Distillery Review 25: Balvenie and the grateful eight

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My visit to Balvenie Distillery proved another time, how much I love Scotland and that there is always room for more. More pleasure, more experience and more happiness. The whisky industry makes it happen! Before I start my review that will (spoiler alert) be mainly a praise to my visit and the distillery, lets go back a few weeks before I actually got there. Still working at GlenDronach Distillery I took advantage of having a landline phone in the visitor center (mobile phones work very randomly in Scotland and mostly not at all specially when you need them to). So I called Balvenie to book a tour. That was in early August 2016 mind you. Since my time off work was limited and Balvenie only welcomes visitors twice a day (no weekends) my earliest appointment was offered to be the 22nd of September! Oooook I thought. This place seems to have a fame issue. So yeah. For the every day „spontaneously-just-popping-in-customer“ Balvenie has nothing to offer. It is a closed distillery like many others. And this with a worldwide great reputation for its single malts. A very exclusive thing. The 35 £ pricetag for the tour made this even more clear. This can´t be a regular tour. Otherwise I´d be really pissed off.

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Lets jump to the day of the visit. Almost incredibly I made it in time to the distillery this time (to be fair only by skipping a planned detour to Elign but what the heck). The parking experience already felt like entering a fairy tale. The little forest at Balvenie is mainly black from the angle’s share fungus. So I set food on the premises not being able to shake off the feeling of entering holy ground. It was a glorious sunny day on my way I passed beautiful carved banks and flowerbeds. After having being arrived at the office we waited for all the guests to arrive, eight in all. Thats the maximum capacity of the Balvenie tours. In most distilleries you are looking at 10-15 people plus on a tour on a busy day.

The first part of the tour shows the maltings. Like all of the very few distilleries with floor maltings left Balvenie can only afford to use 15% of their own malted barley. Its simply too expensive. About three times as much as an industrialized batch. Ouch. At first I was a bit suspicious if the maltings where really active since they looked a bit clean. But then I saw (and touched) the steeped barley (for the first time in my life) and was convinced. This is the real stuff. The only active maltings I had seen so far was Bowmore and Laphroaig. But never had I seen maltings on the mainland. Off we went pass the spread malt on the floor to the Kiln. Basically that was the point of the tour where I was spoiled. I just remember being on a stupid grin and headshaking-I-can`t-believe-how-much-I-love-this-mode for the rest of the tour. We looked inside the burning Kiln and the little peatsmoke kiln besides it. Nerdgasm. Totally.

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Next stage of this malt whisky distillery tour feast was the tun room with the fermentation. We tried both the young stage (almost wort… tasted a bit like the german non alcoholic malt beer Karamalz… If you´ve never tried it… do it! Its great!) and the later stage of the fermentation which is in fact beer. In the industry its referred to as „wash“ of course. At this point I feel the need to add that whenever you read something in reviews about „we did this, we were allowed to do that“ please do never take this for granted and even worse pick on the tour guide if he or she is not doing the same on your tour. Every tour is different because every guide is and every guest is. The simple rule is: DSC_1647.jpgDon`t be an annoying customer and you increase the chance of not getting an annoyed tour guide ;). Anyway this guy (as I later learned it was David Mair, Balvenie Distillery Ambassador) was so relaxed he probably would have dealt with anything. So yeah… distillation. Huge stills, curiously separate still houses for wash and spirit stills…. If that matters to anyone.

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Warehouses. Draw your sample from the cask and fill your own 20 cl bottle. In the warehouse I can’t empathize this enough. Its getting rare. Because of idiots that write about their great experience on the internet. Now that I think about it. Of course we DID NOT bottle anything IN the warehouse. Cause that would be illegal. Nah don’t worry I´m sure they’ve worked it out by now.

You should think up to this point you can’t really add anything more. Wrong again. We took a quick ride on an old Land Rover and ended up in a building surrounded by casks. Their very own cooperage. Amazing. I had seen the Speyside Cooperage before but having a smaller version on site… thats really something!

Off to the tasting we went. For my taste (no pun intended) this was a bit rushed, probably due to the fact that we spend way more time on the tour that we were supposed to be. Since I was driving and bottling I didn’t really care. For drinking all this fantastic whisky I would have felt a bit rushed. But… yeah.

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I have to say that this was hands down the best distillery tour I’ve ever had (looking at 54 visits at this point, not a bad shot for Balvenie). And speaking about the 35 £ for the tour and 25 £ for the bottle your own. MORE then worth it! Balvenie has a really good value for many ratio if you ask me. You get a bloody premium special deluxe tour for 35 quid. I’ve seen worse for more money. So to the „past me“ moaning about that money… Leave it alone dude! Really.

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We tried some great malts Balvenie Double Wood 17, Balvenie Portwood 21 yo and Balvenie Single Cask No. 1489, but what really got me (till this day) was a 34 year old Balvenie (single sherry cask if I remember right): Oh my fucking god! (Excuse my french) That was one of the most amazing whiskies I’ve ever tried. On the nose I would have mistaken it for an older Glendronach. On the tongue the same but smoother. My memory is too limited to describe all the impressions I got from this whisky. Honeydew melon, caramelized sugar, maple sirup on bacon and pipe tobacco came to my mind but never stood up to its flavor.

