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Liquid sunshine!

Speyside trip 2016: Part three – Coleburn/Murray McDavid – Strathspey steam railway tasting

After the two rather long and eventful previous days, our group was keen on taking it easy on the third day. The entire day was centred around a steam train ride and everything else was planned around it.

Coleburn

Coleburn Warehouses

Coleburn Warehouses

So we started off as a group of four, Kat Presley, my brother and I hitching a ride with Crystal Coverdale to the decommissioned (since 1985) Coleburn distillery. What’s so interesting about an old, dismantled distillery with no equipment left inside? The warehouses! The re-founded independent bottler Murray McDavid (the original company was sold in the course of the Bruichladdich takeover in 2013) bought them in 2013 and now they’re used to mature their casks of whisky – stock they bought from the original Murray McDavid owners. We were met there by distiller and master blender David Simpson, who prefers the title of “Whisky Creation”. After an introduction to the company we were led into the warehouses and were free to roam around and look at all the different casks stored on site (including bourbon and they also talked about vodka and rum). The oldest cask on site is a 1962 North British, in case you were wondering! Well, it’s a traditional dunnage warehouse on two floors, as you can see in the pictures. I’ve seen my fair share of warehouses, so instead of peeking at all the casks and labels I mostly engaged in conversations with David and another lad – Tony Whitnock, former excise officer for Coleburn and other distilleries, joined our group and had a few stories to tell and confirm (involving “copper dogs” for sneaking out whisky from the warehouses…) which was a nice added touch. That’s the guy you want to sit down with for a few drams and listen to stories of bygone times! Continue reading

Dalmunach still room

Speyside trip 2016: Part two – Dalmunach – Tamdhu (+Maltings) – Glasgow Distillery Presentation – #whiskyfabric dinner

Scotland is a very diverse country and it is easy to forget how remote it can be when you’re in the central belt or the more populated areas. But when you’re trying to locate a big distillery, in the middle of nowhere, with no mobile reception for miles, you sometimes start to question your navigation skills. What? There’s supposed to be a distillery at the end of this 1.2-track, broken up, pot-holey road with no signs pointing you anywhere? Yep, there sure is – and what a distillery!

Dalmunach Distillery

Dalmunach Distillery

Dalmunach Distillery. Photo credit: Johannes Doblmann

Pulling into the Dalmunach car park we (my brother Johannes and I) were met by malt mates Lora Hemy and Peter Moser, with Crystal Coverdale  having traveled with us. Speyside is a big area – but somehow you keep bumping into the same people! Distillery tours are always best with partners in crime!

“Dalmunach? Never heard of it!” you might be inclined to say, unless you’re one of the most die-hard whisky geeks. The new 10-million-litre distillery was constructed on the site of the previous Imperial distillery, which had been mothballed for several years and, since 2013, is now officially a “lost” distillery. Construction of the new site was in the hands of Douglas Cruickshank, a former Chivas executive, who started his career at the Imperial site at age 15. Talking about creating a legacy! Dalmunach is owned by Chivas/Pernod Ricard and is to produce spirit for the blended whisky market, relieving stocks of the likes of Glenlivet and Longmorn. Production is overseen by Trevor Buckley, distillery manager and our “tour guide” that day.

Trevor Buckley showing the group around

Trevor Buckley showing the group around

The distillery is not open to the general public, thus instead of entering a big, branded visitor’s centre, we met in the distillery “lobby”, which is dominated by a strange round, familiar shape. Wood from one of the old Imperial washbacks was integrated into the structure of the new distillery, housing for example the manager’s office, as Trevor pointed out to us. You can spot it in the first picture – the round structure in the middle.
Joining us on our tour was also architect Mark, responsible for this stunning piece of functional, modern architecture, tucked away invisibly, like a hidden gem, by the river Spey. The plant has a layout of three strands, reflecting the three distinct production processes: Mashing, fermentation and distillation. And what a spacious layout it is! Lots of room, big, windows drawing ones eye to the stunning scenery all around. Continue reading

