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Diageo on the Beach (at the Quaich Society)

Diageo at the Quaich Society

The Quaich Society here in St Andrews has acquired a considerable quantity of momentum so far this term. A number of factors put paid to the final portion of last term’s itinerary but so far in 2011 the drams and learned conversation have been liberally flowing. This Thursday (the 10th), Diageo came to town, and I could not miss my chance to appraise how the world’s largest drinks producer goes about conducting tastings. As it happened, they are rather good indeed.

There could have been no more appropriate ambassador to address a bunch of students than a man who looked as if he had only just graduated himself. Duncan opened his talk with an allusion to just this happy circumstance, promising that he was relishing the change in demographic our forty-or-so strong crowd presented.Duncan McRae

With his six key points of discussion, and a special al fresco stunt planned for us at the end of the evening, Duncan’s task was a hefty one. Constraints of time are rarely too strictly observed at the Quaich Society, however, and we lapped up all of the information Duncan put before us. And the prevailing bias of the tasting was just that: information. The only thing ‘hard-sell’ about Duncan was his sincere love for his job and Scotch whisky, and putting the free Talisker scarves and ‘rocking glass’ to one side, gimmickry was notable by its absence. He expressed his personal views on such matters as terroir and centralised warehousing, basing many of his statements on the science of distilling, in addition to the simple realities of economics.

To those six factors, therefore: facets of the Scotch whisky product Duncan felt it most necessary to know. He accompanied each individual whisky with a spiel relating whichever of these categories that whisky could most interestingly illustrate, the first of which was Glenkinchie. Now this little Lowlander receives a fair amount of flak from some quarters, but I happen to be a fan of its sweet, dry, herbal characteristics. On this occasion I found more of the tight spiritiness of younger whisky with a great deal of vanilla and ginger cookie dough. Duncan partnered this with the distillery’s history. When the phylloxera virus decimated Cognac in the 1800s, two Edinburgh businessmen saw an opportunity to supply drinkers south of the border with spirit. However, it had to be different from their past encounters with the potent, heavy qualities of Highland Scotches. Sited close to rail links and raw materials for efficient production and access to market, Glenkinchie today continues to provide much of the freshness and zip in blends such as Johnnie Walker.

DiageoWe covered Dalwhinnie next, a preferred dram of mine in the right circumstances. Creamy and peachy with honey and smoke, the flavours did not disappoint or surprise. Duncan illuminated the story of Dalwhinnie with a word on the journey required to reach it. ‘You know when you head north of Pitlochry on the A9, when everything starts to look as if you’re in Mordor? That’s Dalwhinnie.’ Meaning ‘meeting place’, I can empathise with Duncan’s description. Unfortunately this was from the comfort of a car instead of a bike but that is what the next Odyssey is for…

Dram no. 3 was introduced in a highly novel fashion: ‘OK, who has beef with the Singleton of Dufftown?’ Hands shot up. Duncan’s explanation of why Diageo markets three different malts in three different territories in exactly the same style went some way to pacifying the dissenters in the room. Glendullan for the States, Glen Ord for Asia and Dufftown for the UK and Europe are each intended to occupy a given location on the Flavour Map, which was also wheeled out a couple of times during the evening, hence the identical labelling. Duncan conceded that, as a trio, they did not garner the greatest critical acclaim. However, he then dropped in the little nugget that the Singleton was the fastest growing whisky and in the world. Fair enough – Diageo don’t stay where they are at the top of the tree by refusing to give the general drinker, and in this case new drinkers, what they want.

