Making good Scotch Whisky doesn’t happen by accident. It literally has to be nurtured and then matured. So what better way to learn the secrets and drink in the atmosphere, whilst enjoying a dram or two, is to visit a distillery.
Glengoyne Distillery, nestled in the pretty and picturesque setting of Dumgoyne near Killearn just outside Glasgow, like many others, has a great visitor centre where you can do just that.
Glengoyne have great tour guides, we had the lovely ‘kilt clad’ Janet, a jovial and friendly lady whose knowledge and experience of their century old traditions is pretty impressive. Walking around the tall copper tuns, the fabulous wooden washbacks and stonewalled warehouses, she regales the intrigues of how they turn malted barley seeds into the golden nectar. Varying levels of smells and aromas envelope and complete your sensory journey.
Skills are passed down from seasoned veteran hands and often the ‘new’ apprentices have a 25-year training programme to learn the customs and rituals to craft and create their unique taste from barley, water and yeast!
The barley is often bought already prepared to a distiller’s recipe -Glengoyne have 3 large silos taking 100 tonnes and they generally have 3 deliveries a week of their very own top-secret malted barley! Precession temperatures of the mash tun and the slow progress of the liquid through the stills are vitally important. Glengoyne rarely take the temperature above 78°C – the only distiller in Scotland to do this. Lots of water is used in making a bottle of whisky, around 100 litres for just one 70cl bottle. Just as well Glengoyne have their own water source there as they make around 1 million litres of whisky a year!
our stills are Scotland’s slowest. Our barley is dried by air, never peat. And our oak casks are the finest we can source”
To make Scotch Whisky, by law maturation has to be for a minimum of 3 years in oak on Scottish soil. Many distillers mature much longer than this. Glengoyne mature their whiskies from 10 to 35 years and use a variety of casks e.g. ex Bourbon, Port and Sherry casks usually between 250L and 500L in size (not permitted by law to use casks in excess of 700L). Wood is vital as its porous and allows the wood and spirit to interact creating complex flavours and colour. The longer the maturation, the more character, complexity and depth of colour. Glengoyne only stack their casks 3 high in their thick stonewall and bare earth floor warehouses so they can breathe in the cool darkness enabling only the right amount of evaporation over the years yet still allowing the angels their share! Well it’s got to be fair!!
Scotch Whisky styles vary according to the region. There’s 5 distinctive producing regions in Scotland and each has a unique characterisation and flavour profile:
- Speyside (the biggest production region – half of all Scottish Whisky is distilled here)
- Elegant, complex and fruity
- Sometimes refined smokiness
- Highlands (biggest region geographically)
- Wide and robust flavour variations
- Heavier, drier in character with nuts, honey, heather or peaty notes
- Some salty maritime notes if the distillery is located nearer the sea
- Islay (only 25 miles long but no fewer than 8 distilleries)
- The area is covered in peat that’s exposed to the rain and sea spray
- Typically smokey flavour with salty seaweed notes
- Campbeltown (small coastal town on the tip of Kintyre with 3 distillers – they did have 30!)
- Briny characteristics and some peaty notes
- Softer, lighter style traditionally known as the “Lowlands Ladies!”
- Typically malty, zesty, fruity, citrusy and floral
Glengoyne is actually is located in the lowlands, however, their whisky is assessed as Highlands as it has a Highland style. They choose to unpeat their whiskies to preserve the more subtler, complex flavours of slow distillation and oak maturation. Drying by air, never peat enables them to maintain the delicate flavours that can be overwhelmed by heavy smoke or peat. Unhurried since 1833, it has not changed its unpeated character since Cochrane Cartwright, Glengoyne’s first manager, was at the helm. According to folklore, his ghost still keeps a close watchful eye on the distillery proceedings and craftsmanship and evening guests at the Distillery always raise a glass in his honour.
Today’s a significant day for Scotland. The referendum has created many debates over the viability of a standalone Scotland and the level of media coverage may have ignited your interest to consider a visit over the border? Perhaps you’re already there!! Where to go, what to do?
What’s not in question is Scotland being world famous for its truly awesome scenery, vibrant culture and spectacular heritage. So talking heritage, Scotch Whisky has to be right up there and visiting a distillery or two is seriously worthwhile. If you’re going to Glengoyne, we highly recommend trying and savouring their 18 and 21 year olds (minimum age of the whisky in the bottle) and, if pennies permit, their 25 year old. The delicious 25 year old was only launched earlier this year and has already been awarded a Gold Medal at the Spirits Business Masters Award 2014 and Best Scotch Whisky at the China Wines and Spirits Award 2014!