Leaving Srath Spè and heading south we stop for a break at the Ralia cafe. It turns out to be a wee whisky haven with several shelves of miniatures. It has quite a serious selection - everything from the usual Laphroaig, Glenfiddich to lesser seen specimens like Benriach, including their peaty ones. I opt for a mini from the defunct Dumbarton distillery, Littlemill. It turns out to be a wee honeyed joy. I find out that it rarely garnered good reviews in its hey-day. Shame as i enjoyed it and while i wasn't overwhelmed, I'd still rather that Littlemill was still with us.
However, it's onto another Diageo giant. It's a part of the country i know reasonably well. Dalwhinnie used to be a major rest-stop for many travellers on the road north or as i did, on past Loch Lagan and Creag Meagaidh towards Skye . Hell, its bleak though and now even the hotel and cafe seem to have gone the same way as Littlemill.
As to the distillery, well, there's not much you can say. Nice setting, good enough whisky but it fits very snugly into Diageo's pristine new world. We get the standard tour with little to really stimulate our interest. Dalwhinnie apparently loses less to the angel's share due the high altitude and the sub-Arctic situation of the local environment. Very good, except that most Dalwhinnie is most likely matured in the somewhat less mountainous and romantic environs of Alloa where several football pitch sized warehouses lie at Diageo's Blackgrange site.
Like it's Diageo cousin down the road in Blair Athol, visitors are allowed a safety-conscious view of one warehouse through a pane of glass. Spirits - ho-ho - are raised when a bottle of new make spirit is produced. However, it's not for tasting and only for rubbing on our hands. Are they scared of swine-flu or something?
The tour ends with a thimble sized 'dram' in the new visitor centre. All in all, the distillery and its staff were friendly and welcoming enough but everything is just too sterile and choreographed. Unfortunately, it would seem that booking onto a 'connoisseur' tour will only entitle you to sample a greater selection of Diageo brands rather than an in-depth tasting from the cask. Perhaps they have something to learn from the aforementioned GlenDronach.
I have since read though that a new manager intends to restore some independent character to Dalwhinnie. Good luck to him.