Michael Jackson once compared a particular single malt to a car (e.g. “the Rolls-Royce of whisky”). Others have since compared certain single malts to particular Grand Cru wines. More recently, people have started writing tasting notes for whiskies and suggested various songs or bands to match and pair with the whisky. So, whisky and music is now a thing, right? Okay then, let’s take it one step further…
No one likes to admit it, but there was once a time when heavy metal was actually commercially successful, and major record labels were falling over themselves trying to sign up hard rock acts. The genre is lampooned today, and often labelled dismissively as hair metal. But, like me, you might be from that era when heavy metal was actually on top of all the charts and hair metal bands ruled the airwaves. But has anyone ever compared single malt to heavy metal artists? Perhaps now is the time. Get out the hair gel, put on your spandex, and take yourself back to the 1980’s. Here are my comparisons…
For most whisky drinkers – dare I say, enthusiasts – distilleries fall into one of three categories: There is the “well known” category, where names like Glenmorangie, Lagavulin, Macallan, Glenfarclas, Talisker, etc all reside. Their whiskies are widely available; the brands are well known; they have visitor centres; and chances are, you may already have set foot in their stillhouse.
At the other end of the scale, you have the “unknown” category. These are the distilleries that don’t have any official releases; the ones that don’t have visitor centres and are closed to the public. Their spirit goes straight into the blends and you’ll struggle to find any detailed information about them. Most readers may not even have heard of them! I refer to the likes of Allt-a’Bhainne, Miltonduff, Inchgower, and so on.
The third category is the more interesting one, and I’ll tag it with the label “enigmatic”. And surely, there is no more enigmatic distillery than Springbank. Independent, family owned, a Campbeltown distillery no less, its whiskies are hard to come by; the releases are few and far between; and yet – and it’s a big yet – hardcore whisky lovers adore it. Fans speak of Springbank with a reverence and dedication reserved for very few distilleries, and for those who’ve not discovered the distillery or been enchanted by its spirit, it’s all a bit of a mystery.
Everyone has a bucket list, and I daresay most whisky drinkers would probably list visiting their favourite distillery as a “must do” at some stage in their life. But if you’re really serious about your whiskies and you could actually get yourself to six distilleries before qualifying for your entitlement of the angels’ share, what are the Top Six to visit? In no particular order…
Is it because it was the first distillery to actively and commercially market its own single malt? Is it because it’s the largest selling single malt in the world? Is it because it’s one of the largest distilleries in Scotland? Is it because it’s still independent and family-owned? Yes, it’s all of those things, but there’s one other key reason to visit here: It’s actually a really good distillery to see and experience!
There are a range of tours on offer at the Visitor Centre, from the free Classic Tour (which, amazingly, still includes a dram of the 12, 15, and 18yo expressions), to the incredibly comprehensive Pioneer’s Tour (£75) that includes some very special tastings and warehouse visits along the way, plus you can draw and bottle your own 200ml sample from a selection of four different casks. The guides are professional, knowledgeable, and entertaining, and – despite the fact that this is a major tourist attraction – you do see and experience the real deal.
From a technical point of view, despite being one of the largest distilleries and brands, production is still very traditional – including direct fired stills and stillmen who take the middle cut when the strength and purity is right, rather than when the computer goes “bing”. All in all, it’s the perfect glimpse into the malt whisky industry.
It still claims to be “the smallest distillery in Scotland”, which actually stopped being true quite a few years ago now, but Edradour can certainly lay claim to being one of the prettiest. Yes, it is small, and its production is quaint…..right down to the draff being hand-shovelled out of the mashtun and onto an old timber cart. But the valley, the stream, and the buildings are stunning, and the whole of production takes place in a building that’s smaller than most family homes.