There comes a time in the life of everyone who has developed an appreciation of malt whisky when you feel the need to discover exactly how that aromatic, deeply satisfying and complex spirit is produced. You’ve learned that the height and precise shape of the stills affects the finished taste, that distilleries within hailing distance of each other, using basically identical ingredients, produce such different results. That the water source is vital, the regular turning of the barley, the need for patience and a finely tuned nose. But sooner or later, you have to see it for yourself.
So it was that many years ago, my two brothers and I based ourselves in the fine little town of Nairn and began our very own whisky trail. At the time very few distilleries were hosting formal tours and the first door we knocked on was that of the Strathisla distillery in Keith, Moray, also referred to as the spiritual home of Chivas Regal. A lady opened the door and very apologetically explained that the premises were closed for the annual summer cleaning of the stills. It must have been our accents, because as we turned away, she called us back and asked us where we were from.
‘All the way from London to see how our little whisky is made!’ she exclaimed. ‘Well, I can’t let you go home without finding out. Come on in.’
She led us into the boardroom, sat us down facing a television set and left. A few minutes later she was back with a video on a tray. Also on the tray were six glasses, a bottle of Strathisla and another of Chivas Regal. ‘I’ll be back in just over the hour,’ she said. ‘I hope you enjoy it.’
Once we had recovered from this first connection with Scottish hospitality, we sat back to watch the highly informative film and make some small inroads into the two bottles. One of us was driving and anyway, we couldn’t have this kind lady thinking young Londoners go out abusing such generosity. The video finished, and sure enough, she returned. Naturally we were highly enthusiastic about what we had just sampled, and asked her if there was such a thing as a distillery shop and could we buy three bottles of the malt.
She seemed to be mulling something over and looked about to check nobody could overhear. ‘Aye, I could open up the shop and sell you three bottles…..but….’ and she looked around again, ‘but the grocer up the road there has Strathisla on special offer at the moment and you’ll save yourselves a wee bit.’
So that’s what we did. And you will not be surprised to learn that from that day to this, the very name Strathisla is enough to break out the smiles and have us reminiscing.