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Résumé:

As already said the value for money on this tour was more then great for me. You get basically two to three tours on one (2-3 hours that is) so this more then justifies the money. With a working malting floor, working kiln, a cooperage on site and an amazing warehouse and bottle your own experience this was by far the best tour I’ve done so far (finishing this article Balvenie is No. 1 out of over 60 distilleries). The only thing I have to criticize of better to recommend it that you plan your visit way far ahead since the booking might be an issue. For the rest I can just say: This was one of the best days of my life, I love Scotland, I love visiting distilleries and even if I never will become a great fan of Balvenie as a brand I am forever grateful for this amazing experience.

Share the whisky, share the experience!

See you guys on the road!

Leon – The Captain

 

Captains dram today… Rosebank 1990

Captains dram today…
– Rosebank 1990 – 2014, 46 % vol. bottled by Gordon & MacPhail

Sitting in the (highly recommended) Otterburn Bnb with a breathtaking view over the Loch Sunart (the weather proves the name) what could be a better end of the day as a nice whisky I’ve never tried before! From a lost distillery moreover.
(http://www.otterburn-strontian.co.uk/)

Color: between straw and white wine (probably refill bourbon cask)

Nose:
Quite delicate for an old whisky, not overly complex, lemon peel and fresh snow upfront (funny I get snow quite often), some grapefruit and oak

Taste: oak, peach stone, orange peel.. hm

Finish: shorter then expected for such an old whisky… most certainly refills.

This whisky is ok for me but didn’t really float my boat specially since it’s hard to come by and most certainly an painful experience for your wallet. If it’s just the Rosebank house style or the rather weak casks in here I can’t tell (tendencies to the casks). The Lowlands stay a tricky task for me!
It has to be added that the bottle was quite low (as to be seen on the picture) and might have been happily breathing away over some time. In the end of the day whisky is like a polaroid only capturing the moment.

Slainte my friends! Off now happy marining away!

#maltmariners #scotch #whiskyreview #rosebankdistillery #otterburn

Teeling vs. Redbreast 12

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Das irische Lokalderby…

Team Teeling Single Malt Whiskey:
Ausbau: Ex-Bourbon, Finish in Sherry, Port, Madeira, Weißer
Burgunder und Sauvignon Blanc.
Brennerei: (noch) Cooley Distillery
Alter: Keine Altersangabe,
Stärke: 46 % vol.,
Sonstiges: Nicht kühlgefiltert
Preis: ~40 €

Team Readbreast 12, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey:
Ausbau: Ex-Bourbon, Ex-Sherry
Brennerei: Midleton Distillery
Alter: 12 Jahre
Stärke: 40 % vol.
Sonstiges: Single Pot Still
Preis: ~42 €

Hier der Spielverlauf aus Sicht der beiden „blinden“ Schiris (Leon & Mirah):
Der Teeling eröffnet mit einer runden Stachelbeere, Zitrusfrüchten und einer grasigen Note. Eine gewisse Schärfe ist dem Iren bei rund 25 Grad Außentemperatur anzumerken. Der Redbreast kontert mit einer massiven Portion Vanille und Kokosnuss, später kommt etwas Ahornsirup hinterher… Komplex versus intensiv! Schwierige Entscheidung… Da der Teeling bei mehrmaligem Vergleich in der Nase etwas abschwächelt, der Redbreast aber noch seinen Mann steht, hat dieser die Nase um Zentimeter vorn.
So die Teams haben sich beschnuppert, Zeit in die Vollen zu gehen… Auf der Zunge wird klar: Die beiden Teams haben Schwierigkeiten bei solch subtropischen Temperaturen den Ball flach zu halten! Teeling tritt salzig scharf an, brennt und klingt recht bitter ab, ohne viel seiner sonstigen Raffinesse sehen zu lassen. Da sind wir mehr vom Dubliner Phönix gewöhnt! Auch auf das Team Redbreast verstolpert sich und kann nur das B-Spiel aufs Feld bringen. Ein kurzer Blickwechsel zwischen Schiris und Trainerteam… Auszeit! Die Teams müssen sich neu sortieren. Ein paar Minuten Abkühlung, durchschnaufen und ein Schluck Wasser.

Die zweite Hälfte verläuft deutlich geschmeidiger. Die 10 Minuten Kühlschrank bewirken beim Teeling Wunder. Nun kommen die beeringen Noten aus den Weinfässern auch wieder auf der Zunge an, das Finish wird länger und bietet mehr als nur holzige Bitterkeit! Auch der Redbreast kann nun mehr bezaubern, profitiert jedoch nicht ganz so sehr wie der Teeling.

Fazit:
Im direkten Vergleich kommen beide (je nach Geschmack) bei der Nase gleichauf (Leon bevorzugt die beerigen Noten vom Teeling, Mirah die Vanillebombe ala Redbreast). Am Gaumen verliert der Teeling besonders bei hohen Temperaturen, der Redbreast steht hier etwas robuster. Das irische Derby hätte sich wohl erst im Elfmeterschießen entschieden und wäre haarscharf zu Gunsten des Redbreasts ausgegangen. Zum Glück gibt es beim Whisk(e)y nur Gewinner 🙂. Das wichtigere Ergebnis des Mini-Tastings: Temperaturen über 20 Grad können die Performance beeinträchtigen! Zur Not muss sogar ein Whisk(e)y mal runtergekühlt werden.

Slainte!

Eure Malt Mariners

 

Distillery Review 20: Glengoyne – Walk this way!