With a word on maturation regimes for the Singletons (almost exclusive Sherry maturation) we arrived at the ‘big boy whiskies’. Duncan’s passion for Talisker and his eloquence on the subject of whisky generally was extremely powerful. ‘Why is whisky favoured around the world? Why is it romanticised in the way that maybe vodka isn’t? Why, when you type Talisker into Google do you come up with endless pictures of dogs?’ We awaited his answer, and – for me – it was the right one. ‘Because of the place.’ Talisker, as I have said before, is the most awesomely-situated distillery in Scotland. Duncan endeavoured to explain how Skye and malt whisky had the power to conspire and embed sensory sensitivity in the overcome visitor. How the locality and force behind the whisky could return to you, when you least expected it, over a Talisker anywhere in the world. That was what the tumblers and scarves were for. Duncan intended to lead us down to the beach, pour out some 57 North and let the magic happen.

Caol Ila and Lagavulin were somewhat hastily guzzled in anticipation of this jaunt – unique in my experience at the Quaich Society. Whilst to describe Lagavulin is superfluous by now (I am deeply saddened that my 20cl bottle is nearly dry), my encounter with the Caol Ila 12yo after what must be nearly two years of hiatus was keenly savoured. When I first entered the room I must confess I had been rather rude to my companions as I slumped on the table with my nose dipped, immovable, in the glass. It is such a magnificent aroma, such a majestic house style: so sweet, fresh, clean, oily and smoky. When Duncan told me that they had recently launched the Caol Ila Moch, I took note. An exclusive for the Friends of the Classic Malts, Moch is non-age statemented, vatting together 8-15 year-old Caol Ila for a medley of qualities. Money, where are you?Diageo

After satisfying his raffle-drawing duties, Duncan marched those of us intrepid enough and devoted enough to Talisker to brave the ferocious wind and cold to the shoreline. In the dark, the cask strength hooch flowed into waiting tumblers. Beneath the stars, we warmed ourselves on malty lava from the Isle of Skye. Unfortunately, I was left somewhat cold by the 57 North. It could have been the temperature, it could have been the lack of water to cut the spirit, but I found it too one-dimensional with a rigid dark oak note which strangled the body of the whisky. Rather than that irresistable Talisker peat fire burn which builds and builds, the whole thing just tasted slightly burnt – like salted caramel left on too high a heat.

Though the whisky was not to my taste, it was a highly innovative idea on Duncan’s part – not something he could have done in Manchester or Leeds, for example. The stars and my fellow Quaich Sockers were magnificent company at any rate.

I think this picture adequately demonstrates our gratitude to Duncan, and the Quiach Society committee, for laying on another fabulous evening.

Raising a toast with Talisker.

Raising a toast with Talisker.

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Lagavulin

It is most idyllic at Lagavulin when the weather is kind, and it was very difficult getting myself off the premises.

It is most idyllic at Lagavulin when the weather is kind, and it was very difficult getting myself off the premises.

Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DZ, 01496 302749. Diageo. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/lagavulin/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      All of the south shore Islay distilleries shall receive five stars for this category, and for my reasoning see the Laphroaig post. Lagavulin has a slightly broader bay, with Dunyvaig Castle, one of the earliest headquarters for the Lords of the Isles and simultaneously it is hotly contested to be one of the oldest distillation sites on Islay, and even Scotland, at its head. The art of distillation is often attributed to Irish missionaries, and Islay must have been one of the nearest outposts of heathen Scots in the 13th and 14th centuries. They chose well. The architectural layout of the distillery hints at its past lives as several plants, most recently Malt Mill which was set up in an attempt to replicate the character of Laphroaig and ceased production in the 1960s. Lots of buildings and the little avenues between them are visited over the course of the tour.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £6 (or free if you toured Caol Ila previously). See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Premium Tasting Tour’: £15. A tutored tasting of five Lagavulin single malts including the new make. As there are only three ‘regular’ releases of this outstandingly rich whisky (16yo, Distillers’ Edition and 12yo Cask Strength) expect an exciting cask sample for the final dram.

‘Warehouse Demonstration Tour’: £15. These take place at 10.30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it is best to book ahead. The price includes entry on the 9.30AM tour and a free Lagavulin tasting glass. You will then be let loose, figuratively speaking, in Lagavulin’s warehouses. Most is matured elsewhere, it must be said - either at Caol Ila or on the mainland – but they hold a couple of casks back for a consistently highly-praised visitor experience.

