Cragganmore Distillery Tour

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As some of you may know I am recently back from my adventures up in Speyside – you can read all about it here in my Speyside Road Trip – where I visited several distilleries, amongst those distilleries visited was the Cragganmore Distillery. There are a few reasons that I decided to visit this distillery while up in Speyside, the main reason though is that the Cragganmore 12yo is one of the first malt whiskies that I ever tried when I was just starting out on my whisky adventure, and I immediately fell in love with it. Since then this malt has always had a spot on my shelf and I always enjoy going back to have a wee try of it. I couldn’t go all that way and not visit a distillery so close to my heart!

Cragganmore distillery is located on the Ballindalloch estate in Speyside, just along the road from Tormore, and opposite from the newly built Ballindalloch estate distillery. Built here in 1869 it was only made possible by the opening of the Strathspey railway line some six years earlier. Cragganmore is one of the few distilleries to boast flat topped stills, an unusual feature which will likely increase the amount of reflux during distillation, though any lightness this many impart onto the spirits character would be counteracted by the use of worm tubs for condensing. Now owned by Diageo this malt is one of their ‘Classic Malts’ range, and it is a superb style of whisky they produce.

My partner and I arrived just in time for our tour, we had booked onto the 12 o’clock tour and were running slightly late no thanks to the dualling of the A9, and burst through the door literally 3 minutes before our tour was supposed to go out. Once we had caught our breath from the rush from the carpark and everyone was assembled it was time to start our tour. We had booked onto the expressions tour, this option allows you to try some extra whiskies from the distillery, which is definitely worth the extra money as the tasting was excellent.

Our tour Guide for the day was Rebecca, who unfortunately told us that we were not allowed to take pictures while in the production areas – if I can find any picture I will put them in to break up the writing a bit – and gave us the usual spiel about health and safety and all the rest. Our tour started in what was the old malting barn, now it is just taken up by several giant wooden malt hoppers, which make for a rather cramped space; it felt like we were all crammed into a small hallway. Swiftly moving on from here we were taken to see their mill, like so many distilleries they have a Porteus mill, those wonders of engineering that just keep going. Our tour guide obviously knew their stuff but the tour did feel very scripted and lacked some of the personality and humour that you get with others, to be honest though I was more interested in just seeing the production areas than anything else.

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The mash tun at Cragganmore is a thing of sheers beauty. They have a wooden clad mash tun, with a highly sheened copper canopy over it which looks absolutely stunning. It is from the mashing that you are also able to see their worm tubs. Another unusual feature at this distillery, other than the fact that they still use worm tubs, is that they have rectangular worms, which I don’t believe any other distillery has, I highly doubt this would alter the taste any but I just thought it was quite interesting. From here we were shown through the fermentation and the distillation. The stills were of a very nice shape. The wash stills were of a flowing lamp-glass shape, while the much smaller spirit stills with their flat tops also include boil-balls. From here we were taken for a fleeting stop in the warehouse, where all output that will be bottled as a malt is stored – the vast majority is matured elsewhere for blending – before we were taken to a gorgeous tasting room for our samples.

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We were going to get to try 3 expressions of the Cragganmore. They were as follows.

Cragganmore 12yo – the ‘classic malts’ bottling, which I will no doubt review in the near future as it such an enjoyable dram.

Cragganmore 2016 distiller’s edition – this was a very interesting bottling of Cragganmore. This edition was matured first in sherry casks, then for a secondary period in bourbon barrels before then being finished in sherry. Bottled at 48% it is limited to 1,800 bottles.

1999 Single Cask Cragganmore – this whisky is fantastic!!! Seeing as how it’s never going to get bottled you have to get yourself up to Cragganmore to try this. Filled in 1999 and bottled at the start of this year it is a 16yo Cragganmore matured in a refill barrel and presented at 53%ABV. Seeing as how I would never get to try this whisky again I decided to take my time and took the following notes:

Nose – rich toffee, vanilla and coconut, a big sulphury-malt character and a slight whiff of smoke. Sweet tannins and a little lemon rind.

Palate – huge sweet arrival with honey, toasted bread, orange peel and again bitter lemon rind. Tannic woody drying, leather and pepper.

Finish – the finish continues on from the palate with lots of sweetness and leather but it is a bit fruitier and bitterer.

After our tasting was finished and we had had a wander around the study room we then thanked Rebecca for the tour and headed back to the car for the next part in our Speyside Road Trip, a stop at Glenfarclas!

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Gary

 

Deanston Distillery Tour

About two weeks ago now I stopped by the Deanston distillery for a tour, located in Doune, near Stirling. As always with these distillery tours it seems I was again joined by my Girlfriend, and I again was the designated driver – this arrangement really has to be addressed! Deanston, as some of you may already know, if one of the few distilleries in Scotland that was built inside of an existing building. The building itself was an old cotton mill, built back in 1785, though closed as a result of changing times and in the mid 60’s renovation began to turn the old building into a distillery – a far better use of the space if you ask me!