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For Nanni

It is one of those wonderful roadtrip days through the scottish highlands. The sun plays peek-a-boo with the passing clouds and presents the beautiful landscapes in the light and shadows that make every photographers heart jump. I’ve got a few days off work in the distillery and a visit from a fellow travel maniac and whisky friend. Naturally we’re on the road! Glengoyne is her favorite distillery so we have a room booked in Milngavie. Since she walked the west highland way before that officially begins in that little town, we decide to walk the way back from the distillery. The bus takes about 25 minutes to the distillery and… why do I even mention it… we´re late. But thank to the mad scottish bus drivers we make it in time. Although I’ve never been here the place looks familiar. And yes, in a not so distant future from this time on I will recognize the distillery as the outside film set of „The Angles Share“ one of my favorite whisky films of all time (in fact as far as I know there are only two: Whisky Galore! and The Angles Share, both worth a closer look). While we’re on the subject: The fictional distillery in the film, more or less the Deanston Distillery is a combination of Glengoyne Distillery (outside shots) and Deanston Distillery (scenes in the distillery e.g. the still house). Balblair Distillery comes into play later, when they try to steal the „Maltmill“, which actually existed as a part of Lagavulin Distillery a long time ago… But I’m getting carried away! Glengoyne, we’re actually entering Glengonye Distillery not without a nice fotoshoot infront of the buildings… Its a sunny day and the light is as fantastic as our mood.

From the variety of tours we pick the „gold medal parade“ for 25 £ including a tasting of the 12 yo, 18 yo, 21 yo and the cask strength. The standard tour is 9 £ so in the upper regions of tour prices. Glengoyne is a busy place. Being close to Glasgow and on the west highland way makes the distillery an ideal tourist attraction. Being a tour guide myself I am impressed with the scottish relaxedness of the guides and shop staff.

A curious fact about Glengoyne for me is its location and therefore the difficulty of sorting it into the classical scottish whisky reasons. Since its resting precisely on the lowland-highland line, with its warehouses being on the lowland side, the distillery and still house on the highland side, it seems like perfect hybrid whisky. The division in regions today is a tricky subject. There has been many arguments about the regions and the individual style of the distillery seems to be a more accurate characteristic to me then the region characteristics. As for the Lowlands most experts would agree that whiskies like Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie (with Bladnoch being mothballed for many years the only really accessible lowland malts) are light boddied and often described as „easy accessible“(1). Me and Mike (my scottish malt mate) always felt about lowland whiskies as easy to drink (smooth but not spectacular on the nose and the finish) and often a bit bland. So yeah guilty as charged, we’re both highlands and islands fans. The highlands instead are a huge region including the northern part of Scotland, the east, the west and many count islands like Arran, Mull and Orkney in this region as well. Which makes it almost impossible to give them a general characterization. But I always felt that these whiskies are more full-bodied, more complex and more punchy which usually floated my boat much more. But ey, in the end it all comes down to personal taste right? So lets get back to Glengoyne. Having its location in mind I consider this a very interesting malt. The labels read „highland malt“ and to me it presents itself like a bit of both, smooth and passive like a lowland malt, but hiding some highlandish characteristics in the back. Glengoyne prouds itself with being unpeated so much they put it on their box covers. With my travel companion being extremely sensitive to smoky flavors in the negative dimension, I’m not surprised that she loves the Glengoyne house style. The second characteristic that Glengoyne waves the flags for is that is is „unhurried“ referring to the long middle cut (about three hours) which is in fact quite a long time. They claim to have the slowest stills in Scotland and this method give them a „smooth and hugely complex“ spirit. Probably something every malt whisky distiller would say about their product, but I have to admit that most Glengoynes I’ve tried were quite smooth indeed. Glengoyne works with a classic combination of bourbon and sherry casks with an increasing content of sherry and first fill sherry casks while we go up the age and price latter. My favorite being the 21 yo so far. Having a closer look at the 15 yo version recently, I come to the impression that Glengoyne might be a whisky that can easily be overlooked. Some of the rougher malt fans like me might try this and think „nah to bland, to soft“, but giving it time and a few drops of water did A LOT to this malt. You’ll find a lot of delicate dried fruits and tobacco notes in this one. As you know some whiskies react more and some less to water and some air. But in this case I was surprised what the malt had to offer once we found the key. So Glengoyne showed us once again what you can say about almost every scottish malt whisky: It´s made with patience, so enjoy it in patience!

The tour and the visit itself where nicely done by and old Scot, picture policy being quite rigid unfortunately. As least the stillhouse is open yo we could take some pics of the stills from the outside. I loved the display of different stages of maturation in bottles, pointing out where the different expressions of Glengoyne would be situated. Although I missed a warehouse experience very much! The tasting was very pleasant and I loved the fact that the distillery told us exactly the contents and percentages of their bottles (how could I miss writing this down!).

Back in the visitor center we both couldn’t get around buying a distillery only bottling. She went for the handfilled, me for the „Teapot Dram“ a marriage of some sherry casks at cask strength. Lovely stuff. So all in all I very much enjoyed my stay at Glengoyne. Its a lovely place with a very well done visitor center and dedicated staff. You can feel its a professional touristy place but still it does not feel too spoiled for me. Lets hope things don’t change for the worst in the future. As for the whisky it is pleasant but definitely not a „in your face“ whisky. Fans of Talisker and Glendronach will have to put some work in one of their bottlings before they will find something. But if you do, you might be positively surprised. Well, it’s a fascinating world isn’t it? If you ever pass Glengoyne I would definitely recommend a visit. We end our malt mission with a lovely journey back to Milngavie not without the traditional getting-lost-for-a-while. With a slowly paced walker like me we take about 3 hours to get back to our bnb, but I have to admit this way has something. Maybe one day in the far future I’ll walk it all by myself. Oh no pun intended but the original name of Glengoyne when it was founded it 1833 was „burnfoot“(2). I will leave you here malt mates while you give this a thought or two.

Résumé: Glengoyne is a beautiful distillery on the west highland way just about ok in terms of tourist-overkill. It’s style lives from the idea and image of patience and relaxedness, so we hope things will stay like this. If you have the patience you might discover your love for this malt. And if you won’t… there`s plenty of alternatives 😉

Slainte!

Leon

Facts (august 2016):
Owned by: Ian Macleod Distillers
Founded: 1833
Capacity: 1.100.000 Liter pro Jahr
Stills: 1 Washstill, 2 Spiritstills
Adress: Dumgoyne by Killearn, Glasgow G63 9 LB (3)
To reach: by bus, by train, by foot (if you are a hiker 😉
Link: http://www.glengoyne.com/
 (1) JACKSON, MICHAEL (2010); MALT WHISKY; LONDON, NEW YORK, MELBOURNE, MÜNCHEN, DELHI: DORLING KINDERSLEY, Seite 97 ff.
(2) Wishart, David (2012); whisky classified, choosing single malts by flavour; London: Pavilion, Seite 148 f.
(3) Ronde, Ingvar (2014); Malt Whisky Yearbook; Shrewsbury: MagDig Media Limited 2014, Seite 11920

Another „farewell“

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So Freunde der Sonne,

so schnell kann ein Sommer vorübergehen. Meine wundervolle Zeit in Schottland und GlenDronach geht zu Ende und am Montag beginnt die Heimreise. Ich möchte mich auf diesem Wege bei Allen bedanken, die mich unterstützt, ermutigt und begleitet haben.
Danke an die Freunde, die viel zu wenig von mir gehört haben (dank dem emsigen Aufbau des Gewerbes und meiner Arbeit in der Brennerei).
Danke an die Kollegen und Mitarbeiter der BenRiach Distillery Company für die herzliche Aufnahme in Eurer Mitte.
Danke an Lorna und Nichola die mich für 6 Monate in ihrem Heim aufgenommen haben!
Danke an die zahlreichen Malt Mariners die unsere Tastings besucht haben und besuchen werden.
Nun freue ich mich auf Hamburg und den deutschen Norden….
Its incredible how fast the summer has gone by! My wonderful time in Scotland and at the GlenDronach Distillery is almost over. I want to thank all of you that supported and encouraged me on my way.
I want to thank my friends who haven´t heard much of me (for the positive fact that I was busy with creating my business).
A great Thank You to my colleagues and coworkers at the BenRiach Distillery Company who made me feel welcome (I´ll see you in the pub tonight!)
A huge THANKS to Lorna Allison and Nichola who put up with me for six months in their home!
Last but not least, a big Thank You to everybody who joined and will join our tastings in Germany!
…the road beneath my feet…

Distillery Review 15: Ardnamurchan – Fury Road

Ardnamurchan could be classified as „the new-spirit-distilleries“ that I have reviewed in my article „a new spirit“ (both german and english version). They are not the Mini-Micro Distillery like Eden Mill or Strathearn, but they are definitely in the „pretty damn small“ distillery category (for me every distillery up to 500.000 litre per anum capacity qualifies for this). These distilleries have in common that they will produce on a small scale and plan to jump in the new spirit of „small but high quality“ sector, mainly no plans to color or chillfilter their future whisky. And as mentioned in „the new spirit“, they all haven´t got their whisky in bottles yet. For Ardnamurchan Distillery Princess Ann personally filled up the first cask on the 25.06.2014. A cask that was given to the distillery as a kickstarter  from Glenfarclas, a nice gesture if you ask me.

So yeah folks, location! In my imagination the creators of Ardnamurchan had one of those hazy pubnights over a pint and a dram or ten when finally in the later time of the night (or earlier time in the morning) one of the lads came up with the idea that sooner or later every group of men thinks about. „Hey guys… Lets build a disssillery!“ Other guy: „Ohhhaa tha suchagood idea! Letsbuildsome where nobody would ever build one!“. They must have ripped a map of Scotland of the wall and looked for the most inaccessible part of Scotland. They must have signed the contract the same night, cause if they would have sobered up the next day, they would have realized what they had done.

They neat distillery of Ardnamurchan lies in the whisky-sounding place „Glenbeg“. I call it place, cause we didn´t see any buildings that classifies Glenbeg as a town or even a village or suggested that there are actually people living near by (But there is a a cafe around! So no fears of sudden death by cofein deprivation). Even from Fort William you should count in about 2 hours to get there (a bit less if you take the Corran ferry for 8 pound). From Glasgow you would look at about 4 hours driving if you are not stopping to take pictures (your traveling the west of Scotland so forget about that!). And mentioning the driving… The drive to the distillery is not only breathtakingly beautiful but simply as that completely nuts. I can`t recall where Ardbeg got their name for the Rollercoaster bottling from, but Ardnamurchan definitely deserves that kind of name for a bottle or two. Driving down the road to Ardnamurchan is like a wild ride through the forests of middle earth, specially if you are (as I/we are always) late for a distillery tour. Someone filmed his way to the distillery, check this out ;). 

