Sunday, 20 October 2013

Speyside virginity lost

More or less. Having 'done' Islay as well as the south from Glenkinchie to Bladnoch and the southern and eastern Highlands, my experience of Speyside whisky in its own domain has been pretty fleeting. So, a trip to Speyside for the autumn break beckoned and it didn't disappoint. Even better, the Scottish autumn was glorious.

The road north from Perth through Blairgowrie and Braemar on the way to Srath Spè is a stunning highway to the north. For a whisky geek the only thing that can better the autumnal trees of Perthshire is the glut of well-kent names on the map as you approach Tomintoul.

Speyside sheep block the road to Allt a' Bhainne.
With our but'n'ben sitting in Glen Rinnes, the first distillery encountered was the auld timer of Tamnavulin in the hamlet of Tomnavulin. To the locals a generation or two back, it was Toman a' Mhuilinn - the little hillock of the mill. Unfortunately to whisky travellers, the sign in English said 'closed to visitors'. Despite this, seeing the source of a famous Scottish whisky, in the flesh so to speak, still gives the whisky geek a wee thrill. It's probably like train-spotting. Within a few miles of the house, we had the aforementioned Tamnavulin, Braeval (or Braes of Glenlivet as it was), Glenlivet, Allt a' Bhainne, Tomintoul, Benrinnes and Glenallachie. Cragganmore, Glenfarclas and the whisky metropolis that is Dufftown were only slightly further afield.

As we soon found out, this a feature of travel around Speyside. Especially if you take some of the back roads. Distilleries seem to loom up every few minutes.

Despite most lying in 'hidden' glens it is difficult to find much romance about many of them. Most are simply factories with the kind of architecture you'd expect from factories that were built or re-built in recent decades. For every Strathisla there's an Allt a' Bhainne and Aultmore.

What counts though is the welcome, the experience and the liquid.

First stop for a tour was the famed Aberlour. As the Founder's Tour was all booked, I had to settle for the Aberlour Experience. As experiences go, it's not a bad one. Indeed, for a standard tour it is worth the £12.50. Having been rebuilt after a fire as well as modified and enlarged, the architecture is a bit grim save for one or two buildings of the old 'vernacular' which are more pleasing to the eye. We get a glimpse inside one of the warehouses but that's as far as it goes.

The tasting though is excellent. 6 drams including a decent measure of new-make spirit. We also get the two single-cask cask-strength drams that are available for bottle your own - these are both 16yo with one first-fill bourbon and one sherry. The bourbon has a nose that I could caress all day - the taste and finish don't reach such heights though. The sherry is an all-round stoater. It is purchased and comes with its very own whisky coffin. The 12yo French release at 43% is like juice in comparison. The 16yo follows before we finish with the mighty A' Bunadh.

The next day sees us leave one distillery that is very much alive to encounter two that are in different stages of death-rebirth or even a zombie-like purgatory.

1 comment:

Schottlandreisen said...

Surprised to discover the beauty of Speyside at last! I only thought of it as mildly interesting - now I changed my mind...