Thursday, 23 October 2008 The sky looks fairly dismal this morning, so I figure this for my distillery day. I run up to
Macallan, only to find I've missed the one morning tour. I sign up for the 2:00 and drive up to Glenfiddich.
Glenfiddich is a bit of a paradox--an old family-run company which has succeeded in marketing itself into the top-selling single malt whisky in the world. It's generally overlooked by the whisky cognoscenti, and it has to be said that its flagship twelve-year-old is not noted for any kind of boldness. But the company itself is worthy of respect, not least for spearheading the popularity of single malts worldwide.
The tour is prefaced by a promotional film that I must say is about the best I've seen at any distillery. Old Mr Grant building his distillery in the freezing rain with his bare hands...if it's a bit of hype, still we can see the original buildings with our own eyes. The tour is a good solid one, the highlight being the opportunity to stick one's nose down into several casks of various types and ages. Wonderful stuff...can't we get some of that character into a bottle? Well, you'll find it in the fifteen-year-old Solera Reserve, I think; but the sample we get of the standard twelve seems bland by comparison. But given the price of the tour--no one charged me anything, anyway--I'd say it was well worthwhile, and long overdue.
I have time to kill before the Macallan tour, so I drive up to Aberlour to see if I can get myself a fill-your-own. I am fortunate enough to drop in on the tail end of a tour, and get a sample from the bourbon barrel I fill my bottle from. It weighs in at 63.5%...ou là là! It's a stunner. I add a drop of water, and immediately wish I hadn't--it's brilliant as is.
On to Macallan, where I'm charged £5 for the privilege of touring. The guide does a fine job, but the tour is a bit disappointing for me--no interior photography is allowed. I manage a shot of the stillhouse from the door, which at least shows the sharply descending lyne arm of the wash still, the steepest I've seen. The spirit stills are quite small, also with downward-pitched lyne arms, albeit not as sharp as the 45° of those on the wash stills. A short ascent to the top of the still and a sudden descent to the condenser mean little reflux, and a relatively heavy, oily spirit.
An exhibit at the back of the tour highlights the journey of American and Spanish oak, and a series of glass bulbs offer a chance to experience a variety of odors one might find in whisky. The smells are simplified and very strong, but the idea is a good one, I think--a nosing kit of sorts, a useful aid for a weak nose like mine.
The sample at the end is the sherried Macallan 12. I'm afraid I don't enjoy heavily sherried drams these days, ever since that horrendous Old Pulteney I had in the Bow Bar a while back--I get that awful burnt taste in almost every one now.
There is an enormous amount of expansion going on at Macallan, mainly in the form of huge new warehouses going up at the top of the site, visible (to the consternation of many) for a great distance across the Spey. As I leave, I think about the differing approaches of the two very popular distilleries I've just seen. Glenfiddich is plainly a malt for the common man, the sort of lowest-common-denominator product I normally overlook. Macallan is a cult favorite of sorts, its fans long placing it on a pedestal above other whiskies, but in recent years expressing outrage over its perceived change in mission, as the policy of bottling malt matured only in sherry casks has been abandoned. I find the sense of betrayal directed at what is, after all, a business making business decisions in a difficult climate, utterly ludicrous. And yet, I find myself more sympathetic to Glenfiddich, for today, at least. The producers of the most popular malt in the world, who must certainly receive a number of visitors commensurate with that standing, have made me feel a most welcome visitor, and given me a pleasant experience. Macallan, as an institution, seems just a touch haughty. (I hasten to add that that's not a reflection on the friendly and informative guide.)
On my way back into Craigellachie, I stop at Thomas Telford's bridge over the Spey and take a few pictures. Have a nap back at the B&B and awake in darkness...the power is out. The bar at the Highlander is bathed in candlelight. Missed photo op.