The road to this place is so narrow at some points they literally had to build the distillery on those proportions (like the mashtun for example is exactly as wide as the smallest part of the road). This is the video they show in the distillery to demonstrate the effort that was made to build this thing.

The distillery itself is quite neat. Entering the shop I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the guy behind the counter looked oddly familiar (two days later I ran into him again at work at GlenDronach where I had seen him a hundred times on the DVD since he worked there as a mashman). Visitor Center: A nice and bright looking shop with some maritime details. The standard tour was 7 £ and was going (like most tours) through every detail of the process including a warehouse right at the start. It was a good tour although I lost track since I´ve heard the process quite some times now. Hard facts about the process: Like many of the young and new distilleries Ardnamurchan works with a quite long fermentation time (72-100 hours), four (quite unusual) oak wooden and three stainless steel washbacks. The cut off point for the foreshots is taken after about 25 min, which is quite late. The tour guidess said they have about 5 hours of middle cut, but I´m quite sure she must have been mistaken since Glengoyne has a middle cut of three, and that is already a veeeery long one. Anyway.

These guys are looking for quality on a small scale no doubt.

Not surprising since the distillery is owned by the independend bottler Adelphi. Keeping that in mind the only slightly disappointing feature of the tour for me was, that they „only“ have a blend in the end and not, say, some of their indi-bottlings to try. But to be fair the blend was quite pleasant, although I will most certainly never become a greatblended scotch drinker. We could try the new make as well though, which is a nice feature of some new distilleries. Its always interesting having a look at the base for the future whisky without the cask influence.

So yeah we can look forward to the first bottling of Ardnamurchan in a few years time and add the distillery to our long „young malts to check out in the future“ – list. The location is without a doubt an incredible beautiful and remote piece of Scotland and the distillery now kicked Oban Distillery off the throne for being the most western mainland distillery. The Scots love their „highest, smallest, oldest… distilleries“, so that might have (just maybe) been one of the real reason for the exact spot on the map (not to mention water source and the owners living near by… So yeah if you could build your own distillery in front of your doorstep… tell me you would`t!)

Résumé: Ardnamurchan distillery is worth a visit if you are anywhere near the peninsular of Ardnamurchan (area around Fort William). The distillery itself does not (yet) offer a extraordinary whisky-experience but is definitely a nice place to visit while enjoying a crazy road trip through the area.

Slainte!

Your Leon

Facts (May 2016):

Owner: Adelphi

Founded: 2014

Capacity: 500.000 lpa

Stills: 1 Wash Still, 1 Spirit Still

Adress: Glenbeg, Ardnamurchan, Argyll, PH 36 4JG, Scotland
Region: Highlands

To reach by: car only (if you dare)

Link: http://www.ardnamurchandistillery.com/

Distillery Review 13: Madness, Malt and Macallan

The Malt Mariners distillery reviews are the adventures of one malty soul and memory. My perspective is subjective so please do take it as that! Enjoy maltmates!

Ahoy maltheads and malt maidens!

I continue my efforts to reach the english speaking malt mariners as well and since I am sure most of you german maltsters are good english speakers I´m keeping it that way till I find a way or the time to write articles in both languages. I´m sitting comfortably on the bench outside Beechwood watching the rain soaking the malt country, supplying us with more fresh water that will some day maybe become our beloved whisky. By now I am living in Scotland, Aberdeenshire for about 8 weeks. Jesus, how time flies by. And for those among you who haven´t heard much of me, here´s a little update on my off-work activities that are about… well surprisingly… whisky! I´ll tell you a little bit about a great day on a charity (neo’natal unit Aberdeen) speyside bus trip and will review Macallan Distillery on my way… So hop on the malt mobile and join me on a mad journey through „malt whisky country“ Morayshire, better know as „Speyside“.

It all started with a text from my colleague Karen at GlenDronach Distillery. There would be a free place available on a bus tour through Speyside for 120 £ containing two distilleries, breakfast, lunch and dinner… Let me think for a moment… Just kidding, I´m so in! The trip started with breakfast at 8:30, luckily I could sleep at a colleagues place in Keith where the tour started. I managed to get me a coffee and a egg toast before the first dram was poured in front of me.

If you have never been to Scotland on a whisky journey, let me tell you one single thing about distilleries… They don´t like to be open late! And most don`t like to be open really early as well, but thats another story ;). So if you want to see more then one distillery in one day, be prepared to start drinking early. And with early I mean 10 am plus. Before this breakfast dram I´ve seen a few distilleries, some visits at 10 and 11 so I would have notconsidered myself a light weight. But having your first whisky of the day at 8:30 in the morning… That was new to me. Anyway it went down shockingly smoothly! We had a little quiz going to guess the casks out of the 5 „driver drams“ of the day (being chauffeured in a bus makes the word „drivers dram“ much more appealing). This first one, I was quite sure, was a sauterne finish and I was quite convinced it must have been and Arran since it know and love that malt quite a lot (spoiler: It was in fact the Glendronach 12 Sauternes Finish, a Dram I should have known… thats why I love blind tastings so much!).

