SCOTCH WHISKY - TRULY A SPIRIT OF PLACE
Scotch whisky. It may not be quite as old as the hills that hid the early producers, the highlanders, from the soldiers and the excisemen, but this most aromatic and complex of spirits has a very long, romantic, and sometimes stormy history. While the grain may have changed over the centuries, and the manufacturing process grown more sophisticated, at heart whisky remains the product of natural, local ingredients which undergo an almost magical alchemy in a long-necked copper still. And the exciseman in Whitehall still levies his punishing taxes!
The uninitiated, driving through Scotland on holiday, might be forgiven for thinking they had strayed into an Eastern film set, such is the impact of one’s first sight of the ‘pagoda’, the pyramidal tower that is the top of the kiln. In the lowlands, the highlands and islands, and especially in Speyside, these tell-tale landmarks tell the visitor they have arrived at a distillery, a manufacturing plant like no other.
Just as there is no such thing as a bad malt whisky, so each distillery has something unique to offer; landscape, a story, a water source, a take on hospitality. Glenmorangie used to claim that an accidental dent in one of its stills gave rise to the flavour! What follows then is a brief guide to just some of Scotland’s distilleries, where the welcome is as warm as a dram by the fire on a mid-winter’s night.
Written by our Whisky enthusiast Gordon Coxhill – Vintage Acquisitions
- The Highlands
Located on the south bank of the silvery River Tay, into which the whisky’s water source, the Pitilie Burn, continues to flow as it has done for hundreds of years
ALLT A BHAINNE
Malt purists, look away now, lest apoplexy get the better of you. While most aficiandos would baulk at taking anything other than a few drops of Scottish spring water…
Those who have been fortunate enough to enjoy the distinctive Highland qualities of Teaninich report a warm apple crumble nose with nuts and spices
A golden eagle, the symbol of Ardmore, is a not altogether rare sight hovering above the distillery at Kennethmont, some 8 miles south of Huntly in Aberdeenshire.
Located just half a mile from the town centre, the Blair Athol distillery is very much part of the tourist offer in Pitlochry, Perthshire…
Anybody making the pilgrimage to the village of Bunnahabhain, by the Margadale Spring on the Sound of Islay at the north-east tip of the island…
Ponder this. Way back in 1881 when the three Harvey brothers founded the Bruichladdich Distillery on the south-west tip of the then remote island of Islay, there were as many computers on site as there are today.
For many years aficionados of Caol Ila must have thought they were members of a secret society. The whisky was seldom seen in public and with as much as 95% of production ‘disappearing’ into blends such as Johnny Walker Black Label, it had little opportunity to build a fan-base.
When in the early 19th century, the Marquis of Stafford married into the Sutherland family, he came the first Duke of Sutherland and set about creating a distillery at Brora on the north-east coast of Scotland.
A secretary of Harper’s Weekly Gazette, he visited every working distillery in Great Britain and Ireland between 1885-87, including 129 in Scotland.
A tour to some of Scotland’s distilleries happily introduces you to some of the most stunning, dramatic scenery in the world; straths and wild moors, lochs and rugged mountains.
Be careful as you stroll attentively through the Deanston production facility. The distillery, on the River Teith, 8 miles from the ancient Scottish capital of Stirling, boasts an 11-ton open topped mash tun, the only one of its size in the country.
Edradour got big by being small. A glance at the photograph of the distillery near Pitlochry in the heart of Perthshire confirms that it started life as a farm.
A conflict of interests at Westminster? It would appear to be as old as the hills – the Grampian mountains, that is.
Back in 1967 there was very little talk of the need for renewable energy, or of soaring fuel prices. But the folk of north-east Scotland have aye been canny with their pennies.
The distillery was completely rebuilt in 2003-4, utilising only the original stills. The additional of a further two pots in 2006 resulted in increased capacity to 4.2 million litres of spirit a year.
GLEN DEVERON (MACDUFF)
The whisky from the Moray Firth fishing port of Macduff has suffered an identity crisis in the past because bottlings were released at various times under the name Macduff, The Deveron or Glen Deveron. Today, look out for the latter.