I’ve always loved Deanston as a whisky, and the history behind it is very interesting and so it’s a distillery that I have been planning on visiting for quite some time. As we arrived I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful and picturesque it was. It’s not picturesque like most distilleries with the Doig ventilators (Pagoda roofs) and the brickwork chimneys, but it’s just a beautiful old building with bags of character set in stunning surroundings.

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We arrived at the distillery just a few minutes before the next tour was going out, so we were taken through to watch a short film which introduces you to the distillery with some of its history. Then after that finished it was time to head through to see the production. Our guide for the day was Gerry, and after we had went through the usual health and safety stuff we headed off to start the tour. We went into an outside courtyard behind the distillery to start with, and we were met by a sea of casks, literally hundreds of them. Gerry talked us through the different cask types and gave us an idea of the ratios of casks used; approximately 80:20 Bourbon to sherry, with a few others thrown in as well.

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While here Gerry mentioned that the distillery was the only one in Scotland to be powered solely by hydroelectric, and said that if we were interested then he would take us in to see it. Being the geek that I am I of course wanted to see so he took us into the turbine room. Deanston only use roughly 15% of the power that they produce so the remainder they sell back to the national grid – so they are making money before they even start making whisky! The room used to contain their giant water wheels, which have since been replaced for far more efficient water turbine blades.

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We were then talked through the malting and milling processes then shown through to the mashing. The mash tun at Deanston is open topped, and the smells in that room were just incredible, lots of sweet malty goodness. I’ve been round other distilleries which have open mash tuns, but unfortunately they have been empty at my times of visit, so this experience was a first for me. After this the next stop was the tun room, where the fermentation was explained and also the flavour giving compounds etc. that are developed within the washbacks resulting from fermentation.

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From here we were shown down to the still house, the stills at Deanston are very good looking, four stills that have been well maintained and lacquered to a high sheen. Both wash stills and spirit stills are of boil ball form to increase reflux, and all collection is into one safe after condensing through narrow shell and tube condensers.

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After the distillation we were shown to where the casks are filled, the assortment of different casks and the neat boxes of different sizes of bung (the corks for the casks) and the scales for excise purposes was a nice thing to see, most distilleries will do tasks such as this off site now, or not let you see it. From here we were shown into the warehousing which was just spectacular. The storage space was originally where the spindle machines were housed in the mill and as a result high vaulted ceilings were built in to avoid water vapour collecting above the machines and falling onto the cotton below. The vaulted roof meant that water would collect and run down the curved roof away from the mill, avoiding damage or breaking to the cotton threads. In its current use it makes for one of the most atmospheric warehousing spaces that I have ever visited, it is a real spectacle and definitely worth visiting the distillery to see! The picture below really doesn’t do it justice…it was dark…sorry!

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Tour done we headed back to the visitor centre where we got our dram of the Deanston 12yo, a great characterful dram that is always of consistent quality, and a wander around the shop. We also stopped in at the Bothy café in the distillery which must get an honourable mention for the good food, the haggis and lentil soup was a personal favourite, very interesting combination. After lunch we headed back through to the shop for a wander – as it would be rude not to buy anything – where I got a bottle of the 12yo, to replace the one I had finished a while back. I also managed to get a small try of a few of their other products, including their current self-fill which was delicious and a 7yo single cask sherry-hogshead bottling – an interesting whisky this, quite young but the use of a sherry-hogshead spiked my curiosity.

I had a really great visit to Deanston which I must say I would highly recommend. One of the best tours I’ve had in a long time, so thank you to Gerry for the great tour. And also thank you again to Gerry and Declan for the discussions and tastings in the shop, it was great meeting you both.

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Gary

 

Edradour Distillery Tour

I recently paid a little visit to what is very possibly the most quaint and picturesque distillery in Scotland, Edradour. The small cluster of white washed buildings with the Edradour burn running between them is just such a lovely place to visit, especially on the gloriously sunny day that it was. It feels so old fashioned and traditional that you can’t help but smile when you visit.

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I was once again joined by my girlfriend, and I again was the designated driver – a theme seems to be developing here – She seems to be getting a pretty good deal out of things, I’m starting to get worried for my whisky collection… As we wound our way through the hills above Pitlochry it felt more like we were on holiday than in the heart of Scotland, as a Scot I would describe that day an absolute ‘scorcher’! We arrived at the distillery about 10 minutes before the next tour was going out so we got our tickets and had a little wander about before it began.

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Our guide for the day was Heather, and she was very funny. We first went up to the old Maltings for a taste of the whisky – great way to start – where we were given a sample of either the Edradour 10yo or their whisky liqueur, as well as a try of their Ballechin, the peated version. We were shown a short video while we enjoyed out tastes as Heather went round and talked about the whiskies. We were also given a bag for our nosing glasses as we got to take it home which was a nice bonus. After this we were told about the malting’s and shown the old kiln.

