Glen Moray & Mastery

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.

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The Top Six things to do on Speyside

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:

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Ardnamurchan – The western jewel of Scotland

(Or everything you wanted to know about Ardnamurchan but were afraid to ask!)

In this digital age of whisky websites and social media activity, there are very few secrets left in the whisky industry.  Once upon a time, a new distillery would suddenly appear and no one knew much about it except for what might have been published in a subsequent book.  Today, by the time a new distillery’s first release is bottled, it seems we’ve all followed the journey of the distillery breaking ground; building the stillhouse; installing the stills; starting production; and filling the casks.  We’ve done the virtual tour of the distillery before the Visitor Centre has even opened its doors!

One of the primary reasons for this is simply because most of us will never get to make the journey to the distillery, and thus we live and drink vicariously through what we read and view online.   Consider, also, that not all distilleries are blessed by geography:  Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie, for example, are an easy bus ride from the big city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively, but things are trickier for the more remote distilleries that sit well off the tourist trail or are located on the fringes of Scotland’s reaches.

Ardnamurchan is one such distillery.  If you’re looking to start up a new distillery, your choice of location is fairly critical.  In addition to the most obvious requirement (i.e. a good water source), other considerations will be existing infrastructure, convenient access, shared resources, a ready-made tourist trail for visitors, and ease of transport for both the delivery of materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks.  So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery venture – why would you choose to locate your distillery in one of the most far flung, remote, and inaccessible parts of Scotland?  In the case of Ardnamurchan, the answer is pretty simple:  Because they can.

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Ardbeg Untamed and Ardbeg Kelpie

With multi-tasking all the rage these days, this piece combines two distinct happenings involving Ardbeg.  The second of these relates to Kelpie, this year’s new release to coincide with Ardbeg Day.  But before we try and conquer that wee beastie, have you heard of Ardbeg Untamed?

The last three decades have seen the distilleries and the whisky brands take ever increasing and impressive steps to bring us into their sanctums.   Once upon a time, importers and distributors simply held a tasting event and poured out their whiskies for the punters to taste.  Then came the brand ambassadors, who did more-or-less the same thing, except with the assistance of slide shows, which then morphed into the “multi-media presentations”.  With the advent of live webcams, distilleries took us into their production areas and you could get a sneak peek into the workings of a distillery without having to leave your own home.

So, short of hopping on a plane and making your way directly to Scotland, what was the next step and development for distilleries to bring us ever closer to their heart?  The answer is Virtual Reality.  Ardbeg Untamed is one such undertaking.  Courtesy of VR, Ardbeg has launched a series of visual experiences that take you across the water to Ardbeg and through the distillery.  As the fly-through whizzes through the warehouse, you’ll see and hear Mickey Heads, distillery manager, talking to the lads as they go about their daily routine.

Given that so much about a distillery is now available online in the form of pictures and virtual tours that you can enjoy whilst sitting at your desktop, the VR experience is pretty special and certainly adds both a layer of realism and a tangible feeling of being within the space.  Surely this is as close as you can get to Islay without actually being there.

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Hyde Single Grain Whiskey – The Aras Cask releases

Every whisky drinker has his or her favourite category or variety of whisk(e)y.   Once upon time, many were firmly camped in one category and rarely ventured outside it.   You might have been a Scotch person who never touched Bourbon.   Or a fan of the Irish stuff who found the malts of Scotland a bit too robust.   However, with the explosion of whisky bars around the country and diverse ranges of spirits more readily and affordably available to try by the dram, people can now explore categories of whisk(e)y outside their comfort zone without too much grief.   It’s one of the reasons that people are expanding their horizons and – whilst we all still have our favourite – at least we’re embracing other categories.

For obvious reasons, it’s about this time every year that people suddenly decide to check out Irish whiskey.   St Patrick’s Day means different things to different people, but – if nothing else – for whisky drinkers, it’s a good excuse to insert an ‘e’ into the word and try a drop of the pure.

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Ardbeg Dark Cove & Ardbeg Day 2016

Ardbeg Day is just around the corner again, which means it’s time to shake off the Autumn blues (or dust off your Spring hat if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and gear up for all the fun and excitement of Ardbeggian delights.

I’ve written much about Ardbeg’s history, the Ardbeg Committee and Ardbeg Day in the past.  So rather than fill up space by repeating it all on this page, you can re-visit those pieces here (Ardbeg Day 2015 report), here (Perpetuum review) and here (Ardbeg Day 2014 & Auriverdes review) if you need to fill in any blanks.   For the purposes of a concise read, let’s cut straight to the chase and get stuck into Ardbeg Day and the annual release for 2016.  If you’re here just to read the review on the Dark Cove release, scroll further down.

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The highs and lows of Macallan

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…

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Whisky & Wisdom’s “Whisky Quiz”

The mere fact you subscribe to or read a whisky blog means you either know a bit about whisky, or you want to know more!   So how good is your whisky wisdom?

Here’s a fun little quiz that will test the whisky facts and trivia you’ve picked up over your malt journey.  There are 25 questions that will sort out the newbies from the experts.  Yes, you could consult Google and find the answer to each question, but that would be cheating, right?  So, be honest with yourself and others, and see how many questions you can answer correctly off the top of your head.

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Armorik single malt – the whisky of Brittany

With interest in “new world” whiskies exploding everywhere, not to mention a burgeoning craft whisky scene in almost every country around the world, it’s easy to look at a brand you’ve not heard of before and think “Okay, that’s new”. You might also be forgiven for assuming the whisky is young.

This is the challenge for some of the non-Scottish whisky producers that have actually been around the traps for a while and are trying to cement a foothold in the international scene. Such is the challenge for Armorik – the first Breton single malt whisky.

Armorik single malt whisky is distilled at Distillerie Warenghem, an independent, family-owned distillery that was established in 1900.   After 83 years of making all manner of liqueurs, the distillery turned its hand to whisky in 1983.  Whilst their first bottled release in 1987 was a blended whisky, Armorik Single Malt was launched back 1998.  So Armorik is hardly the new kid on the block, despite what many assume.

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Is whisky better or worse today than it was 20 years ago?

If you listen to enough punters who’ve been around a while, or read the writings of many in the whisky community (er…including here at Whisky & Wisdom), you might rapidly form the opinion that Scotch whisky being produced and released today is not as good as it used to be.

In short, plenty of people – myself often (but not always) included – assert that the whisky that was being produced and released 15 to 20 years ago was superior to what we are being served up today.  It’s a divisive topic, and one that is clouded by – all simultaneously at once – fact, hearsay, nostalgia, science, memory, rose-coloured tastebuds, marketing spin and experience.

Of course, there are plenty of exercises and tests one can apply to examine this theory.  For example, if you have the means, you can acquire a bottle of Glen McSporran 12yo from 2015 and a bottle of Glen McSporran 12yo from 1995 and taste the two side-by-side for direct comparison.    This has been done by plenty of people, including many respected whisky bloggers, and certainly by yours truly, but the conclusions vary and – ultimately – are subjective.  Everyone will happily conclude that the two releases are different, but personal taste and preference usually determine which one is deemed better.

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