After breakfast off we went in the bus… Let the games begin. I am pretty sure in the bus we had the second dram of the day, although I can´t really recall every detail… Anyway the first stop of the tour was Macallan Distillery. Lucky for me since I´ve never been on a tour at Macallan and wanted to review it anyway. Macallan sits in the middle of Speyside near Aberlour (although its not really walking distance if you´re a lazy bastard like me) so the drive was very nice, specially because I could actually look at the landscape this time and did´t had to concentrate not to crash into a couple of suicidal sheep or pheasants or -feel free to add the animal of your choice!-. Entering the distillery site we passed the massive wracked warehouses of Macallan, a site that gives you a glimpse of the big picture of mass production of malt whisky. To let everybody know we where there, the bus driver set a mark when trying to turn the bus around in front of the visitor center. So if you ever see a second „natural“ step next to the cement steps… that was us!

Before hop on the Macallan tour let me say a few words about Macallan and why I have a not-quite-neutral perspective on this distillery. The Macallan Distillery has some funny (or embarrassing) history such as lying about their cask policy. The other two things that go together is that Macallan has become a very „collectable“ whisky, meaning the prices of many bottlings (specially old ones) has gone crazy. And Macallan is very much aware ofthis releasing loads of high-end bottlings for the luxury market such as the „lalique“ (round about 460.000 $). Like everywhere in the world if there is a lot of money involved there will always be dark corners and souls following trying to make a profit out of it by selling fake products. Thats bad enough but Macallan actually tried to buy some old bottles back from an italian retailer to relable them, overlooking the fact that they where fake. Epic fail. So yeah having that in mind, I didn´t arrive at the distillery quite open minded, I admit it.

At the time we actually arrived at Macallan I would have considered myselfe as sober-ish. We (about 25 people) entered the visitor center and there where already about 10 people inside. With the lot of us the place was packed. I was slightly surprised that a distillery by the magnitude of Macallan had such a small VC including a small bar as the tasting area. There seemed to be no separate room for tastings so the first of the 6 drams of the „6 pillars tour“ where handed to us on trays. Since the tasting bar was occupied already by other guests we stood there with our drams happychatting and drinking away. Of we went on the tour then with a sympathetic tour guide with tattooed arms who´s father had already worked as a cooper. All thumbs up for „street credibility“!

The tour was stuffed with little stylish whisky gimmicks such as a huge drop of water from the well (you can drink from it… well… its water! No pun intended) a miniature open pot still (pretty damn cool!) and a transparent pipe-system. They even show a rock of the ground the distillery is built on… „And thats a rock“. Yeah. You really CAN take things too far I guess.

The whole production area of mashing, fermenting and distilling is quite nice looking at although it all feels kind of fake since Macallan actually has two sets of buildings on site, one „visitor attraction“ distillery and one industrialized one for the lions share of production. All of this will soon be outdated anyway since Macallan builds another huge distillery on site at the moment that will replace the two old ones as soon as its finished. The old buildings will be mothballed until the production need a even bigger increase and they can back up the super modern mega distillery they are building right now (like really I´ve seen the mashtun…. its HUGE). Anyway back to the tour. Wooden washbacks, check (although as mentioned stainless steel in the industrial distillery). The stills where surprisingly small and the guide explained, that Macallan is looking for an oily character that should represent the smooth speyside-spirit. Distilling is a science of its own and I´m still working on that, but I was pretty sure short stills will give you a full bodied, spicier and sometimes harsher character. Please comment on that if you know more about it! Very curious!

So out of the still house… warehouse time. NOT. Macallan prouds itself to have a very high quality wood and cask management and they are not afraid to show off… ahm it! Lost intranslation, sorry about that! No guys but seriously the we-have-to-get-every-single-sensation-in-the-experience-art-exhibition-museum-thingy is for my personal taste really over the top. I love my fancy pics and my cask displays, but Macallan goes a bit wild on this part of the tour. But finally we entered a warehouse! At last! We didnt really go inside, but one of those cages that hinder the tourist from touching, hugging, kissing casks and other forms of physical contact or abuse. BUT we went in a warehouse! At this point of the tour even the most geeky distillery visitor is thinking „where the hell is my freaking dram!?“. Well maybe that is Macallans way of pushing your anticipation to the limit.

Back in the visitor center all our tired feed and eager noses and mouthes are keen on sitting down and enjoying our five remaining drams. Since our absence the visitor center hasn’t changed much and the guides have not magically come up with a quiet room with comfy seats, couches or anything to sit on. So standing and drinking it is again! And slowly that seems to become quite exhausting. Hope the mega-malt-macallan-metropolis will have at least loads of comfy seats! The drams (Gold, Amber, 12, Sienna, Fine Oak) all came in small (warm) glasses, obviously straight from the dish washer. The whisky was carefully poured, so carefully that it went warm altogether with the glasses. Not cool (again no pun intended). Nose and taste wise I have to admit that the only one of them I knew was the Sienna and that was still my favorite. Although every single Macallan available in the shop was way to expensive for what it could do to my mouth. So nope. No pleasant surprises. Macallan presented itself as I had pictured it before. So I can say: I´m not a big fan, and I probably never will be. Don´t get me wrong, there is plenty of mindblowing Macallan whisky out there! Only you and me will most certainly never get a mouthfull of it except we all become millionaires and don´t have to give a damn about how much money we spent on our booze. Because yeah.. Then I would gladly take a bath in Macallan 10 cask strength (one of the best whiskys I´ve tried so far). With Macallan I can´t shake the feeling of, that they fool around in the luxury market at lot but kind of forgot about the little malthead on the way. Shame, cause the whisky used to be and can be magnificant!

