Happy Friday everybody! It’s nearly the weekend and if you need a five-minute distraction from work, or simply have whisky on your mind (I won’t tell) have I got a post for you. On Monday, Fraser and I took a tour of the Glenfiddich distillery; it’s a few miles up the road from his hometown and we figured what better way to spend the bank holiday? Most people are surprised to learn I like whisky—after realising I won’t shy away from the strongest of spirits, Fraser’s dad has even taken to offering me a dram almost every time we visit! It is an acquired taste but if you give a good bottle a chance and are willing to experiment with different years and water/whisky ratios, I can almost guarantee you’ll find one you like. I have two “favourites,” though I’m fond of them for different reasons. Both happen to be scotches (by pure coincidence), something I have a feeling my grandfather would be proud of!
The Macallan 12 year holds a special place in my heart as that’s what my dad drinks; once or twice a year we’ll sit down and have a glass, always accompanied by thought-provoking chats. If I’m not sipping Macallan, the Glendronach Allardice 18 year is my scotch of choice. Matured entirely in oloroso sherry casks, this whisky has lovely fruity notes and its age has allowed it to take on a creamier texture, rather than that astringent burning you can get with younger whiskies. However, neither of these whiskies were on the table Monday—instead, I had the chance to tour Glenfiddich’s beautiful distillery and sample four of their best-known spirits!
“Glenfiddich,” Gaelic for “valley of the deer,” certainly lives up to its name. The distillery is nestled between the glens (or, if you’d prefer, hills that are too big to be hills and too small to be mountains…but that’s quite the mouthful, don’t you think?) of Dufftown and the surrounding area. Balvenie Castle peeks out from behind trees just south of the distillery, while a creek winds lazily through the grounds. We were lucky with the weather, though even gunmetal-grey clouds would have no impact on the beauty of Glenfiddich’s grounds. After wandering the property to get a few photos we made our way to the tour entrance and paid £10 for the ninety-minute “explorer’s tour.” There are a few different tour options; we opted for the least expensive and time consuming as we were headed back to Aberdeen that night, but the most extensive tour lasts 4 hours and will run you £95.
The tour kicks off with a video outlining Glenfiddich’s past. The dream of one William Grant, Glenfiddich came about when he, with the help of his nine children (and a stonemason) built the distillery by hand in 1866. The numbers alone are staggering: according to Glenfiddich, between Grant, his seven sons, and the stonemason, over 750,000 stones were pulled from the River Fiddich and laid by hand…all in 371 days. By Christmas day the following year the first drop of whisky fell from the stills and the rest is, as they say, history. Following the video was the tour of the facilities and our guide, Logan, was great. Throughout the tour we visited different rooms and he talked us through what each piece of equipment was doing; Glenfiddich is a working distillery, which means every room you visit is actually in-use. It’s a pretty interesting perspective, especially considering the detail that’s gone into each step of the process, even today. Consider the whisky stills, lining either side of a walkway you’re guided through. They seem exceptionally small given the amount of whisky Glenfiddich sells each year—and by industry standards, they are. Only standing around 11 feet tall, Glenfiddich’s stills are tiny by comparison to other distilleries’…but why? Many factors can impact a whisky’s taste, from the water and grains sources, to how the barley is malted, even—you got it—the size and shape of the pot still. To keep their whisky as close to the original taste, Glenfiddich uses stills the same exact measurements and shapes as those used when William Grant was around. They also use the same source of water, the Robbie Dhu, for every step of the whisky-making process, and even bought 1200 acres of land around the river in the 1950s to preserve the water’s integrity. Pretty amazing commitment if you ask me.
One of the highlights of the trip was seeing some of the warehouses, where decades of whisky were maturing. For safety reasons you’re unable to see the cooperage—yes, they actually have one on-site—but walking among barrels from the centennial celebration and spotting my birthday year on casks more than made up for it! You can see their Solera Vat, too…I wouldn’t do justice to explaining it, but they’ve got some good tidbits on their site. Of course, a whisky tour wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the finished products, so we made our way to the bar for a tasting of Glenfiddich’s four most accessible whiskies.
The 12-year, 15-year, 18-year, and Rich Oak bottles were on the menu and they certainly did not disappoint. All four had the notably fruity and rich tastes I love in a whisky. The 12-year by itself was a bit too harsh for me; it had lovely tasting notes but burned on the way down. Thankfully, adding just a drop or two of water to my glass soothed this aftereffect and I found it much more pleasant! The 18-year was also nice, though admittedly by the time we tasted that one my tongue was numbed and my stomach rumbling. I’d like to try it again sometime before trying any other whiskies so I can fully appreciate the flavours. The 14-year and Rich Oak whiskies were the winners for me; both complex enough to satisfy even the most analytical of whisky drinkers, yet easily enjoyed without overthinking their palettes. I’m seriously considering investing in one of them as a celebratory bottle once I graduate and find a full-time job!
All in all, the Glenfiddich distillery was a fantastic miniature trip and great way to see how Scotland’s favourite drink is made. A lively tour guide, the best partner-in-crime, and a stunning spring day made my visit phenomenal. Touring Glenfiddich, either on its own or as part of a bigger malt whisky trail tour, is an absolute must for anyone who enjoys whisky or simply wants to experience some Scottish culture outside the city! Take a friend or two, pick a designated driver or line up a taxi, and spend a few great hours in Dufftown. You won’t regret it! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be picking out my dram for tonight…any suggestions?