NB: Again there is the promise of constructing a tour to suit you to be found on the website. Contact 01496 302749.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      Hurry if you want one, a distillery-only bottling was released in tandem with the Feis Ile 2010 edition at the festival this year. ‘Double’ matured in Pedro Ximenez-treated American oak casks, 51.5% abv, £70.

My Tour – 14/05/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      ***

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      *

Notes:      The tour begins with a very good explanation of the malting and peat-cutting traditions, and expands to include the less glamorous modern method of malting. We get a taste of 35ppm barley malt from Port Ellen. The top layer of peat is generally used in the kilning process because it is very fibrous, not yet having been broken down. This produces lots of smoke for flavour, but not much heat. They use a full lauter tun with a rake that can move up, down, left and right, but must never scrape along the bottom, for the husk in the grist acts like an extra filter for the sugary wort. They have 10 larch washbacks and all are about the same age: 65-years-old! They are coming to the end of their lives, though. Into the still room, and this was where I fell in love. It is so neat and self-contained. Every year, coppersmiths come round and perform an ultrasound on the stills to check the levels of copper thickness throughout the vessel. They have the longest distillation run on the island at 10.5 hours. This long and slow approach ensures that as much of the peat smoke character is retained in the final spirit and smooths out the new make. To the filling store, then, and I learnt that casks can be used at Lagavulin five or even six times. All casks come to the distillery as refills, 85% Bourbon, 15% Sherry. As you can tell, Ruth imparted a lot of Lagavulin wisdom, which I lapped up.

GENEROSITY:       (1 dram) (* if you also shelled out for a tour of Caol Ila.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      * (** if you take advantage of the two-for-one deal on Diageo Islay distilleries.)

SCORE:      5/10 *s (7/10 *s when toured with Caol Ila.)

COMMENT:      I enjoyed this tour immensely. I almost didn’t catch it, although I sense that Ruth kept the tour party out in the glorious sunshine before heading into the cool of the kiln long enough for me to lock the bike up to the fence and hastily join the group. She was magnificent. We received oodles of local history and the whole affair was relaxed, informative and just lovely. She asked, when we were in the tun room, if anyone would like to draw the wash sample. My hand was the first up so I lifted the two-pint tin of steaming wash out of the most mature washback. A very special moment, for me. Unfortunately, I had first sip, which was mostly head! If you want to tour Lagavulin, phone up to find out when they plan to be taking the middle cut. I just slouched by the spirit safe, watching this clear liquid pass through directly into the receiver vat below. I don’t know whether it was the ambient conditions or not, but the smell is in the top 3 most wondrous aromas I had the good fortune to savour over the course of my travels. Lagavulin new make smells HEAVENLY. I was taking tasting notes of the air: fruity, like toast and jam, but rich and smooth. Some dry earth and sweet, moist wood smoke. UNBELIEVABLE. If they had a bottle of the new make in the shop I would have bought it there and then. Several of them, in fact. I had to nip to the facilities (three sips of wash in the morning is not something I would recommend) and then returned to my tour party who were lounging in the lovely dramming room. The whole VC is very open plan, and this space had the feel of a vintage country hotel. We were given a choice of the 16YO, the Distiller’s Edition and “I’m sure we have an open bottle of the 12YO Special Release.” I and a couple of other gents took her up on her offer and was I glad I did. Leave that new make for 12 years and do next to nothing to it and you have one of the best drams I have tasted; period, let alone on my travels. It is a truly aggressive whisky, butting you in the forehead and then kneeing you in the groin. It was spectacular. A faultless tour (I wasn’t even that sore about this continuing trend of no warehouses) and Lagavulin now has a very special place in my heart, even though it may have been the fall on the pier that knackered the bike… That I will never know.

Unfortunately the strong Westerly winds blew the bike to the pier deck! Not Lagavulin's fault, though.