Auchroisk #whiskyfabric group picture

Speyside trip 2016: Part one – Boortmalt Maltings Buckie – Speyside Cooperage – Auchroisk Distillery

Plane to Aberdeen

Our plane to Aberdeen

Going somewhere for the first time is always filled with anticipation and excitement. In the last week of April 2016 my brother Johannes and I packed our backpacks for our first ever ‘real’ trip to the Speyside in Scotland. While we’ve been to Scotland many times before and even visited Benromach and Glen Moray last year, this was to be our first proper visit to the current heart of Scotch whisky production. Well, our decision to head there might have been triggered by the fact that there was a whisky festival going on at that time – the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival. You might have heard about it. If not – click the link! Part of the festival excitement had to do with us meeting friends old and new as nine of us whisky geeks (that would be Jo, Johanne, Crystal, Viva, Kat, the Spellers and us two boys) shared a house for a week – a bit out of the way in Cullen (home of the famous Cullen Skink fish soup), but it was comfy and cheap – perfect as a base camp! And right next to our base camp – the next town, literally – was the first destination of our first tour on the first day of #dram16, Thursday, the 28th of April.

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

It’s Wednesday morning, the sun is shining (for the most part) and we’re driving our car towards Buckie to take a look at the Boortmalt maltings operation there. What better way to start a whisky festival than looking at how THE main ingredient in malt whisky production, malt, is made? At the door we were greeted by plant manager Gary and led into the board room for tea and cookies. Not a bad way to start the day indeed. The day even got better when we bumped into house mate Crystal for the first time as well as Lora and Rachel – always great to meet fellow malt mates at festivals!

Malting barley is a three-step process. At first you “steep” the dried barley in water to raise water content of the grain, as can be seen in the second picture, which was taken at the time when the steeping vessel was “stirred” by way of introducing compressed air from the bottom. Once a moisture content of approximately 45% is reached, the water is drained and the barley transferred to the germination chamber.

Steeps at the Maltings

Steeps at the Maltings

Under controlled climatic conditions the barley begins to grow during the modification phase, where enzymes break down the proteins and carbohydrates, essential for fermentation later on in the production of whisky. After germination has arrived at a critical point, the barley is kilned – you could also call it heat-dried, to terminate the germination process, or otherwise a barley plant would grow and we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we? Drying is achieved by introducing hot air through the bottom of a perforated floor. Sometimes peat is used during the first phase of kilning to create smoky flavours, at the Buckie maltings they only produce unpeated malt, from local (Scottish) Concerto barley. They once tried making a peated batch, but after burning 40 tonnes of peat only got them about 10 ppm in the malt, the trials were abandoned. Continue reading

Wolfburn: Stills (wash still on the left, spirit still on the right)

Visiting Wolfburn – the most notherly distillery on the Scottish mainland

Who’s heard of Thurso before? Besides those on the way to catch a ferry to the Orkneys? I guess not many. So where exactly is it? Well, it’s a beautiful 2,5 hour drive north of Inverness and the largest most northerly city/town in mainland Scotland with about 9000 inhabitants. And, since 2013, there’s also a whisky distillery (again), Wolfburn, named after and situated besides the place where there once was a distillery by the same name (and using the same water source, the Wolf Burn) in the 1800s . Not much is known about the old distillery, so let’s talk about the new one:

Wolfburn distillery - the sight as you enter the production building

Wolfburn distillery – the sight as you enter the production building

Founded by a private group of investors, including a man from the Caithness area, wherein Thurso lies, it was built in a very short period of time between August 2012 and January 2013, with the first spirit flowing on the 25th of January 2013. To pull all of this off, they hired Shane Fraser, previously production manager at Glenfarclas, to oversee the design, building and running of the place and to this date the distillery is run by Shane and colleague Iain, previously with Balmenach. Continue reading

Ardbeg Distillery Courtyard

Scotland trip 2014 – part 4: South of Islay – touring Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg

Day 9: Islay

Even on a small island like Islay you can spend quite some time in your car getting to places – especially when you’re staying on the opposite end. Thus it only made sense for us three brothers to spend an entire  – hot and sunny – day touring all three distilleries in the south, starting early in the morning at Lagavulin.

