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June 11, 2012

Summer of Distilleries 2012: LOWLANDS

The Lowlands of Scotland were where my Scotch Odyssey of 2010 began and, as a cyclist, it’s pre-eminence in my affections was guaranteed by the extraordinarily lovely weather I enjoyed. At the time, it was a somewhat overlooked region; accessible but somewhat ‘vanilla’. However, with a resurgence from Auchentoshan and the enduring individuality of Bladnoch, in addition to Ailsa Bay, Daftmill and building projects such as Annandale in the west and Kingsbarns in the east, the Lowlands is at the forefront of avant-guard distilling with a vast variety of flavours on offer.

Auchentoshan, Morrison Bowmore, 01389 878561 www.auchentoshan.com Open 7 days a week, 10am to 5pm. 

  • From Glasgow: 10 miles (20 minutes) from the city centre; from Edinburgh: 55 miles (1 hour 30 minutes) from the city centre
  • Tours: Ranging from the £6 ‘Classic Tour’ lasting an hour to the £45 ‘Ultimate Auchentoshan Experience’. At 135 minutes this is a tour of serious depth, with a nosing and tasting straight from the cask.
  • Visitor Centre Exclusives: bottle-your-own single cask in the warehouse. Choice of two. At present it is a 1999 first-fill Bourbon cask, 59.9% abv. £100.

 

 

Bladnoch, Co-ordinated Development Services, 01988 402605 www.bladnoch.co.uk Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

  • From Glasgow: 100 miles (two hours thirty minutes); from Edinburgh: 115 miles (three hours)
  • Tours: one standard tour. Expect to pay between £3 and £5.
  • Visitor Centre Exclusives: not at the moment.

 

 

Glenkinchie, Diageo, 01875 342004 http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/glenkinchie/ Open 7 days a week, 10am to 4pm (5pm in August)

  • From Edinburgh: 16 miles (30 minutes); from Glasgow: 60 miles (one hour fifteen minutes)
  • Tours: Ranging from the £6 ‘Glenkinchie Tour’ to the £10 ‘Flavour of Scotland’ tour.
  • Visitor Centre Exclusives: ‘Double-treated’ with Amontillado American oak cask, 59.3%. Around £65.
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June 11, 2010

Bladnoch

I wanted to throw a rug down and have a picnic. Sadly I had no rug, no food and no time.

I wanted to throw a rug down and have a picnic. Sadly I had no rug, no food and no time.

Bladnoch, Wigtown, Wigtownshire, DG8 9AB, 01988 402605. Co-ordinated Development Services. www.bladnoch.co.uk

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      Dumfries and Galloway has to be one of the prettiest parts of Scotland, and Bladnoch, with its river, bridge and domestic feel to the various buildings, is one of the country’s most attractive distilleries. It was such a shame I was pressed for time, because more photos whould have done this little place, with the feel of a real backwater about it, justice. To lounge about on the lawn by the river, perhaps with some oak-aged gin, would be nothing less than perfect. The countryside is rounded, tamed, but ancient, too. The pagoda hood stands out, telling you it is a distillery. Otherwise, it could be a village hall, and indeed there is a room in the distillery which is used infrequently for civic gatherings.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £3. See ‘My Tour’ below, although be advised that I did not take the true ‘standard tour’.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      Bladnoch operates their Forum, which bottles casks of whisky independently. Their website is well worth a look, both for information regarding this service and how you can sign up and get lovely single cask whisky from all over Scotland sent to you bt also what is likely to be in the shop when you turn up. Gavin D Smith describes the retail outlet as one of the most complete in the industry, and that is saying something when one reflects on the malty madness of Bruichladdich and Glengoyne.

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **      (NB: I didn’t receive the standard tour: Martin is not a guide as such, but the boss’s son. He has grown up with the distillery, though (he isn’t that much older than me), and his knowledge was staggering. The ladies I spoke to for the purposes of arranging an out-of-hours tour, however, were very friendly and enthusiastic, so I think you can expect good things if you come to Bladnoch.)

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      Much like a number of other distilleries, this one grew out of a farm set-up with farming requirements very much in evidence in the architecture. The first warehouse I was taken into is very low, and contains ome of the oldest casks from the new owners. In the mill room, the water from the lade, dug by farmers in the 1800s to bring fresh water to Bladnoch (the river at this point is tidal), runs directly underneath. Martin was perpetually apologising for the simple industrial look of much of the equipment. The mash tun is certainly functional more than beautiful, but it makes the wort, which is hardly a glamorous role.Bladnoch stills

The still house is like a modern barn: steel girders and cladding. The stills themselves were one of the few things Diageo didn’t take with them when they closed the distillery for the last time in 1993. The stills were also left, and both, interestingly enough, are technically wash stills. The spirit still has windows in the neck. Whilst the stills were left behind, new plumbing and pipe-work needed to be installed. The stillman, whilst the same guy as when the distillery last operated, had to re-learn how his own stills worked. They now run the stills slowly, which produces a smoother, more flavoursome spirit. No distilling was taking place that day, so Martin showed me inside the low wines tank. On the surface was a translucent, scummy film, which he disturbed with a rod. Fusel oil. Every distillery will have it floating along the top of their low wines and feints, and it just goes to show why everyone distills it again, to remove such impurities. I’m shown towards the end of the tour the enormous computer bank which controls some of the mechanisms and circuitry upstairs. This would struggle to fit in most cruise ships and had to be fully rewired.

Some of the older "new" stock in a very traditional, and above all cool, warehouse.

Some of the older "new" stock in a very traditional, and above all cool, warehouse.

More warehouses, thankfully, follow (the warehouse is part of the standard tour). I’m shown a huge paletised warehouse and the one adjoining the filling store. In the latter is a rack of “oak-aged gin” which the Armstrongs are keeping “for a friend”. Martin whipped out a valinch and drew a sample. It smelt superb: spirity and spicy, with a sweet mustiness: rather like some of the Pakistani and Indian-run convenience stores I went into in Glasgow. The taste was… different. I could also smell the products of two Sherry casks, both filled from the same batch in 1992 and left beside each other in the warehouse. They were markedly different: one sweeter and creamier than the other. They buy the same Bourbon barrels as Arran does, straight out of Kentucky for $110. I could also see casks from Kenwood Vineyards in California. These had contained red wine, are £350 a barrel, and there should be an interesting Bladnoch expression resulting from those. Speaking of new expressions, last autumn they distilled a batch of malt peated to 50ppm. This should be equally intriguing when it reaches maturity. Martin, before I arrived, had been busy bottling for private individuals. There was a whole table full of ruby-red bottles: Arran single casks. Someone had bought a puncheon of Arran stock, 13-years-of-age and 800 bottles of the stuff. Bladnoch sell casks, too, but Martin recommends buying a tenth share in one, which leaves you with a much more manageable return of malt. Whole casks are around the £1000 mark. Bladnoch, by way of developing a bit of a buzz about their own bottlings, have created the Forum. If you sign up to this, there are periodical bottlings from a broad range of other distilleries in addition to Bladnoch, and these are posted out for discussion. I’m shown label-less bottles full of golden liquid. “This is the latest Forum bottling which I’m just finishing,” Martin said, pointing to a bottling machine in the corner of the office which can apparently allow a whole hogshead to be drained and bottled in half a day or so. “A 30YO Caol Ila.” My eyes lit up. “I suppose they are all spoken for?” I asked, disregarding for the moment that even if some weren’t, I couldn’t fit one in my panniers. Martin nodded. If I had been a member of the Forum, though, it would have cost me £50! Single cask, 30YO Caol Ila for £50. Incredible.  To return to Arran, however, Warehouse No. 2 contains nothing but. It is full of maturing Arran stock, and only Arran. Bladnoch charge 18p per cask per week, and it fills up empty warehouse space economically. A couple of times a year they also run a four-day Whisky School. Just like at Springbank, you can pay your money and involve yourself in every part of the process.

