Leaving Pitlochry behind, we continue onwards towards Braemar. This takes us through Highland Perthshire and Aberdeenshire with some amazing landscapes. This is Scotland at its best - distillery tours, glorious scenery and April sunshine. A stunning clash of ancient environment and and an auld culture, though both have been scarred. The Braemar region is where the last speakers of Aberdeenshire Gaelic were recorded in the 1980s and the indigenous tongue has left her footprints everywhere here.
Today though, this republican Gael and East German child of the DDR are heading to Royal Lochnagar, one of crown jewels of the Kingdom of Diageo. This is a small distillery and neither of us have visited it before nor tasted the malt. Iain Banks praises the place in his book Raw Spirit and sure enough, it's a cute and almost perfect distillery. You could imagine a Saxe-Coburg wife or Phil the Greek using the place as their local when on holiday.
We expect another well manicured and impeccably safe Diageo clone-distillery. Expectations sink further when we are greeted by a rather stiff lady with a royal accent and grey Thatcher style bouffant helmet. We guess that for women of a certain age in Royal Deeside, this is the height of cool. We don't flee but persist in our quest. The tour however is pretty good and we get an informative look at almost all aspects of production, including an aerial view into their open mash tun.
In Dutyfree Warehouse 1, there is a selection of casks from each of the Diageo family of distilleries. Our mouths water as we eye a cask of Lagavulin. Unfortunately, we are not invited to 'get intae them' but are allowed a sniff of Lochnagar from the cask. Apparently, there is a large group of Diageo employees visiting Lochnagar on the malt advocate course and the casks are there to further their tutelage in the art of tasting and blending. Its strictly off-bounds to even the local employees, nevermind eager visitors.
The free dram of Royal Lochnagar 10yo at the end is a good one. We get the opportunity to compare it to some spirit and are talked through the flavours. We are told that there is no cask strength available to buy and very little ever makes it to independent bottlers. However, we spy a self-bottled RL at 46% in the nearby George Strachan grocery in Braemar. On return to Auld Reekie, we are delighted to discover that the proles in Cadenheads had liberated a cask and were selling of bottles of the RL single-cask 12yo at 58% for a very reasonable price to any horny-handed son of toil who wished one. Excellent stuff.
We retire to our hostel, dreaming of a whisky republic.