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From there they took us up to the warehouse – an interesting way to take a tour; malting, maturation, then production, but I wasn’t complaining. On the way up to the warehouse we passed some construction works, which is where they are working on their expansion/second distillery, which was interesting to see. This, when complete, should double their production capacity and add significantly to their maturation capabilities. As a whisky lover nothing beats the atmosphere of being in a dunnage warehouse, it’s just incredible. I also noted several casks from other distilleries, Signatory (Edradour’s owners) being an independent bottler it was to be expected, including a cask from Mortlach filled in 1991, which I was half tempted to attempt rolling out to the car.

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After wandering amongst the casks for a time we then headed into the production area, or rather squeezed in, I always knew Edradour was tiny, but I didn’t expect that I would be able to take their entire production home in the back seat of my car! Their pot stills are very beautifully shaped the wash still being of a plain design and the spirit a boil-ball, both cooled by worm tubs. It was really good seeing the worm tubs in action.

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Another curiosity was seeing their Morton refrigeration unit, which is used for cooling the wort prior to filling the washback’s for fermentation. Installed in 1934 it is the last one remaining in the whisky industry today and it was a real privilege to see. They have two washback’s on site, both made from Douglas fir, which we passed after the distillation. The tour was good, thorough and informative, if not a bit disjointed, but that is mainly due to the layout of the distillery.

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Heather did a great job, especially considering the size of the tour we were on in the tiny distillery. Once back at the shop she talked a bit more about the range and the Signatory bottlings. I already knew I was going to get some of the Ballechin, and was very tempted by several of the Signatory bottlings, including a 20yo Imperial. I managed to restrain myself however and just left with the one bottle – which my partner actually treated me to, she’s awfully nice – the Ballechin 10yo, which I hope to review soon.

Thanks again to Heather and all the staff at Edradour for a great day out, and wish you all the best. I’m sure I will be back in the future for another visit…and maybe that bottle of Imperial!

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Gary

Auchentoshan Distillery Tour

I was recently down in Greenock for a few days, and being in the area, it would have been rude not to pop into the Auchentoshan distillery for a little visit. And being the great boyfriend that I am I dragged the girlfriend along for a tour – secretly hoping that one day I would eventually make a whisky drinker out of her – so we jumped into the car and began the short drive to the distillery. As we crossed the Erskine Bridge my heart began to race, I felt like a kid on the way to the sweetshop, and after a few minutes more we reached our destination, the Auchentoshan distillery.

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Now unfortunately I was the designated driver for the day – woe is me – so we chose to just do the standard tour. We had about 15 minutes before our tour would be starting so we had a wander round the shop, having a look at the range and admiring the £5,000 50yo Auchentoshan, wouldn’t mind trying some of that!

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Our tour guide for the day would be Brian, who had only recently started taking the tours about 2 weeks previous. He explained all the health and safety stuff and informed us that we would be allowed to take pictures during the tour. This was great to hear, most distilleries don’t allow you to take pictures because of the ‘explosive atmosphere’ as a result of all the alcohol in the air, what a load of crap! After introductions and rules etc. we headed into the distillery, me skipping along like an idiot, eager to see production.

It became apparent fairly quickly that Brain was pretty new to doing the tours but he still did a great job, he was very funny and personable and made the tour very enjoyable. As I already knew the process pretty well I drifted to and fro between listening to Brian and my own wee world, just taking in the sights and the smells of the distillery. He was able to answer most of my questions, and what he wasn’t able to he asked his colleagues when we got back to the centre, which I was very grateful for.

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After the still house we headed across to the warehouse, where hundreds of casks of whisky were just peacefully waiting until the day they would be cracked open. The smells and the atmosphere in there was incredible, there’s nothing quite like it, if you’ve been round a distillery before then you’ll know what I mean. Luckily there were a few others on the tour who had lots questions about the warehouse and production, so we got to linger there amongst the casks for longer than we would have. Such a glorious place to be!

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After the tour we headed up to the bar where we got to sample a few whiskies from the range, by this I of course mean I nosed the whisky while my partner enjoyed it, rubbing in the fact that I couldn’t try anything – including the American Oak, which I’ve previously reviewed – Auchentoshan American Oak. As well as this we got a small sample of their distillery exclusive bottling, which as soon as I nosed it I knew it was coming home with me! It was cask #934, filled in 2004, and was a first fill Olorosso Butt, a true sherry monster at a whopping 59.6% ABV, which I hope to review soon.

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Bottle wrapped up to keep it safe on the journey we headed to the car for the drive home, heart heavy that it had come to an end. Thank you again to all the staff at Auchentoshan for their hospitality, especially to Brian for taking us round, and hope to see you all again in the future. Until next time…

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Gary