I experienced a full day of Speyside goodness on a Rabbie’s tour called “Speyside Whisky and Moray Firth.” This full day minibus tour departed from Inverness and visited, among other things, two very different distilleries in the Speyside region. Benromach was the first distillery, known for it’s traditional Speyside flavors of smoke and peat, and the second distillery, is of course the world famous Glenfiddich, which means “Valley of the Deer.” Here we enjoyed the Explorers Tour which began with a short and beautiful film about the history of the distillery.
Even before you enter the building, the air is perfumed with the scent of fermenting mash. Walking in, you are overwhelmed with the heat and smell of hot mash, swirling around in the giant mash tuns. This is where the mash and water from the Robbie Dhu spring is cooked down into sugar. It is quite, quite hot in this room and it’s a relief to move on.
Into the next room, the sugar concoction is moved into the traditional pine washbacks, where fermentation takes place with the addition of yeast and the sugar turns to alcohol. Still quite warm in this area, as the fermentation process gives off a lot of heat. You can peek in the little windows and see the bubbling process happening before your eyes.
Sweet relief as you leave the heat of that building and move into where the magic happens. The distilling room is lined with 28 copper stills (wash stills and spirit stills), all original in design and so unique and rare that they have to be maintained on site by their own coppersmiths. I do not fully understand this process, but I understand that there is quite a craft involved, and they actually watch and measure the distillate drop by drop and they know when the right moment is to move it into maturation.
I don’t remember why I didn’t take photos in the warehouse. It was incredibly dark, so that may have been why. This was a very interesting part of the tour, and i enjoyed learning about how they use a mixture of American bourbon barrels, and Spanish sherry casks to age the whisky. They employ their own coopersmiths to assemble the casks. We were able to uncork an empty bourbon barrel and a sherry cask to smell the difference in each, and understand how that would affect the flavor of the whisky that matures in it.
We also got to see the bottling process, which they do right on site. Most distilleries send out their whisky for bottling, but Glenfiddich does this process themselves. Moving on to everyone’s favorite part of the tour: the Dramming Centre!
We experienced a “tutored nosing” which is a fancy way of saying a tasting of three amazing whiskys starting with the 12 year, moving on to the 15 year Solera, and finishing with the 18 year reserve. We learned how to swirl enthusiastically to open up the flavors, sniff without water, sip without water, then add a few drops of water, swirl again, sniff again, and finally taste with water. Each one of these steps made a noticeable change in the scent and taste. It seems there is a bit of a disagreement amongst enthusiasts about whether you should swirl your whisky, but if the experts at Glenfiddich said we should then…… who am I to argue.
A tour to Glenfiddich is a tour to one of the meccas of Scottish whisky. Everything they do is of extremely high quality, and a great way to learn about the whisky process. I knew nothing about whisky before visiting Scotland, and I feel like everyone comes home with at least a decent working knowledge after having been there and experiencing a number of tastings. I think by the time I left Scotland, I’d enjoyed at least four tastings. With a souvenir Glenfiddich nosing glass as a treat to myself, I was on my way!
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