I made it back to Scotland recently! How did it happen? A video I submitted on the GAS (GlenDronach Appreciation Society) Facebook page (head on over and join us) was picked as a winning entry in a competition run on the page a couple months back. The prize – two days as a guest of Brown-Forman for a series of special launch events. The catch, you had to make your own way to Aberdeen and back. Flights to Scotland don’t come cheap, but when you are invited to spend two days visiting the GlenDronach and BenRiach distilleries, you make a plan!
What follows is a series of photos presented in a travelogue style which I hope takes you all along on the journey with me.
At 1AM in the morning, 6 hours into an 11 hour flight to London from Johannesburg, crammed into an economy class seat, with a baby howling in the background, body aching and my sleep-deprived brain was seriously wondering if flying all this way for just 2 days in Scotland was worth it…
Fast forward another 7.5 hours and a plane change (London to Aberdeen), and you have this photo. The rising sun glinting off the water and there, tucked under the wing of the plane, is my first sighting of Scotland. The fatigue instantly drained away and I was chomping at the bit again for the adventure to come!
Aah, to see the patchwork quilt or rolling fields of green and yellow again as we cruised towards the distillery was a sight for sore eyes. Scotland, how I’ve missed you!
A hasty snap taken through the window as we turned off the main road. 2.5 miles to go now!
And there she sits! The view from the road. You don’t really realize how nestled down in the valley of the brambles the distillery is until you see if for yourself.
Our “humble” abode for the night… Glen House (originally known as Boynsmill manor house, built in 1771) by James Allardice’s dad, William Allardes.
And here is Glen House, seen from its front garden. Look at that deep blue sky! The weather was brilliant our whole stay. I’m convinced that the “dreich” weather the Scots speak of doesn’t exist. It’s just a ploy to keep the tourists away. The three trips I’ve made to Scotland have all been blessed with brilliant blue skies and fantastic weather.
But you want to see the distillery and whiskies don’t you? Well, let’s crack on!
There you go, the money shot! The distillery is so picturesque, and the old warehouses surrounding it have so much character.
While waiting for the last of the trade guests (all either working for, or owners of, whisky shops and bars) Jos – my new friend from the Netherlands and the other GAS winner on the trip – made the most of getting acquainted with the grounds around Glen House before we were let loose on the distillery itself. You see that wide smile? It’s something we both had plastered on our faces for the 2 days!
I quite like this vista shot, capturing the chimney stack between the trees. It looks so short right? It’s definitely not though! An optical illusion brought on by the distillery sitting low down in the valley.
Meet Jos, lord of Glen House and owner of GlenDronach (he wishes!!)
Private… One has to keep the riff-raff out you know? 😉 Jos and I snuck in, don’t tell anyone!
There were some real beauts locked away in the cabinet in the one lounge. Someone must have warned them we were coming.
Star struck! Me, not Rachel! 😀 This is Rachel Barrie, master blender for GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh. A fantastic person to spend some time with, and oh so knowledgable! Rachel has sampled over 150,000 casks in her career in the whisky industry! (And can still walk in a straight line 😉 )
A real treat to meet Rachel “in real life” and get a bit of history about the distillery and the Allardice family while we waited for the last of the guests to arrive. And yes, that’s tea in the cup. A very civilized start to the day.
This is the room that I stayed in at Glen House. Quite fitting don’t you think? Given one of the reasons we were visiting the distillery for was for the relaunch of the GlenDronach 15 year old Revival.
An inconspicuous little hole in the ground, in the garden in front of Glen House. Turns out this is the exact site where the mill (of Boynsmill fame) was situated. A trickle of water running below ground powered the mill.
Exiting from the bottom of the garden, we turned south, making out way past the brewer’s house, heading towards one of the giant warehouses across the road.
Our first (of many) sightings of the Dronach Burn, which cuts right through the distillery. I stand corrected, but if I recall Rachel’s words right, the Burn only supplies cooling water for the distillery. The water source is a few 100m away from the north east corner of the distillery. More on that later…
A rather large warehouse don’t you think? Each section is virtually self-contained (possibly for a firebreak one would think?)
Jos and I shooting photos of each other on the move. We were like kids in a candy store!
Casks waiting to be filled. More warehouses in the background. A sign on the wall… Yep! We’re definitely at the right place!
Our excursion to the warehouse was so that Alan McConnachie (distillery manager – pictured) and Rachel could show us the hard-working lads (like Leslie Milne) who were in the process of re-racking some whisky from bourbon casks into sherry casks.
The goal is to have every single drop of spirit fully matured in sherry casks, but occasionally when there are supply issues with sherry casks the liquid needs to be put somewhere, so it goes into bourbon casks for 2-3 years before being re-racked.
Rachel said that Brown-Forman is spending a ridiculous amount of money on securing the right casks, so huge strides are being taken towards her goal of every single drop being fully matured in sherry casks going forward.
The giant steel vat is where the whisky sits until it gets put into the sherry casks at the filling station, one room over.
Alan offered us a taste of 3 year old bourbon cask matured GlenDronach – who were we to say no! It’s safe to say that it won’t be bottled any time soon, but so cool to see and taste!
Rows of PX casks, waiting patiently to be filled at the filling station in the back corner where folks are gathered.
A slightly disheveled Whisky Pig striking a pose in the warehouse. Such a cool place! In the figurative and literal sense. The temperature is so consistent in the warehouse, what with it being protected from most of the elements as it sits nestled in the valley.
A candid “hero” snap I did of Rachel as she was discussing how perfect the climate is in this area for low and slow maturation. Slow and steady wins the race!
