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Inver House at the Quaich Society (3)

Inver House's third line up for the Quaich Society.

Bingo is not a terribly popular pursuit amongst members of the Quaich Society, but its President isn’t above using an analogy derived from that pastime. Therefore, when Lucas Dynowiak returned to St Andrews in November armed with a trio of Speyburns he made it a full house of Inver House’s single malt brands at the Society. I say ‘brands’: we haven’t seen any Balmenach thus far, but it is still doing much of the grunt work for the Hankey Bannister blends, in addition to manufacturing the exceedingly tasty Caorunn gin. However, Speyburn assumed its moment in the spotlight, succeeding from anCnoc, Balblair and Old Pulteney which had all received a favourable audience on the Fife coast.

Before we arrived at the make from what Michael Jackson believed to be Scotland’s most picturesque distillery, Lucas wanted to institute a little continuity from his previous tasting in May. It was to a couple of anCnoc expressions that we immediately turned our taste buds. Lucas is very much on the Quaich Society wavelength in his presentation style: urging us to explore the liquid first, he provides a judicious quantity of whisky geekery in the way of captions as we go.

Lucas keeps us amused.

The first pour was a ‘picnic dram’, in his words, although the label said ‘Peter Arkle No. 3′. As the name suggests, this is the third anCnoc expression released in conjunction with Scottish artist, Peter Arkle’s work. This one was exclusive to travel retail (how Lucas got these two 1l bottles past customs, I’ll never know) and unlike editions 1 and 2, hailed from Bourbon casks exclusively.

Filling in the gap between this and Peter Arkle No. 1 which we had sampled in May was Peter Arkle No. 2. A milder-mannered beast in Lucas’s opinion, many people appreciated its exuberant sweetness and heavy orange flavours. My subsequent review was a little more severe.

Fairly racing along in the procedings, Speyburn stepped up to address our gathering of whisky fans following the brace of anCnocs. If Lucas had his way, it would also be Speyside malt whisky’s ambassador to best convey that region’s style to a visiting alien. While I entertained the notion of an extra-terrestrial sporting Charles MacLean’s moustache, Lucas explained that the whisky hailed from the heart of Speyside, had been constructed in 1897 at the peak of distillery construction in the area, and produced a typically fruity, fresh spirit.

The proof was in the whisky, where no ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’ Babel fish were needed to understand the sweetness of the spirit. The first expression was the Bradan Orach, meaning golden salmon in Gaelic. The fifth best-selling single malt in the States, Lucas joked that it was more commonly enjoyed from hipflasks rather than Glencairns, as it was unashamedly a dram for the outdoorsman. Matured in Sherry casks, the Bradan Orach was meaty at first on the nose, with a growing sweetness suggesting lemon and caramel. The palate was reminiscent of boiled sweets and baked apple, while the finish was exceptionally quick. Overall, a charming little performer.

The same couldn’t be said of the 10yo, which came across as distinctly world-weary; a salmon after the ferocious fight upstream to spawn, if you will. Boasting a sharp citrussy nose, it was very restrained and carried a fragrance of ‘bathroom’. The palate revealed a clean and clinging spirit with a touch of green fruit to commend it.

A glowing anecdote arrived to lift our spirits from the dismal 10yo, and most fitting for the year, it was too. Speyburn, when first constructed, wished to produce a whisky in Queen Victoria’s diamond Jubilee year of 1897. Overbudget and dangerously close to the deadline (not unlike we students on occasion), on Old Year’s Night and without any doors or windows in the distillery, spirit flowed from the copper pots into a single Sherry butt. No-one knows what became of the cask. I suggested the barrier-less facade of the distillery may have been to blame. Still, it just goes to show that – even then – whisky makers had an eye for a marketing opportunity.

Our final whisky was the relaunched 25yo. We had been lucky enough to sample the last of the award-winning 25yo earlier in the year and I was curious as to how this one would compare. The nose initially presented treated wood and forests in summer heat. Creamy orange and banana gave way to Vicks chest rub, a slight farminess and a balsamic vinegar acidity. Orange returned on the palate (no doubt a result of the Pedro Ximenez Sherry butts used in maturation) along with vanilla, grassiness and a puckering sweetness. There was mild disappointment voiced around my table, however, that it failed to reveal deeper treasures.

On behalf of all who braved a chilly night, I thank Lucas for plundering the Inver House inventory once again to put on a most comprehensive evening of whisky. My favourite encounter of the night was the anCnoc retrospective, and especially Peter Arkle No. 3. Super sweet, clean and bright, it had taken on the most flattering Bourbon cask attributes.