Lagavulin

Freshly painted Lagavulin Distillery

Freshly painted Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin, like Bunnahabhain, is a less “touristy” distillery. Not as posh and polished as others with a kind of “old-school” feeling to it. Old, simple, painted steel staircases, narrow paths – putting the working environment first and the tourist attraction last. The charming insides speak volumes about the decades and decades of use and the history of the place, as well as a need of investment in some areas. But, on the other hand, why bother, tourists aren’t allowed to take pictures anyway and Scots are known for being stingy 😉
Anyway, out tour guide for the day was a charming young lady named Sophie and we were in luck, it was yet another very small group. The tour certainly felt positively different from all the others, Lagavulin really has a special “feel” to it, probably due to the old-style, unpolished charm of the place and the narrowness full of nooks and crannies. Continue reading

Kilchoman distillery. The stillhouse in the front and the kiln in the background

Scotland trip 2014 – part 3: Islay (including Caol Ila, Bowmore, Kilchoman)

Day 7: Islay

Leaving Kennacraig on the Hebridean Isles

Leaving Kennacraig on the Hebridean Isles

Leaving the marvellous Isle of Arran behind is never easy, but the prospect of landing on the shores of Islay in a few hours time made it a wee bit easier for the three of us. After making our way over to Claonaig by ferry from Lochranza and a taxi ride with David Bridge, we arrived at Kennacraig to board the good old Calmac vessel “Hebridean Isles”. The 2-hour trip on the boat was very smooth as the sea was really calm so we arrived in Port Askaig right on schedule where our car from D&N MacKenzie was already waiting for us. By the way: Great service from them – when you need to hire a car on Islay, I can recommend them!
What next? A distillery visit, of course!

Video: Arriving at Port Askaig Continue reading

Scotland trip 2014 – part 2: Glasgow, Auchentoshan, Arran

Link to part 1

Day 4: Auchentoshan

Auchentoshan distillery

Panoramic view of Auchentoshan distillery

Day four of our brotherly Scotland trip 2014 would finally see us visit our first (open) distillery, Auchentoshan. A first for Peter the wee one of us. If you’re in Glasgow and you want to visit the distillery, follow the following advice we received from locals (namely Pete and Andy from Inverarity 121): Forget taxis or buses or whatever – take the train! The local train service from Glasgow’s Queen Street station takes you to a station in the middle of nowhere called Kilpatrick. Take a left hand turn at the intersection of the footpath until you reach the motorway and then proceed for a few hundred metres back towards Glasgow. Continue reading

Scotland trip 2014 – part 1: Traveling, London, Glasgow

Introduction

Going backpacking

Going backpacking

I love Scotland. I love the countryside, the culture, nature, the people who are similar to my own folk, and – of course – the whisky. When I was up there last year with one of my two brothers, Johannes, I immediately knew I would be coming back. As it so happened the wee one of us three brothers, Peter, graduated from secondary school this year so we arranged a “little” trip in celebration of the occasion. Well, this “little” trip in July 2014 would in the course of nearly three weeks lead us from London to Inverness and back, visiting 15,5 distilleries along the way – that’s over 10% of all working distilleries in Scotland… By “we” I of course mean us three brothers – the wee one, Peter, the middle one, Johannes and me, Klaus, as the leader of the pack.
It was a backpacking trip, thus we traveled lightly – at least on our way up, filling our luggage with whisky along the way. Obviously. We stayed in hostels (and one b&b), sometimes preparing our own meals and, with the exception of Islay, where we rented a car, relied on trains and buses for the majority of our travel. I prefer public transport whenever I can and Interrail is a great and cheap way to travel all across Europe.

Day 1: All across Europe

Continue reading