The journey continues and as we get further into Aberdeenshire, the landscape flattens out. Its kind of pleasant but not exactly dramatic. To call it 'Highland' is akin to comparing Glenkinchie in East Lothian to Sgurr nan Gillean. Nevertheless, Ardmore, Glen Garioch and Glendronach are all Highland malts and they are somewhere to be found in the maze of roads on our map - a spaghetti junction compared to the simplicity of the Braemar highways and byways.
We eventually find Ardmore in the sleepy, and probably 'close-knit' village of Kennethmont. The distillery is certainly tightly knit as far as visitors are concerned. Not a soul is to be seen and phone calls and emails from my business-frau partner went unanswered. You can certainly smell the activity on the breeze though and we counted at least 22 maturation sheds on one side of the road. Shame it is closed to whisky tourists as we would've liked a deek at the source of this interesting dram. One of the best drams I've had was a heavily peated Ardmore at the SMWS which went under the title of 'I can't believe its not Islay'. We later learn that a visitor centre is currently being constructed at Ardmore.
We then have to ask directions to Glen Garioch at a friendly bakers in Insch. Aberdeenshire is the source of the oldest written Scots Gaelic but today the lingo of the proles and peasantry is Doric or at least heavily accented Scots English. Whatever, its a pleasure to hear. For some reason though, Garioch is pronounce 'geerie'.
We find Glen Garioch tucked behind rows of houses and narrow streets in the town of Old Meldrum. Indeed, 'Distillery Road' passes through the complex. Garioch is owned by the same people who run Bowmore and Auchentoshan. Whoever they are, the people we meet here are warm and friendly. They're also whisky enthusiasts and not just tolerant sales people/ tourist guides. We don't get to see the warehouses unfortunately and anyway, like many distilleries, most of the product is shipped off elsewhere to mature. We do get to taste the Garioch 12yo and Reserve. Unfortunately, there's a heavy oak undercurrent in both expressions which puts me off the dram a little. On the plus side, they're both bottled at 48% and are unchillfiltered. I'd love to try one straight from the cask. A great welcome was had here and i hope Garioch goes from strength to strength.
It's not far to Glen Dronach. The distillery has a kind of 60s factory appearance, a bit like Caol Ila. They're expecting us and we're quickly ushered onto a tour that's already underway. The guide is a local lass - mare Doric tongue - with an obvious love for whisky and good sense of humour. The tour is detailed and informative though the only glimpse of any casks is through a Diageo-style window in the shop/ dramming room. Another two locals are on the tour and the craic is great though getting 3 or 4 drams to sample certainly helps to break the ice. Again, this East Highland oakiness is present in GD though i certainly like the Grand Cru expression which was released especially for the Danish market.
Of particular interest to my partner in dramming is the chance for visiting whisky tourists to go on the 'connoisseurs' tour. This involves been taken around by the ex-distillery manager of 40 years experience and getting 6 drams, some drawn straight from the cask. Looks like a return is on the cards. GD is owned by BenRiach and several of the BR range are on offer here too.
We aim to hit Cragganmore on the way to our next bed in Nethy Bridge but we are disappointed to find that this Diageo distillery shuts its door at 4. Never mind, we stand around gawking at the collapsed warehouse/ shed which seems to have flattened one car and damaged a forklift too. Meanwhile, I'm still breathing Glen Dronach.
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