April was a busy month for trips to Scotland and for our first visit we went to Mull. Now let me get this the right way round (or I’m dead), firstly to get married and then secondly to visit Tobermory Distillery. In fact we did the second part first, having a personalised tour for Fran, I and our guests. We both thought it one of the friendliest tours we’d ever been on, and when we revisited the distillery after the ‘Big Day’ for some purchases we took the opportunity to have a chat with Graham (the distillery manager) to see if one of Burn Stewart Distillers ambassadors might make the trek down to Wiltshire and give us a tasting of both Tobermory and Bunnahabhain – watch this space!
My second trip north started at 4am on a Tuesday a little later in the month, catching an early flight from Birmingham to Aberdeen courtesy of First Drinks (owners and distributors of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie malt whiskies). I, and several other retailers from round the country, were met at the airport by our host – business manager, and altogether great guy, Ian Murray. We were then bussed up to the Glenfiddich distillery at Dufftown, where we were royally entertained. A light lunch was followed by an in depth tour of the distillery and warehouses, with the guides answering our (sometimes) deep questions knowledgeably and without hesitation. I had a very dry cough for which I was kindly given a glass of water, and a glass is something that can come in quite handy when you are wandering through a warehouse full of whisky casks……. But I digress! Our afternoon finished with an impressive tasting of Glenfiddich by Ian Murray. Starting with new make spirit (a ‘future’ Genfiddich 7 year old), then moving through a 1996 12 year old, a 1993 15 year old, a 1990 18 year old, a 1987 21 year old, and finally a magnificent 1978 30 year old.
We stayed the night at the very recommendable Mansfield Hotel in Elgin and the following day we headed back to Dufftown. It being a cool and damp morning we played spot the distillery as we travelled along, their positions being given away by the rising steam – Longmorn, Benriach, Linkwood, Glenlossie et al.
The destination for the day was ‘The Balvenie’. In we drove, past Kininvie distillery, parking amongst what seemed like a mountain of barrels. The tour at Balvenie is far removed from the great commercial venture at Glenfiddich, here only small parties are admitted and the clock was turned back as we saw the working cooperage (shared with Glenfiddich and Kininvie), the maltings, the malt kiln, and so on through the process until eventually we arrived at Warehouse No 24 and were invited to fill a sample bottle using a ‘dog’. This is a copper tube with an old penny soldered on one end and a length of chain on the other, which fits not only very neatly through the bunghole of a cask but could also hang conveniently from the belt of a warehouseman so that it was hidden within his trousers – a relic that dates back to the days of dramming.
On our way back to the ‘Robbie Dhu Centre’ for a Balvenie tasting we were taken to see the modern Kininvie Distillery. I felt like I was looking at forbidden fruit, few people have seen this distillery except from afar. ‘The Balvenie’ was a modern distillery in it’s day but Kininvie is modern in the 21st century style. No fancy frills here, no catering for the tour trade, just a simple shed enclosing the stills. These I found fascinating, the larger wash stills were a simple ‘onion’ shape whilst the spirit stills were comparatively small with a prominent boil bulb. I felt very privileged to have been able to see the distillery.
The Balvenie tasting was conducted by ‘Rob’ aka Mr Balvenie (and the font of all Balvenie related knowledge). We started with the new 12 year old ‘Signature’, progressed on through the 15 (my favourite), the 21, then the 30 (amazing), and finally the delightful ‘Roasted Oak’ (sadly for Oddbins only).
We were quickly moved onto the bus to catch our flights home, and if my flight hadn’t been late I would surely have missed it! Still, that would have been a small price to pay for such a great visit.
I would like to thank Ian Murray (who really is the perfect host), First Drinks for ‘Rolling out the red carpet’, and their staff for such a memorable and educational trip. Also finally my fellow retailers for their excellent company and bonhomie, and for putting up with my irritating cough (though the glass of water came in useful!)
Try some of these great whiskies yourself. Of the Glenfiddich expressions I particularly recommend the 30 year old. Of the Balvenie expressions the 15 year old was my favourite. And if you want to get a hint of what Kininvie is like try the extremely popular (with good reason) Monkey Shoulder – a vatting of Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie.