Aberlour

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure – Part One

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

PART ONE: Speyside

Signs of Speyside

The world is a big and exciting place full of incredible natural wilderness, mind blowing ancient structures and miraculous modern marvels. However, for a Waffler, there is no greater sight than a smoking pagoda, rising up over a craggy moor. For this view I needed to cross the entire planet, enduring four long flights (and a train ride with no wifi) to finally set foot in the motherland of whisky: Scotland.

So many distilleries, so little time. How could I possibly cover all I wanted to in nine days? The short answer is: I couldn’t – but I could give it my best shot. The first important decision to make was which direction to travel? I finally decided upon: anticlockwise. This catapulted me headfirst into the heart of whisky production in Scotland: Speyside.

While Speyside is known for light, smooth and elegant drams, it is also home to the world’s biggest sherry bombs. And it is with the latter in mind that I begun my journey with a tour booked for a favourite of mine: Glendronach.

Glendronach

I can thoroughly recommend being the only one on a distillery tour – even more so if your guide is the ex-general manager of the distillery. And I was lucky enough to experience exactly that at Glendronach; hearing a range of the best stories from Frank Massie – a wonderful ambassador for the distillery and a top bloke. It summed up my experience perfectly: there’s a lovely touch of the old school about Glendronach. From the big old kiln to the creaky old washbacks to the fact the tasting started with the 18 Year Old… and got better from there! It was a dream come true and did not disappoint.

Nick n Frank

I settled into my accommodation at Speydie’s whisky capital Dufftown, thrilled at the start to my travels and recalling the 25 Year Old cask strength I’d just consumed. It was a quiet night – as the next day was shaping up to be a big one.

Balvenie

It began with the tour of tours: Balvenie Distillery. This experience is widely recognised as a must for Wafflers everywhere and three hours in I could see why. It was the most detailed – and hands on – tour I’ve ever experienced. I risked a dose of monkey shoulder by turning the malting barley and visited the cooperage where a team were working hard to create barrels exactly to Balvenie’s specifications and finish in time for an early Friday knock off. And then I did the the tasting. Wow. How many tours conclude by pouring you a full nip of 30 year old whisky?

Monkey SHoulder

I had no time to dwell on it, however. I was out the door to visit Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas and GlenCraggonmore. There was no time for a tour at these classic establishments but all came with tasty distillery exclusive drams. The highlight was Glenfarclas – not in the least because their stunning tasting room is the converted interior of an old Australian ship. The drams were superb as well – a 2004 distilled bottling which was like a refined version of the 105 and a port finish which was sweet and juicy and almost certainly all gone by the time you read this, sadly.

Glenfiddich

I finished my day by joining a tour at Aberlour Distillery. The tour itself was fairly standard and I was part of a large group of non-whisky drinkers talking over the top of our guide and asking questions about Johnnie Walker (possibly the most whisky-snobbish thing I’ve ever written – but come on… you know how annoying that would be!). The tasting, though, made it all worth it. After first trying a firey new make spirit, we sampled a straight bourbon cask and straight sherry cask Aberlour whisky – both unavailable as regular bottlings. I loved precisely neither of them; they tasted like ingredients – which is exactly what they were. It was when they combined together that the magic occurred. The 16 Year Old and the (brand new) Casg Annamh were both balanced, full bodied, complex and oh so drinkable. The tasting concluded with the A’bunadh – as classic a cask strength sherry bomb as you’ll find anywhere.

Aberlour

The A’bunadh kept me warm as I made it back to Dufftown for my second and final night in Speyside. The seemingly eternal summer sun cast an orange glow over the harvested barley fields and I could truly see: this place is the warm beating heart of Scottish whisky.

Advertisements

Queries from a first time Waffler

Posted by: Chris C aka The Geriatric Newbie, with a foreword by Nick

We waffle boys like to consider ourselves experts in the field of whisky simply because we drink a fair bit of the stuff. In truth we are merely charlatans in matching shirts. However, across several years and countless drams we do seem to have picked up a fact or two about the water of life, which is brilliant when like minded whisky fans write to us with a question or two. We recently received a piece of such correspondence from a Western Australian by the name of Chris that we found so brilliantly entertaining and so… waffle-like – that we had to share it with the wider whisky community. After all, a fair few fellow-bloggers check out our little site so the more answers we can compile the better. So without further ado, may I introduce our latest guest writer: Chris, the first time Waffler.

Wafflers with waffles

Not that sort of waffles. Though the shirt thing is spot on…

I hope you’ll forgive me for firing a few newbie questions at you. I am in need of guidance, as a whisky drinking veteran of some 6 days standing. Well, mostly standing.  Having been a virtual teetotaller for quite some years (sadly, most drinks give me a headache after just one glass) I recently decided to give whisky a chance as, miraculously,  it doesn’t seem to upset the remaining brain cells.

A little over a week ago I passed one of those age milestones that makes you realise that your use-by date is fast approaching.  Even if I haven’t completely lost my marbles, I have to admit that I do seem to misplace them fairly regularly now.  A new, fresh and invigorating hobby and interest was called for. Something that didn’t require me to lie under machinery getting hot, cross and oily or involve painting, repairing, cleaning, or fixing things up.  Anything involving rules, teams or vigorous physical exertion was also out.  So putting aside my historical aversion to whisky and giving it another chance seemed a reasonable punt. And there was a modest pile of ‘birthday money’ that I clearly had a moral duty to use to help stimulate the flagging local retail sector.

So six days ago I ventured into Mundaring (a small town in the hills outside Perth in West Australia) and bought a bottle of Chivas Regal Extra (which a friend who claims to know about these things assured me was at the better end of blended whisky) and a bottle of Glenfiddich 12yr old (on the basis that everybody has heard of it and my younger brother used to drink it many years ago).  So far so good.  I also bought a bottle of dry ginger to use in an emergency (i.e. if I couldn’t hack the whisky on its own).

That night my wife (who fortuitously already owned three Glencairn glasses, which she uses for drinking  white wine. Don’t ask.) and I cracked open the bottles. Hey, not bad!  No headache, no embarrassing collapses. No major cries of pain. We successfully worked out what a 30mil nip looked like but had no idea how to drink it – other  than the basic understanding that you stick it in your mouth and swallow. My ‘palate’ must be fairly robust because I could instantly detect the taste of firewater with notes of rocket fuel and hints of paint stripper. The Chivas was particularly bold in that department.

Some swift Googling soon provided the handy tip to give a glass from a brand new bottle a minute or two to breathe, then to add a wee splash of water and to start with small sips, hold on the tongue for a while, etc.  This gave much better results. The resident expert in alcohol related matters declared herself a more or less instant fan of the Glenfiddich.

The plan was to spend the next few weeks or months slowly developing our whisky drinking skills using the contents of those two bottles. But a curious thing happened.

The next day I awoke not only feeling particularly cheerful, but also feeling an entirely unexpected urge to add to “The Collection”.  After owning a mere two bottles for less than 24hrs, they had mysteriously, and without warning, morphed into the basis for a “Collection”. Odd.  Is that normal?

Later that day I added a bottle of Dalwhinnie 15yr and one of Auchentoshan 3 wood – neither of which I had previously heard of – purely on the basis that some guy on the internet had recommended them as fairly smooth and easy for a novice to tackle without getting too put off.  He was right.

Two days later it somehow seemed essential to broaden “The Collection” by adding a Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and a Lagavulin 16yr (friends had started offering ‘helpful’ suggestions by this point). These have, temporarily, been left unopened.  And yesterday the compulsion to add “just two more, and then that’s it…” led to the addition of an Aberlour A’bunadh and an intriguing sounding Welsh malt called Penderyn Myth. Birthday money now all gone… starting to eye off the savings account…   Will this strange compulsion ease off any time soon?

chriss-collection

Sir Henry Wood conducting the orchestra in a spirited rendition of ‘Symphony for Throat and Nostrils’ by Pete Hintz (with apologies to Ted’s resident wooden figure)

So far we’ve only opened the first 4 bottles and have been trying to stick to the Dalwhinnie and the Chivas – for now. But last night I decided it was time for the Auchentoshan. I waited until after 4.00pm (new self imposed rule – although I’ve never needed to time alcohol intake before…) and then poured a generous nip, added a small dash of water and stuck my nose in the glass.

Now, I have a fairly decent sized hooter, one that makes quite a comfortable stopper for a Gencairn glass and once plugged in there seemed absolutely no hurry to remove it. Beautiful aromas rose up, reminiscent of the wonderfully rich fruit cakes that my wife has been making this week. Marvellous. Marvellous turning into Magnificent with each fresh inhalation.

Now, nobody had said anything about how long this ‘nosing’ business should take, so surely a few minutes was called for in this case. Keep inhaling – it must surely be good practice? As I breathed slowly and rhythmically, the small amount of air that was able to squeeze past the nose began making a sound very much like Darth Vader. Clearly, The Force was with me now….

Was there a hint of smoke amongst the fruitcake or was it just that the sound reminded me very much of times spent wearing Breathing Apparatus in our local Volunteer Bushfire Brigade? Ah, the nostalgia…drifting gently along on a swirl of memories… the steady pulse of breath going in and out was mesmerising. Hypnotic even.  I may have started purring.

I finally dragged the glass away, intending to fire a finely worded and informative eulogy in my wife’s direction, but quickly realised that that there was now a serious risk that I would just giggle. Or perhaps start watering the whisky down with a few emotional tears.   Is this sort of behaviour common among whisky drinkers???  I can hardly claim to have discovered the Elixir of Youth but, at age 70, it certainly feels like I may have stumbled upon the Elixir of old Age….

How do you pace your enthusiasm?  It feels like I’ve gone from being a virtual teetotaller to a budding dipsomaniac in less than a week!  How many helpings per week seem reasonably sustainable?

And will this new-found desire to waffle on at some length about my new interest to anybody who’ll listen start to fade in a while?

Happy tasting.

Chris.