A few weeks ago, I learnt of another addition to the anCnoc range. Weighing in at 22-years-of-age, I must confess that this whisky quickens my pulse. I’m blessed with rapturous memories of Inver House and master blender Stuart Harvey’s skill at managing old stocks of whiskies and for evidence I give to you the Old Pulteney 21yo, the Balblair 1989 and 1978, and the anCnoc 35yo (terrific!). This mix of Bourbon and Sherry casks, bottled at 46% abv., has some fine stablemates for company, therefore. The press release claims that it ‘displays complexity and the wealth of character expected of all single malt whisky from Knockdhu, but the leathery, smokey and smoothly tannic manifestation of maturity makes anCnoc 22-Year-Old different from the Distillery’s younger offerings.’ Priced at £85, it isn’t half bad for a whisky of this age profile and I may need to come by a bottle before it – and I - turn 23.

 

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Dufftown to Nairn

Dufftown to Rothes, Via Elgin: 45 miles

Having had my faith in humanity, and myself, reaffirmed by my weekend in Dufftown, I was ready to move on again. The weather could not have been better. Distinctly breezy, but bright and warm.

Oh man: too romantic for words: Highland peat smoke on the fresh, spring Speyside breeze. Said breeze wasn't quite coming from the right direction so I couldn't get a nostril full.

Oh man: too romantic for words: Highland peat smoke on the fresh, spring Speyside breeze. Said breeze wasn't quite coming from the right direction so I couldn't get a nostril full.

On the road out towards Craigellachie, I spotted what I had missed on the way in to Dufftown on the Thursday and consequently since in my walks around the town: the sign to Balvenie. I thought I’d better take a look, and at least cycle round the place if I couldn’t tour. It is quite a site, I must say, and bouncing along the road between Glenfiddich and Balvenie revealed some warehouse damage to the former which was being repaired with many vehicles and red plastic fencing. They were kilning the malt at the time as I returned to the main road. This made me rather more excited than really it ought to but it was stupendous to see those wraiths of peat smoke waft out of the pagoda roof to be snatched and stolen away by the Speyside wind.

Past the cooperage and Craigellachie distillery, over the Spey and then up the hill back past Macallan. The wind would be in my face for the next 7 miles or so but the scenery was so damn gorgeous I really didn’t care. I was relieved, though, when two pagoda rooves lifted their chins above the outline of a ploughed field. See my review of the Cardhu tour below – and my rave about their Highland cattle!

I had the benefit of the wind’s assistance on the reverse leg to Rothes and this ensured it was only a little after 2PM when I made it to my hotel. I phoned up Moray Cycles in Elgin to announce that I would be seeing them that very afternoon and headed off again.

I had by now grown used to the insane levels of traffic on these Speyside roads but that didn’t make it any more pleasant. That said, pagoda rooves appeared everywhere and at one stage, just before a quick descent towards Elgin, I fancied I spotted the outline of the Moray Firth and the Highlands bordering the sea.

The man in the bike shop put my mind at ease. The noise I had been hearing from the front wheel was merely a combination of a slight buckling which wasn’t at all serious and spokes rubbing against each other. It was worth the 18-mile detour for peace of mind.

I said I was going to "cycle around" the distilleries and that was literally what I did with Benriach and Longmorn.

I said I was going to "cycle around" the distilleries and that was literally what I did with Benriach and Longmorn.

On the return journey, with the sun so omnipresent, I stopped off at Benriach - it being practically on the road, and took my mission statement very literally: I cycled round the distillery. It had an inviting feel about it, too, and I would like to arrange a tour. I did the same with Longmorn – visible just a little way further into the glen. It was a privilege – a secret indulgence – to pedal round when no-one else was there.

I returned to my hotel, showered, did a mass of laundry and enjoyed a meal that owed more to chance and improvisation than management. Good fun, though, and my tour was once embued with momentum.

***

Rothes to Forres: 28 miles

Rain. Lots of rain. It isn’t how I prefer to be woken up, and everywhere looks a bit oppressed when it has that watery sheen to it. I had less than a mile to cover to Glen Grant, however, and it ceased on the way.

The route to Glen Moray involved retracing my tyre tracks from the day before. The sun even appeared. Swishing past my privately toured distilleries of yesterday, I made good time into Elgin where I was rewarded by the equally magnificent aroma of cooking shortbread from the Walkers factory. I just caught the 12.30 tour.

A hot chocolate and much food later, I went in search of Forres. I was not going to use the A96, however, and had planned a route of quiet B roads. Miltonduff and Pluscarden Abbey slipped by and I was thoroughly enjoying the warmth and glorious cherry trees. It couldn’t last, though.

The rain made an encore appearance and I had to adopt rain gear. The temperature meant I could do without overshoes and hood but I just got wetter as I passed through Forres – my B&B lying on the northern outskirts. I arrived to find no-one at home. I was quite chilly by this time, pondering how I was supposed to find my dinner and stay reasonably dry. My landlady returned from her walk and everything was accommodated for: a shed for the bike, rags to clean it, a washing machine for my filthy things and an exceedingly comfortable room.