From now on the speyside tour gets a bit hazy. But I remember the next stop pretty good, the Highlanders Inn in Craigellachie. I great whisky pub.. well restaurant… well museum? One of those places you want to fall down on your knees and thank your mother you where born (or curse the deity of your choice that you have to drive!). The place is owned by Tatsuya Minagawa, a japanese guy who worked in various whisky related businesses (Suntory to mention one). He gave us a superb compass tasting with the standard malts from each region of Scotland (Auchentoshan Three Wood, Aberlour 10, Dalwhinnie 15, Springbank 10, Bowmore 12, Highland Park 12). The guy is an icon if you ask me. Not onlydo we share a lot of ideas, attitudes and the passion when it comes to whisky, he is also a great entertainer. He literally tasted the whiskys with us which is quite rare (and sensible if you think about it). If you come near that place its defintely worth a visit!

For the rest of the trip I save some of your and mine time for another visit, I can only say: We visited Glenfiddich Distillery, The Mash Tun in Aberlour and had great whisky dinner in the end (not to mention various „drivers drams“). Even though I cut out a few of the well known drams in the middle of the trip, I had more whisky on one day then ever before in my life. Its a matter of fact: The Scots are all mad! At about 11 pm I fell in my bed exhausted (not even drunk), happy, saturated and tired with only one thought in mind… „I love my life“.

Oh and the next morning was surprisingly… Really good! It amazes (or shocks) me every time how good my body seems to process whisky, specially compared to other types of alcoholic drinks.

Résumé: Macallan is an ambivalent distillery. Although is has lost many of its followers over the years it still seems to be on the uprise. It can produce amazing malts but the every day bottlings seem to suffer from the expansion of the brand. The tour is great if your a Macallan fan and you will see plenty of cool stuff. But if I would have only one or two days in Speyside, I´d rather visit Glenfarclas down the road.

Well I hope you enjoyed another journey with the malt mariner and I meet you further on up the road!

Slainte!

Your Leon

Facts (April 2016):

Owner: Edrington Group

Founded: 1824

Capacity: 8.000.000 lpa

Stills: 9 Wash Stills, 18 Spirit Stills

Adress: Craigellachie, Banffshire, AB 38 9 RX, Scotland
Region: Speyside

To reach by: car only

Link: http://www.themacallan.com

Distillery Review 10: A new spirit – Annandale, Eden Mill, Kingsbarns –

Since there is an increasing demand for an english version of my blog I start to translate some of the articles into english. I might switch to a complete english version in the future since most germans are good english speakers anyway.

„The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none live who remember it.“The lord of the rings fans among you might recognize this quote. But for us maltheads this quote might be appropriate too. Who didn’t mourn all the countless closed and mothballed distilleries on their virtual or real whisky trails? But let the past be the past. And you can definitely say that the world of whisky has changed and still changes. There is a lot of movement it he whisky industry in Scotland as well as in other countries. The 80 depression is long gone and the whisky boom is still on the rise. Therefore many new distilleries are being built and new projects are being announced frequently. Kilchoman (Scotland), Kavalan (Taiwan) and Warenghem (Brittany) have proved that young Single Malt can indeed be successful. About time for the Malt Mariners to do their job as pioneers and explorers and set the sails to unknown territory. I (Leon) traveled Scotland for a while and visited among others three new-born Malt Whisky Distilleries:



Annandale Distillery

Location: Council Dumfries & Galloway (Lowlands)

Founded: 2014

Pot Stills: 1 Wash Still, 2 Spirit Stills

Production capacity: 250.000 Liter per annum

Distillery Manager: Malcolm Rennies

Ownership: Annandale Distillery Company (independent)


Eden Mill

Location: Kingdom of Fife, St Andrews

Founded: 2012 (Brewery), 2014 (Whisky Distillery)

Pot Stills: Mini Wash Still, Mini Spirit Still

Production capacity: hard to say while unstready maybe around 100.000 liter per annum

Distillery Manager: Paul Miller

Ownership: Eden Mill (independent)



Kingsbarns Distillery

Location: Kingdom of Fife, St Andrews

Founded: 2015

Pot Stills: Eine Wash Still, eine Spirit Still

Production capacity : Unknown

Distillery Manager: Peter Holroyd

Ownership: Wemyss

All these three new distilleries are interesting because they are located in the Lowlands and don´t have any self-made whisky to sell yet. So they seem to be perfect for a little challenge. Ill present the distilleries to you and will look on the categories of „location“,“atmosphere“ and last but not least the future single malt.

„Location“

Annandale Distillery lies near the small town Annan in the Council of Dumfries & Galloway. You can walk to the distillery in 20 minutes from town. Annan itself might not be your ideal place to stay though since there is not much to see. Dumfries might be a better place for a visit, there you have the chance to see several sites of the poet Robert Burns (memorial, mausoleum) and cool stuff like the Camera Obscura which I recommend.


Eden Mill is about 5 miles away from the city center of St Andrews, a gorgeous town right next to the sea with many student and therefore some activities. It is know for its golf course as well if you are into that stuff. Well we´re not but St Andrews is definitely worth a visit thats for sure! You might reach the distillery by Bus in about 15 minutes.

Kingsbarns is about 9 miles away form St Andrews in the opposite direction of Eden Mill. I can´t tell if there are any buses going in this direction but even if, it would take you longer then to Eden Mill. Although you have to say that the view from the car park is more then worth it!

