisky Writer and a notorious independent whisky drinker bottler. After a successful presentation, a nice dinner was added to the tasting by the Spirit of Speyside organisation for yet another group of #WhiskyFabric people, to what we were once more invited to. Good food and drams, with music afterwards (go Copperdogs!) were shared amongst the people present, and then some (and then some more). A warming and inspiring day, which we ended in the house with more friends and more drams.
Saturday, April 30th 2016
Another short night. We had managed to book an event that was hardly to be called Speyside any longer, and needed to drive about two hours to the most secluded and secretive distillery in the Speyside; the Speyside distillery. After driving past the gate with the sign three times, we noticed that – because the gate was open – the sign was unreadable. Just on time for the tour and a great long chat with the distillery manager, owner and managing director afterwards, we left with a refreshing new look of the distillery.
Driving up again (you can take a really long, slow, meandering but beautiful single lane route, but also follow the A9 – apparently), we stopped for a quick lunch at the Glenlivet distillery, before continuing to the new Ballindalloch distillery, where we met with Brian and Colin. A great new distillery, doing things their own way, in their own time, with a solid background and funding, so that we probably will taste their first product in about eight to ten years. Their new make spirit is already very promising, and with the wood management they have in mind, we think they can go a long way.
After a million hours in the car today, we drove to the Dowans hotel and restaurant for a dram in their new bar (looking great there!), and (finally) that romantic dinner for two. Back in the house, drams with friends. Life is hard on the head sometimes, but good…
Sunday, May 1st 2016
After going to Church sleeping in, some writing, and cleaning our filthy socks, we headed off to the Ben Rinnes, where Dave Broom gave a “Whisky Mountain tasting”. Sadly, there was no walk up the Ben (we really have to do that next time), nor a tour at the distillery next door (they too are only working 5 days, so no staff was available on Sunday). A lovely line up, where he showed us some of the distilleries visible from the Ben.
Afterwards, Martine Nouet had invited a number of people to be present at her latest book launch at “Le Petit Gourmand” where à table – whisky from glass to plate was presented and received very well, as a great new addition to whisky (related) books. After some time and chats with several people, we had a quick bar meal at the Station hotel in Rothes, before heading back to Cullen and pack our suitcases. Next day, we would say goodbye to our friends and be off early to Orkney, to have some more whisky related fun, and have our heads and livers relax a little.
Thomas & Ansgar
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Copyright notice: Photos by WhiskySpeller