Glen Moray celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, having been founded way back in 1897. The distillery had humble beginnings and had already endured over a decade of silence and inactivity when it was bought by Macdonald & Muir (effectively Glenmorangie) in 1920. Glenmorangie held the reins for the next 88 years, during which time the distillery became a workhorse for the many supermarket blends that Macdonald & Muir were behind. If you believe the folklore, Glen Moray was also the playground for Dr Bill Lumsden, who would conduct all manner of trials and maturation experiments on Glen Moray spirit before transferring his more successful undertakings across to Glenmorangie.
Yes, the obvious thing to do on Speyside is to visit distilleries and drink whisky. But there’s so much more on offer if you look beyond the distilleries…
Any punter who’s been to Speyside can tell you to visit Distillery X or to make sure you do the “Experts Tour” (or some similarly badged experience) at Distillery Y. The problem with such advice or recommendations is that most people giving you their tips can only draw from their experience of the five or six distilleries they’ve been to, or they simply tell you to go to their favourite distillery – which is a subjective opinion and experience at best.
There are 50 operating distilleries on Speyside at the moment, and Whisky & Wisdom has visited and toured all but one of them. (Ironically, the one Speyside distillery Whisky & Wisdom has yet to step inside of is the Speyside Distillery at Drumguish!!). Roseisle, Dalmunach, Mannochmore, Macduff, Strathmill, Ballindalloch, Glenburgie, Allt-a-bhaine, Braeval, Speyburn, Balmenach…..you name it, W&W has been there; met with the staff; and seen around it. Which means we can take a more objective view of what’s on offer and provide a balanced opinion of what appeals or what provides value to the visitor.
However, this piece is not titled “The Top Six distilleries to visit on Speyside” – we’ll save that article for another day. Rather, it’s the top six things to do. The distilleries that are open to the public generally have tours between the hours of 10.00am-4.00pm (in the summer months), and – as you’ll discover, if you haven’t already – trying to schedule your tours and dovetail your visits so that you can sequentially get to multiple distilleries in a day is not the easiest of tasks. This means you’ll have gaps in your day, or you’ll have time to do other things – particularly after the visitor centres close their doors. So here are a few other things to keep you amused:
Each year, thousands of whisky tourists make their way to Speyside to visit their own personal mecca. Each pilgrim no doubt has their own favourite and plans their itinerary around getting a glimpse into the factory that produces their most revered malt.
Of course, no one travels all the way to Speyside just to visit just one, single distillery and thus it’s not uncommon for we pilgrims to set up camp in one of the many hotels or B&B’s and use it as a base to explore multiple distilleries over several days.
Outside of the distilleries, however, your average whisky tourist quickly runs out of things to do in Speyside. The only other pursuits are the outdoors – golf, salmon fishing, and hiking. And it’s this last category that offers something pretty special to the whisky enthusiast.
Ben Rinnes is the highest mountain in the Speyside region. At 840m, it’s officially a “Corbett”, being 300 feet shy to qualify as a Munro. It towers above many of the distilleries, and the snow melt and water run-off from the hills goes a long way to supplying many of the surrounding distilleries in its foothills. Needless to say, the view from the summit is incredible, and distillery spotters can have fun trying to identify the many distilleries visible from the top. For the whisky enthusiast or jaded Speyside visitor looking for a new perspective, a hike to the top is a highly recommended and rewarding journey. So here’s the whisky lover’s guide to climbing Ben Rinnes…
If you’re an employer or in charge of Human Resources, you’ll be aware of the dynamic and shifting nature of your workforce in recent years. Being Generation X myself, it was drummed into me that you should show loyalty to your employer and stick around. We were constantly told by the Baby Boomer generation above us that “your CV will look more impressive and you’ll be rewarded if you’ve demonstrated that you stay at the one place for five to ten years.”
This is in stark contrast to the Gen Y and Millenial approach, where the thinking seems to be that a CV littered with multiple positions and experience gained across a many different roles and jobs is the more attractive pursuit.
So with that as context, what do we make of an employee who sticks with his boss for 54 years? What do we make of a role and a career that has outlasted many people’s lives, let alone most people’s professional undertakings? Such is the story and the appeal of Mr David Stewart.
In France, they timestamp their modern history into pre and post The Revolution. In countries like Germany & Japan, the split point is pre and post World War II. In the computing world, Apple will come to be referenced as pre and post Steve Jobs. And for fans for Macallan, life is pre and post 2004.