GENEROSITY:      ** (You are given a dram of the 18YO, and anything else you like. As Martin explained, the approach is to let you try before you buy. A jolly good policy, and one I can’t believe the massive conglomerates can’t finance, if plucky little Bladnoch can do it.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      **

SCORE:      8/10 *s.

COMMENT:      I cannot express what a joy it was to tour Bladnoch with Martin, a treasure trove of information and humour. His hospitality and generosity will never be forgotten, and I hope that his finals went well. “I should be revising but my Dad said he needed me to do some bottling.” So, whilst it wasn’t the tour you will receive, I can recommend Bladnoch whole-heartedly.

Oak-aged gin. I suspect the world isn't quite ready for this beast yet...

Oak-aged gin. I suspect the world isn't quite ready for this beast yet...

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April 12, 2010

Glenkinchie

The day of my visit, much like the specifics of the distillery itself, epitomised the generally-upheld Lowland style: dry, clean and all very agricultural.

The day of my visit, much like the specifics of the distillery itself, epitomised the generally-upheld Lowland style: dry, clean and all very agricultural.

Pencaitland, Tranent, East Lothian, EH34 5ET, 01875 342004. Diageo. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/glenkinchie/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:        ***      With the Lammermuir Hills in pale blue haze in the background and its spartan red brick construction, Glenkinchie is certainly a smart distillery. On the way in, however, I could only smell hot tarmac, not processing barley!

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Exhibition Only Tour’:      £3, including a £5 discount voucher against a 70 cl bottle of single malt whisky. Wander around the maps, plough coulters and video screens of the exhibition area in the former maltings before casting an admiring eye over the James Risk scale-model distillery. A complimentary dram of the very approachable Glenkinchie 12-year-old is provided.

‘Glenkinchie Tour’:      £6, fully redeemable against a 70 cl single malt purchase. The standard tour does not appear, from the specification on the Discovering Distilleries website, to deviate at all from that which I took in April, and consequently I can still recommend it. The exhibition and model distillery are self-guided, and you arrive at the ‘holding area’, with display cases and a touch-screen centre console permitting you to sample some of Diageo’s multi-media marketing if that takes your fancy. A tour of the distillery is capped off with a dram of the 12-year-old and one other malt from their exdeedingly well-appointed bar.

‘Taste of Scotland Tour’:      £10, with the £5-off discount voucher included. This is described as the standard tour with ‘additional drams giving you a flavour of Scotland’. I have a feeling these may well be the same cohort that is on offer as part of the Group Tours (see below).

‘Group Tours’:      [20 persons plus] £5, plus the £5 voucher. The standard tour is available with four drams awaiting each member of the group treated to four of Diageo’s malts from across Scotland. My money would be on Talisker, Oban and Cragganmore, in addition to Glenkinchie, but that is an unofficial guess. ‘Tailor made tours are available on request’, it says, and enquiries ought to be directed to Mary Colgan or Rhona Paisley via the visitor centre number (above).

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLING:      ‘Double’ matured in Amontillado-treated American oak, 59.3% ABV, £65.

My Tour – 12/04/2010.

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      *

Notes: There is a fabulous exhibition of whisky-making and -history in the converted maltings. The highlight is a complete scale model of a distillery by James Risk which shows each stage of the process in exquisite detail. No warehouse, though!

GENEROSITY:     * (I wheedled three drams out of my time at Glenkinchie.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:     *

SCORE:     5/10 *s

COMMENTS: A very good distillery to tour for the beginner and access is excellent. Perhaps it is laid out as it is to continue on more naturally from the Classic Malts marketing which is prevalent in the place: straightforward and precise. There were new elements and means of delivery from my last visit, which was nice although not a great deal I didn’t already know. The staff are very friendly and accommodating, however. Our tour guide was Austrian, who had much of the easy Scottish charm about her, nevertheless, and seemed impressed with my endeavour. The Glenkinchie tasting room, being part of Diageo, means that it has a huge variety of malts for the visitor to choose and compare against. I had a Blair Athol and the Distiller’s Edition Glenkinchie in addition to the 12-year-old. I left fully confident about why I’m doing this; more I could not have asked for from the first of a whole heap of distilleries.

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