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Coming of Age at Aberlour

I’m not allowed to turn 21 every day. I appealed the decision, but the powers that be stood firm. You would be in complete sympathy with the temper tantrums I managed by some miracle to quash had you too participated in the Aberlour Founder’s Tour on this bright and balmy Speyside morning for as a means of spending a day – indeed as a means of spending everyday - I can think of few better.

Great things await at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.

The honorary Scotch Cyclist taxi service pulled up outside the dapper stone gate house which is the visitor’s first glimpse of the Aberlour experience. I say ‘experience’ and not ‘distillery’ very deliberately. Chivas Brothers have been immensely clever and revolutionary in the handling of their Speyside portfolio: throw open the doors of The Glenlivet for all those who have come to Scotland from afar, drawn by the alluring kiss of one of the world’s most prolific brands; spruce up Strathisla for those who need somewhere tangible to express their love for Chivas Regal; transform Aberlour into one of the most professional, innovative and comprehensive whisky tourism facilities in Scotland for those wom simply traipsing round a distillery is not enough.

Maybe this is really how Aberlour achieves its golden-green apple flavour...

Aberlour’s excellence begins with their staff. The instant you wander into the compact visitor centre and shop you are welcomed by shirt-and-tie-sporting gentlemen who are friendliness and discretion personified. Graduate from the How To Make Your Customers Feel Completely At Ease And Looked After School of public relations on the day of my visit was Jonathan. We exchanged ‘How-do-you-dos’, he handed over my tour paperwork and then we enjoyed a very pleasant conversation about his four and a half years at William Grant & Sons, during which he pitched in at every stage of the whisky-making and tourist-wowing processes, in addition to my own ventures into Scotch whisky. I was very interested in what he had to say and, to his credit, Jonathan looked interested in what I had to say. However, I secretly hoped that there might be other personalities to accompany us on the tour. ’We’ll get underway in just a little while,’ he said. ‘There is a party of four still to join us.’ Fantastic!

Companionship was something I had hankered for on many of my one-to-one tours of 2010 and I was delighted when four completely lovely people, bedecked in active outdoor cum distillery-wear piled through the door within moments. Donna, Michele, Bob and Chris supplied that critical ingredient in tours of this nature: regular conversation. Too often when I book a specialist tour of a distillery I am the sole participant and conversation can grow appallingly technical. I become more concerned with scribbling in my notebook than remaining sensitive to the sheer fun of being in a functioning distillery. My four companions from Boston  ensured I never sacrificed my celebratory mood for recording pernickity details about flow rate and wash densities.

A home away from home, only with (slightly) more sumptuous single malts.

Sticking to the yellow brick road, or rather the tarmac markings intended to ward off rampaging McPherson tankers, our troop entered the distillery via the corporate front door. Jonathan whisked us into the Fleming Rooms, a sumptuous but tasteful hospitality suite which only VIPs are permitted to enter. As Founder’s Tour ticket holders, we five qualified as such. Over an exceedingly flirtatious Aberlour 12yo, Jonathan described the history of the distillery in which we sat (on luxurious leather sofas): its owners, its hardships and its modifications. He made no bones about the automated nature of the present site, and nor did I mind in the least. Times have to be moved with, and on a plant of Aberlour’s size trusting to a computerised system for such junctures as cut points and fermenting makes sound sense.

In the leisurely manner characteristic of the Founder’s Tour (and the Warehouse No. 1 Tour, as I remember) we arrived at the operating buildings themselves. In the plush exhibition area adjacent to the mill, I was more diverted by the wonderful aroma of sweet, fat barley and a richly creamy overtone than the factoid that a Aberlour spirit starts life as Oxbridge and Optic barley.

A glance at the bodacious, if sweltering, stills and we returned to the Fleming Rooms for the truly unique component of the Founder’s Tour. When Jonathan grabbed a couple of bottles that looked identical to some forgotten-about relics from my high school chemistry cupboard, I was eager to explore further – but not to the point of tipping some into my mouth and swallowing. ‘Look at that,’ Jonathan grimaced. ‘We couldn’t get away with putting that on the shop shelves.’ He likened the foreshots sample to a snow-shaker, and with a flick of the wrist spumes of bright blue sediment swirled about the bottle. If you were curious as to quite why distillers have to replace their stills, and where that copper goes, here’s your answer. The other three bottles looked perfectly normal new make, but that wasn’t the whole story, either.

Join me for another blogpost later on when I describe my encounter with three very different beasts which provide a snapshot of the distilling art, in addition to a report on the second unusual element of the Founder’s Tour. And, amidst all the fancy chocolates and caged Sherry butts, could the contents of a particular ex-Bourbon barrel seduce me for a second time?

« Medicine with Uncle Mike – Aberlour: Warts and All »

Author:
saxon
Date:
September 28, 2011 um 7:06 pm
Category:
Specialist Tours
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