For many Elgin is the name of the aristocrat who ‘stole’ the marbles from the Parthenon of Athens and sold them to the British Museum…
At the foot of Ben Rinnes at Ballindalloch, Speyside, lies an area known as Valley of the Green Grassland. Only in the Gaelic does it take on great significance; Glenfarclas.
Sir Patrick Manson GCMG FRS, said to be the father of tropical medicine and whose work in the field earned him the soubriquet Mosquito Manson, may be the most illustrious son of Oldmeldrum near Aberdeen, but for lovers of malt whisky, it is his grandfather and great-uncle whom we have to thank.
The Duffs made their way to north America where before too long, similar growlings of anti-Colonial sentiment sent the family scurrying back to the security of Scotland.
When, in the near future, visitors are allowed to call at the Glenkinchie distillery, Pencaitland in East Lothian, they will marvel not only at a whisky with a difference, but also at the beautifully landscaped gardens.
Almost 20 years later Glenmorangie (it rhymes with orangey) joined the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy company.
Shortly after the first spirit flowed from the new stills by the banks of the River Lossie in Elgin, on 13th September, 1897, much of it was encased in casks which had once held Sicilian Marsala wine; a truly innovative experiment for the time.
In 2001, the Glen Ord distillery became not only the first whisky maker, but the first company in the UK to embrace a new system called Biobed Modular Plant…
Local Vicar Makes Fund-Raising Appeal’. Nothing surprising about that, you may think. Until you know that in 1878 the Reverend William Sharp, who warned of the dangers of temptation every Sunday morning, was appealing to the burghers of the small Speyside town of Rothes for money to build a new distillery!
It was the rich farmland of Kintyre that produced abundant local barley, it was the ancient peat bogs and the proximity to Atlantic weather fronts that provided pure, soft water, that gave rise to the phenomenon that was Campbeltown malt whisky in the early years of the 19th century.
The whisky is matured in American and European oak in which Oloroso sherry has previously resided for two years.
ISLE OF ARRAN
Even down to the packaging, there is something distinctly clean and clear about the Isle of Arran single malt.
ISLE OF JURA
Isle of Jura single malt whisky was finally re-established in 1963 and it has not looked back since, steadily garnering both reputation and following.
Mannochmore has perhaps been unkindly described as one of Diageo’s workhorse distilleries, producing considerable volumes of malt for the company’s numerous blends, including Haig and Dimple.
There is no suggestion that the good monks of the Benedictine Priory in the Glen of Pluscarden were themselves involved in illicit distilling and smuggling in the early 1800s, but if not, they were about the only locals who weren’t!
Port Charlotte may have been ‘squatting’ at the Bruichladdich distillery two miles up the road, whilst its own premises were being rebuilt, but the two whiskies could not be more different.
Imagine. For 200 years, on a 21-acre site at the highest point in the city of Glasgow, the Port Dundas distillery produced some 39 million litres of spirit.
Shakespeare does not record whether Macbeth was a devotee of the local whisky, but his descendants almost certainly were.
Fans of the BBC TV series Monarch of the Glen starring Richard Briers and Susan Hampshire will know it better as Lagganmore.
If you prefer to take your dram in the company of a fine Havana, comfortable in a favourite winged leather armchair in your well-established library, then the 25-year-old, Local Barley special edition Springbank could be the malt for you.
Just imagine. If the bottom had not fallen out of the flax dressing business – removing the straw from the fibres of the linseed plant in readiness for turning it into linen…
What’s in a name? An awful lot when the name is The! Back in 1824, George Smith caused something of a rumpus among his peers when he obtained the first legal licence to distil spirits at Castleton of Blairfindy in the River Livet valley.
The opening of a £140 million state-of-the-art distillery and visitor centre that made the shortlist for the Stirling Prize for excellence in architecture.
In having historically used much of its production in the blends The Antiquary and Talisman, Tomatin might be said to have hid its light under a barley bushel for too long.
A coronation is naturally likely to bring on a bit of nerves. So a young King James 1V of Scotland can hardly be blamed for stopping off for a beer at the brewery at Blackford, Perthshire, on the way to his crowning in 1488.