Still the battle for location is won my Eden Mill since its the best to reach.

„Atmosphere“

We are talking here about the whole picture of the distillery including the buildings, the visitor center and CI on the website. Kingsbarns is as we mentioned already a very pretty location. From the VC you have a great view over (in my case) sunny barley fields. From the car park you can even see the coastline. The distillery is dominated by stone and wood with hints and clues to be a modern castle.

The VC is simple but has a definite style to it. It is separated into a cafe and a shop area. No hanky panky, just whisky. The tour starts in a kind of mini museum. A nice mix of down-to-earth information and multi media stuff. At the end of the tunnel sits a door protecting the „cask number one“ like a crown jewel. I bow to the designers of this part since its really an impressive site.

Annandale Distillery was build to be an tourist attraction as well, no doubt. Everything is neat, clean and stylish. For my personal taste a bit over the top. The toilets look like in a very posh hotel (no pics though… I´m a geek but it doesnt go so far!). The design of the visitor center has much carved wood with round shapes and lots of black metal (not the music). There are some whisky gimmicks to find like lampshade made from staves or the cask recycled as a bin. The pagoda roof is sheer cosmetic since it doesn’t have a kiln. Well make up your own mind about it but I like it better then the weird fake towers of Kingsbarns. The visitor center is a decent cafe and therefore focused on that aspect. Very cosy with tables, couch and even a modern fireplace. Nice!

Since Eden Mill is a smaller project with less pocket money in the background is has been built in an old industrial building. Therefore it cant compete with the fancy with the new built tourist attractions. The VC lookes like is has been put up in a hurry in the big visitors room. But still this industrial charming atmosphere might be more authentic for the malthead then the staged new distilleries. The tourist guy will not get the whole package here though.

It was hard to pick a winner in this category. Annadale and Kingsbarns are here even but in the end I´m in charge so I get to decide :). My personal taste said Kingsbarns in the end since the tour area is magnificent.

„No Whisky? What to drink?“

Since non of the three distilleries has bottled legal scotch whisky yet, they all have the same problem: What to serve the guests? Not to mention that they need some money for keeping the spirit flowing.

Well, Eden Mill has no problems pooring a glas of something since they started out as a micro brewery. They have a big Gin variety as well to offer. Since I´m an ignorant malthead, I hate Gin so that didnt go on the account of Eden Mill. In fact the opposite is the case. I had a ticket for a VIP tour (present) and had to take a Gin tour instead since the manager wasn´t around as planned. Since I hate Gin that was big down turn on that day since I made quite a way to visit that place. Anyway there is craft beer as well which as a Franconian is like bread and butter to me. Even though we still call it beer. Eden Mill has some very interesting bottlings matured in wine casks. But hey! We´re here for the whisky! Again Eden Mill has a great variety as an answer. They dont have whisky yet but three different types of new spirit. Different maltings made it happen. Therefore we have „St Andrews Day“ made from „dark crystal malt“, the „Hogmanay“ made from „chocolate malt“ (yummy) and the „Burns Night“ from „pale malt“. No peaty ones (for me unfortunately). You can try those and even buy some if you like. If you still want whisky you can buy some bottlings without much information but representing the different regions highlands, Islay and Speyside. Well I still prefer my usual bottlings. I know what I get you know.

Annandale „solves“ the problem of the nonexistent malts with a blended Scotch named „Nations of Scots“ that is dedicated to the scots in exile. Although the question is if the blend honors the fellow scots outside the county appropriately. The stuff didn´t float my boat if you know what I mean. But then again… we are waiting for a real malt to be born here. The Annandale newmake, called „rascally liquor“ comes in a peated and an unpeated version. It carries no less names then „King o‘ swords“ dedicated to Robert The Bruce (peated) and „King o‘ words“ dedicated to Robert Burns (unpeated). While having the great opportunity to have a managers tour with Malcom Rennie I could taste the young malt of Annandale (a few month old) and I have to say it already had a very tasty character :). I´m definitely looking forward to try the first official bottling here.

Kingsbarns sells its newmake in the shop as well. Although the distillery is well ahead in the game cause the Wemyss family has sold Scotch whisky way before the distillery was build. The have a few aged blended malts (I prefere the term vatted malts, since it does not contain any grain whisky) in the range such as the „spice king“ (good stuff), „the hive“ and „the peat chimney“ each representing a „style“ of whisky. They also have a selection of single cask bottlings with detailed information about the distillery, age and so on. So no need to hide for Kingsbarns in that area. Additionally the wines of the family are being sold in the shop.

So in the drinks department it was a hard battle between Eden Mill and Kingsbarns. In the end I went with Eden Mill against my wrath against Gin. I am way too curious about their results since they have three different newmakes. The question remains if Germany will see much of their bottlings since they are a small craft enterprise. If we only look at the whisky section Kingsbarns is definitely the winner since people can have a real whisky tasting here already today.

In the end its all about the personal taste, so I dont want to select a winner in total. But we can be certain about one thing: There is a lot of interesting whisky on the way! And we can look ahead to a happy malty future! And until we can enjoy the newcomers… well there is plenty of good malt to kill the time with :).

Culaters and slainte mhath!

Malty greetings!

Leon




Resources:

– My diary, my bad memory, my smartphone

https://www.annandaledistillery.com

http://edenmill.com

http://www.kingsbarnsdistillery.com