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Royal Lochnagar

Iain Banks is right: it looks so neat and quaint one might think it an ornamental play-thing of the royals next door. I feel it was worth the effort to come and see it, alone.

Iain Banks is right: it looks so neat and quaint one might think it an ornamental play-thing of the royals next door. I feel it was worth the effort to come and see it, alone.

 

Crathie, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5TB, 01339 742700. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/royallochnagar/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ****      This is a charmingly-sited distillery, and should you approach it on the rustic single-track road that I did from the south side of the Dee, comes upon you rather suddenly. Despite its proximity to Braemar, you are truly in the Highlands here and a sense of the solitude which so inspired Byron is most stirringly in evidence.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Lochnagar Tour’:      Costing £6, £4 of this is redeemable against a full bottle purchase or £10 off a brace of bottles if you just can’t resist that glorious Select Reserve but also pine for the Benrinnes 15-year-old, for example. A tour of the distillery is provided in exchange for your cash, in addition to a dram of the 12-year-old. If they haven’t mucked around with the experience product, this is what I call an extreme bargain.

‘Lochnagar Family Tour’:      £12, with the same money-off voucher. This is the, presumably still superb, standard tour plus the full range of Royal Lochnagar: the Distiller’s Edition and the Select Reserve.

‘Royal Tour’:      The ‘Royal’ prefix makes its way into the tour options at last. This will cost £25, and is available from Monday to Saturday at 11AM (Monday to Friday, January – February). A coffee and shortbread reception awaits for the Royal Tourist (Queen Victoria herself was the first of these), followed by a thorough tour of the distillery and a sampling of Royal Lochnagar Single Malt ‘through the ages’.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLING:      N/A

My Tour – 17/04/2010  

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      ***

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      The distillery doesn’t operate on weekends, when I was there, and instead runs a super-long fermentation program over this period. This ultimately produces a light, fruity whisky. There is also peated and unpeated barley to munch on in the millroom, a Sherry butt filled with 24YO Royal Lochnagar to nose and an uncommon quantity of fascinating facts and figures. In the Duty Paid warehouse there are samples from various fills of cask to illustrate the impact of the wood.

GENEROSITY:      * (Only 1 dram, but it is possible to nose the new make, and there were seven samples in the marvellous shop to nose, too.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      **

SCORE:      8/10 *s

COMMENT:      What a tour. This is one of the best I have been on so far, and rubbishes the suggestion you may hear that the Diageo experience is generic. Claire, our guide, was a spectacular companion through the distillery which was more peaceful than other distilleries I had visited due to curtailed operation at the weekend. The wash was still fermenting, though, and this we could smell as we walked to the mill room. We were given a smell of the yeast: fruity and sweetly doughy; and a taste of the Lochnagar malt grains. The flavour was nice and sugary, but left the palate quickly. We were given a sniff and then a few grains to try of the product from the Port Ellen maltings. Wow. It reminded me very much of Lagavulin and I could still taste its echoes after the tour had finished! Into the tun room we went, although, not in exactly. It is a very small space so there is an ante-room and a viewing window. The explanation made up for this distance and separation, though. Royal Lochnagar has an unusually long fermentation time, with the yeast being pitched in at a cooler temperature. The total time is between 70 and 110 hours. Claire related this quirk of the production to the character of the finished product superbly. After a look at the stills, we head to the spirit safe. The question is asked how long each batch takes from mill to cask. The answer is about a week, incredibly. We go into the filling store and the Germans are told off for lifting the weights used to guage each cask. They also fiddle around with the poplar bungs. They complain afterwards about the restricted access but I’m not sure what hefting things could really tell them. They were on a tour of distilleries (by bus) and said that at other sites they could almost do as they pleased. The Diageo policy is a less spontaneous one, but I don’t see how not being allowed to lift some cast iron marred their visit. It was this particular instance that prompted a visitor from the islands to speak up. He took offence at the constant swipes at “‘elf and safety”. He let the first one go when Claire described how the practise of ‘dramming’ died a death (from alcoholism), but he wasn’t prepared to see his line of work characterised as a kill-joy at every stage of the process. Times change, and you can’t be having your workforce drunk, nor large pieces of metal landing on German toes. Then we went into the “only duty-paid warehouse in Scotland.” [NB: There is one at Glenfiddich, I later learn.] Here there were samples proving the impact of the oak. Again this was very well explained. We were even allowed to sniff inside a Sherry butt of 24-year-old Royal Lochnagar. Ahhh! That is all I really need to say. The tasting at the end revealed how much Diageo care about their visitor experience, even if it is a very scripted one. Claire described how all staff were taught to taste in addition to learning by rote the particulars of the distillery, and her suggestions for accompaniments to malts were interesting. Caol Ila 10-year-old Unpeated with ice is apparently rather good. I left after nosing my sample of the 12YO. The very friendly distillery cat waved me off, metaphorically-speaking, just as he had welcomed me in and climbed all over me as I ate my sandwiches. He felt like my only friend for days – how tragic! It was a horror to get to for me, but not everyone gets there by bike from Fettercairn. It is a fabulous facility and you should go.

Sadly we were never formally introduced so I don't know his or her name. This moggie wandered over to greet me when I arrived, walked all over me when I ate some food before the tour and came across again to wave me off. I was quite moved by this example of unconditional affection!

Sadly we were never formally introduced so I don't know his or her name. This moggie wandered over to greet me when I arrived, walked all over me when I ate some food before the tour and came across again to wave me off. I was quite moved by this example of unconditional affection!

« Fettercairn – The Glenlivet »

Author:
saxon
Date:
April 21, 2010 um 6:46 pm
Category:
The Tours
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6 Comments »

  1. Marc Castermans

    Glad to hear something positive about Diageo ;-)

    #1 Comment vom 24. April 2010 um 2:01 pm

  2. Claire Fraser

    Thanks for a nice review! :D

    #2 Comment vom 16. May 2010 um 10:28 pm

  3. Claire Fraser

    His name is Nigel :D

    #3 Comment vom 25. May 2010 um 10:58 pm

  4. saxon

    Thanks Clare! I can add his name to your Christmas card, now!

    Hope all is well on Deeside. Despite the horror show that was getting there, I couldn’t get over the beauty of the place.

    #4 Comment vom 26. May 2010 um 9:15 am

  5. Claire Fraser

    Yes it is stunning! I am a very lucky girl, my father works on site and I actually grew up in one of the houses beside the warehouse at the back.

    Deeside is well, unfortunately I will be leaving it on Sunday to go work in Brora for a year… so if you finally want to make that tour of Clynelish you will be made most welcome!

    #5 Comment vom 27. May 2010 um 5:49 pm

  6. saxon

    Excellent! I suppose that is one of the advantages of working for a company that owns so many distilleries: you get to see so much more of the country and the industry.
    I shall have to come up to Lochnagar first and comfort Nigel in his time of distress. ;-)
    I have mixed feelings about the whole Brora area! It was raining when I was passing through, the distillery was shut, obviously, and the A9 is just dreadful. However, it is another stunningly beautiful part of the world, and I wish you the best of luck.
    PS, I’m (idly) planning the next tour which will encompass those absentee distilleries so you never know, I might see you again!

    #6 Comment vom 27. May 2010 um 6:27 pm

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