Unfortunately the strong Westerly winds blew the bike to the pier deck! Not Lagavulin's fault, though.

 

One last whimsical look back at "the mill in the hollow".

One last whimsical look back at "the mill in the hollow".

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Oban

Oban distillery from the main street.

Oban distillery from the main street.

Stafford Street, Oban, Argyll, PA34 5NH, 01631 572004. Diageo. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/oban/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ****      Based on my rating for Tobermory you are quite entitled to ask how this loses a star. Simple: it’s not on an island. The buildings are smarter and the location, tucked right up against the sea cliff above Oban looking out to Mull, is spectacular, but it is very very busy all around.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Sensory and Flavour Finding Tour’: £7. A guided tour, a sample of whisky ‘straight from the cask’ (but see ‘My Tour’ below), an opportunity to sample Oban malt whisky with food and a ‘beautiful whisky related gift’ to take away with you.

‘Exclusive Distillery Tour’: £25. According to the website, this tour ticket will grant you access to the Oban warehouse in addition to the Manager’s Office where a verticle tasting of Obans will take place.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      Single cask Oban, 55% abv. ‘Double’ matured in Pedro Montilla Fino sherry casks. £55-70.

My Tour – 12/05/2010      NB: my comment below, as you will find, is less than complimentary. On the Discovering Distilleries website Oban gets one of the most florid write-ups which made me think that they have modified the package which I received. Reflecting on it now, that might not be the case (I stress MIGHT). That ‘straight from the cask’ promise may have been the pathetic dribble of what I had thought was the Distiller’s Edition. Drawing whisky from a cask is an act with some theatre to it, and should be done in full view. If you are charging £7 (only Aberlour and Balvenie - two of the most thorough tours in Scotland – charge more for a standard tour) then you can give us enough so that we might know we are drinking single cask spirit, otherwise it is – as I state below – a trifle insulting.

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      *

Notes:      The whole plant is very user friendly. Everything is neat and clean. In fact, we couldn’t see the tun room because there was some aggressive cleaning of the washbacks taking place. The Diageo Flavour Boards were back, and in the main I agreed with them. The principal characteristics of Oban are said to be ‘Smoky’, ‘Salt’, ‘Orange peel’ and ‘Honey’. The smoke comes from the peating in the malting process, for which there is a video to explain how this is done. To their credit, they also show you how a modern maltings works, and not just the old, nostalgic floor method. Orange peel comes from the long fermentation time and honey comes from maturation. All of these I could agree with and noted in the final dram. But ‘Salt’ coming from the mashing? Come on, do me a favour: unless they are using the sea as the process water this is just a washback load of manure. At the end there is a very good talk through the Classic Malts, the Distillers Editions and the Special Releases, with a rather progressive treatment of the booming area pairing whisky with food. Personally, I haven’t found a combination that has worked yet. I’ve tried Glenfarclas 15YO with dark chocolate; Auchentoshan 3Wood with Christmas cake, and Oban 14YO with salmon and merely ruined three great drams and three tasty plates of food. 100% of Oban’s production goes to single malts, and 60% of that is shipped straight over to the US. First-fill casks only are used.

GENEROSITY:       (Even if you could count the pathetic dribble of the Distiller’s Edition as a dram, using my equation you still end up with more than ’3′.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:

