For most whisky enthusiasts, entering the Speyside area brings something special. With over 50 active whisky distilleries – and counting, the region has become a new home away from home for WhiskySpeller, albeit for only about two weeks of the year. These two weeks, not very incidentally, always seem to coincide with the busiest time of the year, during the annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
May 2018 was no different, #dram18 was about to start in a couple of days, when our trusted vehicle crossed the imaginative whisky region’s border. Having a day off before the festival would start its stuffed programme, we drove around the area keeping one wheel in the river Spey, stopping here and there to enjoy the relaxed surroundings.
Aberlour – or officially; Charlestown of Aberlour, is a small town alongside the illustrious river. Driving the A95 through the town, whisky enthusiasts will recognize the familiar Walkers shortbread factory, the Mashtun bar, the Penny Bridge close to the Old Station and, of course, the distillery named after the town. A stroll of about half an hour starting from the path along the Aberlour burn next to this distillery, will lead you past the picturesque Linn Falls, located halfway of another distillery which – until recently – was mostly known for creating a filler-malt for the Chivas Brothers whisky blends; Glenallachie.
On this windy Tuesday-morning, we arrived unscaved and fresh as daysies at the formerly visitor-shy distillery. We had contacted Phil Collins Operations Director Richard Beattie in the weeks before driving up here, and we were heartily welcomed to the premises.
The distillery was built in 1967 to operate as a rather faceless distillery, producing a light and fruity spirit for the blending industry. Apart from independent bottlers a handful “Cask Strength Edition” bottlings from Chivas Brothers, in its 50 years of existence Glenallachie has never received a continuous distillery bottling. Under new ownership, this has now changed.
Not having the distillery on the top of our minds when it comes to the many Speyside distilleries, let’s have a look at the history before we continue. The distillery was built in 1967 by Mackinlay, McPherson & Co, changed ownership in the mid-eighties and was even mothballed for a short period. Campbell Distillers, later becoming part of the Pernod Ricard group was owner from 1989 until they sold the property, the brand and the remaining stock to renowned whisky veteran Billy Walker in 2017.
After changing the brand name from Glenallachie into GlenAllachie – as we have seen with the BenRiach and GlenDronach distilleries – and releasing a core range shortly after, Walker and his team seem to have big plans for the distillery, which includes a heavily peated version in a of the otherwise light and fruity spirit.
Overtaking a running distillery does not require many changes. The 9.7 tonne stainless steel semi-lauter mashtun still receives its crushed malt from the 4-roller Porteus mill and is mixed with four different temperatures of heated spring water trickled down from the Benrinnes – as it has always been done.
However, if there is an opportunity to change things, Billy Walker will be first in line to try, at the least. So, about two months a year, a heavily peated malt (around 75-80 ppm) is processed through the veins of the distillery and the fermenting times in the six stainless steel washbacks, each filled with 42.500 litres wash, are extended to around 160 hours – but these times are still experimental.
One washback is filled into a charger for one day and is then split in the two wash stills,The 2 sets of stills have been slowed down in their distilling pace to generate more copper contact and are cooled by a series of horizontally placed condensers, something which is not seen that often, but has never been different here.
We found two spare washbacks in the fillingstore, which were salvaged from the Caperdonich distillery, completing yet another part of the Caperdonich equipment-puzzle. One of these washbacks is used to store the peated foreshots and feints, when the distillery runs its unpeated processes, the other is used to store the unpeated counterpart during the remainder of the year.
The spirit is put into casks at different strengths, ranging from the industry standard 63,5% up to the still-strength which ranges to around a whopping 72% abv, depending on being peated or unpeated. Instead of filling almost everything into ex-Bourbon barrels (which, honestly, we love), there are a lot of experiments ongoing with different types of wine, American rye and seemingly any type of cask the distillery can get hold of.
Drunk with all the information we received from Richard, Distillery operator Mike and Warehouse manager Lindsay we decided to head back to Elgin, to prepare for our next adventure.
The distillery has recently announced they are opening their doors officially during the #dram19 festivities, so if you can manage to put it on your itinerary during this time, it is WhiskySpeller recommended!
The GlenAllachie distillery is just getting started with a 50 years head start. After our mere seven years and well over 100 different distilleries, our itch to travel, visit distilleries and share our experiences with the world is still there, and we have no plans to quit what we are doing, at our own, leisurely relaxed pace, hoping to reach those 50 years at some point. Many more stories from our adventures are brewing and maturing, and we will be gathering even more on top of that during #dram19.
Thomas & Ansgar
Photo source: WhiskySpeller