If you like to put away 3000 calories over the course of your evening meal, go to Chapter One in Forres. My burger with all its trimmings was enormous. I left not a speck on the plate, however; much to the amazement of the couple dining next to me. I should have left it there, but the dessert menu looked too good. I ordered the meringue nest, thinking it would be maybe the size of an orange. It wasn’t. It was the size of a rustic country bread loaf. It beat me, it humiliated me. I could only eat a third of it, and regretted forcing in that much. As I waited for the bill, passing in and out of consciousness, a wondered how anyone could manage two courses, if even a touring cyclist couldn’t manage them. Great grub, though.

***

Forres to Nairn: 26 miles

I spun this day out a little. The initial distance suggested less than 20 miles and that would leave me with far too much time on my hands. I wanted to see the sea, in any case, and headed to Findhorn Bay. It is a profoundly beautiful place, and the whole of the landscapes over the last few days had begun to acquire more rugged, wild demeanours. This was no exception. I think I could retire to Findhorn Bay, with Forres nearby for my bowls and Tesco.

My landscapes were all beginning to look rather wild and bleak, and they would only get bleaker. In a good way, you understand.

My landscapes were all beginning to look rather wild and bleak, and they would only get bleaker. In a good way, you understand.

Benromach is a very stylish little distillery and offers one of the best smells from the outside. See my review below.

After I bought my lunch from the above supermarket giant, I had little to do but make my way to Nairn in my own time. I ate the purchased sandwiches on the cycle path beside the Findhorn river.

Nairn arrived a little slower than planned, but I was glad when it did. I had been climbing along single track roads for quite some distance, duking it out with motorists and insects, when the hedges of gorse fell away on my right and there was the Moray Firth. A more dramatic stretch of coastline I had hitherto not encountered. It was jaw-dropping.

I bought a book, an apple turnover and a cup of tea in Nairn, then watched some more snooker. Unlucky, Steve Davis.

Before the football came on I made my way to the beach as the clouds and the setting sun exercised their artistic characters over the sea and the coast which I followed to the horizon with my eyes, knowing that Orkney was at the end of it. Internazionale v. Barcelona evolved into a bit of a damp squib in the first half so I watched Monty Halls in the Uists and went to bed. The Highlands proper demanded my full attention.

Moray Firth at Nairn

 

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Glen Grant

Glen Grant is a true mish-mash of architecture and miscellaneous objects. The still you can see is 'Wee Geordie' from the 1920 plant. Major Grant named it after one of the men who stoked the fires beneath the still, claiming he would have drunk the entire contents of it because it made the sweetest spirit.

Glen Grant is a true mish-mash of architecture and miscellaneous objects. The still you can see is 'Wee Geordie' from the 1920 plant. Major Grant named it after one of the men who stoked the fires beneath the still, claiming he would have drunk the entire contents of it because it made the sweetest spirit.

Elgin Road, Rothes, Banffshire, AB38 7BS, 01340 832118. Campari. www.glengrant.com

THE APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ****      They have their own gardens, and the distillery itself blends the traditional with the modern and eclectic.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £3.50. See ‘My Tour’ below.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      Two single cask, cask strength releases: 15yo (59.9% ABV) in a 50cl bottle, £65 and a 17yo, £60. There is also the highly sought-after and collectible 170th Anniversary bottling for £150.

My Tour – 27/04/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

GENEROSITY:      ** (2 drams: the no-age-statement Glen Grant and the 10YO.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      **

SCORE:      8/10 *s

The very very smart - gleaming, even - Glen Grant visitor's centre.

The very very smart - gleaming, even - Glen Grant visitor's centre.

COMMENT:      It was an unusual entrance to the distillery: through a wooded glade out of the car park. The VC is very modern and plush with lots of light from the glass roof in the reception area. Most distillery shops are quite dark places! The tour is excellent and incredibly thorough. The exhibition detailing the history of the Grants (not to be confused with William Grant & Sons, Glenfarclas or indeed any other whisky-associated Grant dynasty) is modern in layout and everything has the feel that a lot of care has gone into it. This is another particularly pleasant distillery on the nose. The stills weren’t in operation at the time which made the stillroom a quieter and cooler place but the smell of new make was very strong, nevertheless. We had a peek in to the filling store and casks were being filled at the time. At the warehouse I learnt that it isn’t a case of a handful of casks going in and out of a warehouse on a daily basis. A big batch will go in and then, at a later date, whole floors will be cleared and tankered off elsewhere. For the tasting we got the entry-level Glen Grant (and we could pour as much of it down our throats as we wanted: they simply left us with the bottle.) This is perhaps because it is very cheap on the shelves and rather bland on the palate. The 10YO was streets ahead. As I said above, there is a walk around the restored gardens. I had to get to Glen Moray so didn’t explore but the whole atmosphere of the place suggests a quiet, tranquil experience. Very acessible, very reasonably priced, and very different. Recommended.

Glen Grant Grounds

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