SCORE:      3/10 *s

COMMENT:      I’m sorry, but you can’t fob me off with a free Glencairn glass. Once I’d drunk my Oban 14YO it was empty, so it wasn’t as if there was anything interesting about it. I’m really furious about this, because prior to leaving for my odyssey I had it on good authority that a tour would cost £6, which I thought unusually steep enough. Maybe I had timed it wrong and arrived just at peak silly season when they add an extra quid to the price of admission. No warehouse and one dram, all polished off in 45 minutes. How is that worth £7? I should say that the guide was superb and the tour was very informative, but I had heard it all before, and the good tourists of Oban don’t need to pay £7 to hear it for the first time. Go to Tobermory and pay 50% less. The “second” dram was actually insulting. The guide poured out maybe a 5cl measure into the glass he was carrying and pipette’ed two squirts of it – that’s right, with the plastic pipettes you used in middle school science classes – into the eleven waiting glasses. I was disgusted. Where is my ticket money going, then? Is the Oban distillery doing a secret collection for the ending of world hunger? I don’t think so. This is greed of the highest order: busy location, lots of tourists, let’s milk it for all its worth. The only possible justification it could have is that the surplus cash goes towards maintaining the other quieter visitor’s centres in the group. 34,000 people walked through Oban’s doors last year so that’s a hell of a lot of surplus. But then again, I haven’t been on a single Diageo tour that had less than 5 people on it, besides Cragganmore and Cardhu, but four more people arrived just a little after I set off in the case of the former and a coach-load of Brazilians had preceded me in the case of the latter. One pound more than the peerless Highland Park tour, and only three pounds off the Aberlour fee. And the Speysider allowed you to sit in a warehouse while you drank six malts, for peat’s sake! An above average tour, if it had been priced in line with other Diageo experiences. You have been warned.

The entrance to the visitor's centre. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The entrance to the visitor's centre. It doesn't cost a penny to stand here.

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Talisker

 

You can just see the smokestack and the white buildings. That's Talisker.

You can just see the smokestack and the white buildings. That's Talisker.

Carbost, Isle of Skye, Inverness-shire, IV47 8SR, 01478 614308. Diageo. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/talisker/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      I’ve said it before, but this is the ultimate place to put a distillery. That famous shot which is in lots of whisky books shows the loch, the hills and then the Cuillins behind with the distillery tucked into the middle ground. From the distillery itself, you cannot see the set of Medieval surgical appliances which class as moutains, but on the road to Talisker they cannot be missed. Be prepared to stop, because it is safer doing that than ploughing on into oncoming vehicles because you have forgotten you are in charge of a car.

Talisker

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Talisker Distillery Tour’: £6. See ‘My Tour’ below. Children between 8 and 17 gain entrance for £3.

Talisker Tasting Tour’: £20. Lasting 2 hours, this is a more in-depth Talisker experience with access to areas which are normally “off-limits”, a taste of five different Taliskers and a free nosing glass to take away with you. The man I met on the tour at Benromach had been on this one and thoroughly recommended it. If you think what five Taliskers means: that’s the 10YO and 18YO at least from the standard range, and he said he received the 57N, the 25YO and the 30YO. You would, wouldn’t you? Phone up the distillery to book, and make certain of which days they are offering this experience.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      N/A

My Tour – 07/05/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      We were told as we bought our tickets that there was a chance we might not see the stillroom due to mainenance taking place. As it was, we did see the still room, and they are quite magnificent. All of the ornamentation is on the wash stills: the boil-ball ad the U-shaped lyne arm. The spirit stills are squat and plain by comparison. As we entered the warehouses one of the German motorcyclists turned to me, smiled and went “Mmmm.” I took this to mean that he liked the smell and whilst it was, indeed, divine, I could detect no seaweed or spicy, smoky sweetness. Obviously that isn’t how things work for peated whiskies. We were behind a a sealed viewing window, so that might have filtered out the local maritime air, but Michael, our guide, insisted that the “salty, seaweedy air” was being sucked into the cask to replace the volume lost in alcohol and water. The oldest cask was from 1979, and Michael gave the very exact estimate of how much of the cask’s original volume they expect to find in it: only 38%. Just over a third full. That is why your older whiskies cost so much. Casks are used as many as three times, and must be filled with grain spirit before they house Talisker. The malt used to be triple distilled, but it isn’t now.

GENEROSITY:        (1 dram)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      *

SCORE:      5/10 *s

COMMENT:      A good tour, don’t get me wrong, but not a sparkling one. Michael knew his stuff and more besides, but there wasn’t a great deal more to see than you could find in Diageo distilleries closer to home. The views as you walked around the site of the ever-improving day, however, were singularly wonderful. The trademark smell of Talisker was subtle thoughout the production areas, and I got a stronger whiff of peat from the Benromach mash tun than this one. It was covered, though. The smell outside as I locked up the bike was gorgeous: super sweet and creamy. As I say, I would have loved to have raved about how the sea and the seaweed had permeated the warehouse atmosphere, but I just couldn’t detect anything beyond old stone and wood. A bone to pick, though: why don’t Diageo have a universal glass that they use? Some of their distilleries use the Glencairn, some an oddly shaped stylised Sherry glass. Well at Talisker do you know what they give you in which to savour one of the best 10YOs in the world? One of those appalling tumblers they give you in really rustic, cheap pubs. It’s like going to Chateau Neuf Du Pape and receiving one of their prime vintages in a Styrofoam cup. Why do it?!

On the other side of the hill to Carbost and Talisker, this is the phantasmagoric panorama that awaits to ensnare you.

On the other side of the hill to Carbost and Talisker, this is the phantasmagoric panorama that awaits to ensnare you.

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Cragganmore

I must say it isn't easy finding a good vantage point to photograph Cragganmore because it is so neat and self-contained in its own little glen. The Spey runs very close by and you get some sense of the beginnings of this extraordinary whisky region.

I must say it isn't easy finding a good vantage point to photograph Cragganmore because it is so neat and self-contained in its own little glen. The Spey runs very close by and you get some sense of the beginnings of this extraordinary whisky region.

Ballindalloch, Moray, AB37 9AB, 01479 874700. Diageo. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/cragganmore/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ***      This is one well-hidden distillery. Pulling off the A95 it is a twisting track down towards the river Spey and through a farm (with less than friendly dogs) before the warehouses reveal themselves. The visitor centre was trickier to find than I had anticipated: it is a little door just off the courtyard around which you find the stillroom and the Club Room. It is remote, but beautiful.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £5 (with money off a full bottle purchase). See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Cragganmore Expressions Tour’: £10. This is the standard tour plus coffee, shortbread, a video with the late great Michael Jackson giving a tasting demonstration of the Classic Malts, and a chance to sip a couple of drams. Book in advance, and allow an extra 20 minutes.

DISTILLERY-ONLY BOTTLINGS:      N/A

My Tour – 21/04/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      This is quite a small distillery, both in terms of production and the site itself. A lot of ducking and squeezing is required. Very modern in places (the still room in particular) but very traditional in others with worm tubs and beautiful washbacks. The spirit stills – interestingly, though not uniquely – have flat tops to them. The warehouses will be back on the tour as soon as they have finished fixing them up after the inundations of snow this winter.

GENEROSITY:      ** (I’m not sure if it’s standard practise, but I got a nip of the 12YO and the Distiller’s Edition)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      *

SCORE:      7/10 *s

COMMENT:      It wasn’t the best time for me to visit, and after locking my bike up in the rain and enduring a wild goose chase to try and find the poorly-marked visitor’s centre, I wasn’t in the best of moods. The guide was a little bit stressed herself. With Cragganmore they operate on two guides every other day. Tuesday had been deathly silent and Wednesday there was just her. Of course, everyone chose to tour Cragganmore that day. The tour was a quick one. There was an undisclosed issue with the warehouse so we couldn’t go in, but the snow had taken down the roof of another barn-type building and that was being cleared. Irene made up for the curtailed nature of my experience handsomely, showing me the Cragganmore Club Room and pouring me a second sample. She was very keen to help when she heard of my journalistic agenda and I’m very grateful to her for she looked after me very well, even if the dogs on the farm on the way back through to the main road were less friendly. A very small distillery, this one, and the infrastructure is a little more basic than some of the others in the Diageo group. It does make lovely stuff, though, which is the main thing!

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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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