“Can we finally get to see inside the stillhouse?!” I hear you all cry out!!
Sure, let’s take a walk back and explore some more…
Standing on the bridge straddling the Dronach Burn, Rachel spent some time discussing the water used at the distillery and where it came from and spoke about the potential for flooding, being situated at the bottom of the valley.
Welcome to the distillery courtyard! We didn’t get to peek inside these doors as we were a bit pressed for time.
A blurry shot of the malt mill as we climbed up the stairs, headed for the mash room.
Timing is everything! We arrived in time for the first mash of the autumn season. It smelled so good! It was at that very moment I made a commitment to myself to get up early the next day to try and get back here for a pre-breakfast snack 🙂
And here you have the most ostentatious underback in the whole of Scotland!! Usually they go almost unnoticed, tucked away behind the mash tun.
But oh no, not this fella! He wants *all* the attention. As you can well imagine, it takes a lot of polishing to get a mirror shine like this.
They make a rather attractive pair don’t they? #SoShiny
And after leaving the mash tun and being collected in the underback, the wort gets pumped into the wooden washbacks for the fermentation process.
All these were empty, but not for long…
Have a close look at the piping above everyone’s heads. You can follow where the wort comes in from the right. In the foreground of the photo you can see a better example of the attachment where the angled pipe that Alan is holding is attached. This hangs over the washback and the tap is opened and the wort is emptied into the washback.
The four glorious stills at GlenDronach! Wash stills on the outside with their distinctive “saxophone” lyne arms which encourages carryover and we get some of the heavier oils pulling through which is exactly what is needed for GlenDronach’s character.
One of my most favourite pieces of equipment in any distillery – the spirit safe. As the first mash was still running, no distilling had taken place yet, so they were lying dormant, waiting for the new make to flow again.
“Hi, my name is Jos. If you eat your greens, floss twice a day and are kind to others, you too may one day end up standing where I am.” #FollowYourDreams
Time for a tasting! GlenDronach new make spirit and the flagship GlenDronach 12yo. I absolutely loved nosing first the one, then the other, then going back and repeating it again.
The distillery’s DNA is in the new make and it carries through perfectly to the 12yo. Such as strong relationship between the two.
I can see why a lot of people I’ve spoken to who work in distilleries favour their younger (12yo or equivalent) expressions. It’s as close as you can get to that new make…
This was too good a photo op to pass up. Sonja, Jos, Rachel, Alan and myself with new make in our glasses in front of the spirit safe. Perfect!
A quick – and delicious – picnic lunch on the lawns of the Glen House garden and then we were on our way again!
Time to stretch the legs again! Rachel had something special for us to taste. This time we were making a short trek up to the distillery’s water source, the Balnoon Spring.
As we wandered into the Gordon Wood, I peered back over my shoulder, catching a glance of the distillery behind us and I couldn’t help signing the opening stanza from the Teddy Bear’s Picnic:
“If you go down in the woods today
You’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today
You’d better go in disguise!”
We were in for a surprise alright, but no disguise needed!
And here we are, Balnoon Spring. The source of the water that goes into every bottle of whisky produced at GlenDronach.
Rachel had something new and special for us to taste, none other than the new GlenDronach Forgue 10yo! Named after the very area that the distillery is nestled in. The Forgue is a global travel retail release, but I could see this joining the permanent range in the not too distant future.
The sun captures Rachel’s face in an almost rapturous expression as she shared with us how all the elements surrounding us – the barley fields behind her, the water source to her left, the valley of the brambles in which the distillery is located – played their part in the formation of this release.
A lovely, summery dram. This would go down a treat in our sunny, hotter South African climate. Juicy berries, creamy barley and more. A great intro to the distillery for people new to whisky who would otherwise be overwhelmed with a robust sherry bomb.
A short walk back to the distillery and the next event – a cocktail making session with someone who knows his stuff – Mike Aikman.
I’m not a cocktail fan, in fact my favourite whisky cocktail is 2 parts whisky, 0 parts anything else, but there were a couple that Mike made that I could drink all the way through summer. So good!
A visit to a distillery isn’t complete without checking out the distillery-only bottling right? It was a belter! I would have loved to pick up a bottle, but the £250 price tag wa a bit too steep for me.
You know that feeling you get when you’re about to head into a dunnage warehouse for a cask sample tasting session? Well, I had plenty of that right about now!
And then you add in the fact that master blender extraordinaire Rachel Barrie is leading the tasting and is sharing insights into the way her mind works when making and blending whisky and that tasting just gets taken to a stratospheric level!
Yup, we’re in the right place! PX cask anyone?
Not content with just letting us taste some great cask samples, Rachel wanted us to taste both PX and Oloroso sherries so we could get an understanding of how they affect mouthfeel.
The one covering the length of your tongue from the front to back, the other covering the breadth, from one side to the other. And then combining the two to get the desired mouthfeel. Fascinating stuff!
What can I say? Always an awesome experience!
There’s just something so right with tasting cask strength cask samples in a dunnage warehouse in Scotland don’t you think?
Rachel encouraged us to attempt our own blends at the end of the tasting. I had devoured most of my samples, so just sat back and enjoyed Jos’ handiwork. He looks happy don’t you think?
Not your average whisky tour guide…
Not your average whisky…
I’m going to end this post here, but fear not, we’ll pick it up again in the next post. A special dinner, a nighttime whisky launch, an adventure on the River Spey and a trip to BenRiach will be shared soon!
EDIT: The second part of my 2-day GlenDronach/BenRiach adventure in Scotland is now live!