This is a topic close to home, and much has been written about this previously. For a more detailed rundown and perspective on Macallan and how its whiskies have changed since the mid-2000s, I encourage you to read this piece here.
But for now, suffice it to say that 2004 was the year Macallan made the momentous decision to introduce bourbon cask-matured spirit into their official bottlings. It started with the Elegancia release, followed by the launch of the Fine Oak range. By 2005, as a result of growing markets and increased demand (which had a flow-on effect to cask procurement, cask management, and the recipes/vattings for the various releases), many regular Macallan drinkers felt the brand’s whiskies changed in style, character, and quality – even the releases that remained purely sherry cask-matured. After decades of 100% exclusive sherry maturation releases and undisputed quality, suddenly, Macallan drinkers across the world fell into one of two camps: Those that liked Macallan, and those that liked what it used to be like.
But that was then. This is now. What about the new generation of Macallan drinkers being introduced to the brand today? Now that the dust has settled and the apocalyptic events of 2004/5 are a blissfully unknown chapter in an unknown whisky history book, how do today’s twenty-somethings approach a distillery they’ve heard so much about, when so many of the celebrated bottlings are either unavailable in our country, or priced at a point that is beyond what most can afford?
If there’s one thing you can say about the whisky scene right now, it’s never dull or boring. Each week there is a new release, or a new launch, or another event, or another tasting, or yet another whisky being sold for an outrageous price. So, regardless of where you fit into the whisky audience, there’s always something to keep an eye out for.
In the rapid-fire and seemingly peak randomness of the above happenings, it’s nice to know that we can at least look forward to some annual constants. Things like an annual whisky show. (Whisky Show, Whisky Fair, Whisky Live, etc). Things like a brand’s big annual celebration. (Ardbeg Day). And, for our tastebuds, things like an annual release – such as Glenmorangie’s annual release of their latest Private Edition offering.
Catchy article title, eh? Not sure my former editor would approve of it – it’s hardly a flowing headline. But there’s not really a more succinct way to say it. I’ll elaborate: In my opinion, I reckon whisky drinkers all go through three very distinct stages in their appreciation of Glenfiddich. And, depending on what stage you’re up to, this tremendously impacts your attitude to Glenfiddich. Curious? Let’s look into this…
Depending on how old you are and when you tried a single malt for the first time, there’s a good chance that your maiden dram was a Glenfiddich. The familiar green, triangular bottle was synonymous with single malt whisky through the 1970’s and 1980’s, before other brands finally found their way onto the shelves of our bottleshops. Certainly, when you speak to most whisky drinkers in their late 40’s and older, Glenfiddich was the whisky they lost their malt virginity to. Even if you took up malt whisky more recently, a dram of Glenfiddich was still a textbook malt to turn to as you made the transition out of blends or simply dived head first into the category via a single malt.
Malt whisky drinkers around the world tend to fall into one of two camps: Those that like Macallan and those that remember what it used to be like.
Now before you leap to conclusions and dismiss this piece as a Macallan-bashing article, I can give you my golden promise that it’s not. Stay with me…
Well, I’ll come out and say it up front: I’ve not previously been a fan of Indian single malt whisky, having tried numerous expressions of Amrut over the years. Early experiences (2009) were very forgettable; several return visits between 2011 and 2013 left me wanting, and even when I tried some of the more recent releases of Amrut at The Whisky Show earlier this year, I struggled to get enthused. But you cannot dismiss an entire country’s single malt production on the basis of one distillery.
So when the good folks at Paul John got in touch with me from India after their recent Australian visit and offered to send me their core range for critical analysis and review, I was happy to have my Indian experiences challenged and changed. And if you want to read the Executive Summary, here you go: This is good whisky!
Like so many other aspects of the whiskysphere in recent years, there are entities or processes that have been around for a long time, but simply weren’t well known. The internet, combined with a booming market, have resulted in many industry secrets or hidden jewels coming to light. Distilleries are one such example – if there wasn’t a commercial release available (or widely distributed) on the market, consumers simply didn’t know it existed. Ailsa Bay, Inchgower, Allt-a-bhaine, etc, are all examples of distilleries that most whisky drinkers simply haven’t heard of, despite the fact they’ve been around for many years. Kininvie is another example, although that’s now all changing, courtesy of its whiskies suddenly being thrust into the limelight.