April 19, 2019

The story of a spellbinding whisky trail – Part Two

Immersive experiences of the Glenlivet and Aberlour distilleries in the midst of Scottish wilderness

You can tell a great whisky with the way it casts a spell. Like some whiskies are known for their magical powers, many Scottish distilleries are popular for creating some of those most potent potions. After spending time in and around Strathisla and Glenburgie distilleries (as narrated in the earlier blog), Vishawatch’s next stop was the Glenlivet distillery that sits in a wild and remote glen with a history laced with drama and intrigue.

A chilly morning was spent at this enormous distillery in Speyside, which was otherwise closed for public tours due to extreme winters. But we got lucky! Always knew that three simple ingredients — barley, water and yeast — are used to produce an exquisite single malt that we know as the Glenlivet, but the realisation that it certainly takes more than that to make one of the best whiskies in the world got pretty intense here. Expert crafting, attention to detail and the precise process that’s almost 200 years in the making, have worked their magic in creating an iconic brand, the Glenlivet, is today.

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The copper pot stills at the Glenlivet Distillery have a unique lantern shape unlike any other and have remained unchanged for generations. When the stills needed to be replaced, the original design by George Smith was carefully re-created by the modern coppersmiths. They are used in pairs of wash and spirit stills. The size and shape of the stills has remained the same for over 150 years. These stills serve a perfect backdrop for selfies and are very popular among tourers.

They say an exceptional single malt starts with a pure water source. The Glenlivet Distillery draws water from Josie’s Well and other springs nearby. To be at the source is quite an experience in itself. One can see the life of a whisky bottle in full circle. George Smith built his distillery close to Josie’s Well, a natural spring that bubbles out of the dark earth. Fed by winter snows and rain, the pure mountain water makes an underground journey to the spring through mineral rich layers of limestone and granite. These influences in the water make for an incomparable malt whisky and an exceptional taste according to Colin Scott. This humble well in the middle of the wilderness is quite a sight.

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What followed was truly magical. We stopped in the middle of nowhere after leaving the Glenlivet Distillery, which came a surprise of sorts for most of us. Surrounded by pristine snow and no civilisation around, we got down to raise a toast and enjoy Glenlivet in the most surreal of the scenic settings. Those moments are etched in the memory forever.

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Next was a tete-a-tete with another lovely brand — Aberlour. The distillery in Strathspey is located at the confluence of the rivers Lour and Spey near Ben Rinnes. The exceptionally pure, soft spring water used for making Aberlour whisky is drawn from nearby natural springs. Aberlour was also one of the first distilleries to offer a ‘bottle your own’ whisky to visitors.

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The creators of this incredible whisky believed that ‘the proof is in drinking’. Rather than boasting about the distinctive qualities of his single malt, the founder, James Fleming remained true to his family’s motto since the days of Robert the Bruce, ‘Let the deed show.’ A medium-weight single malt, Aberlour’s character balances malt, fruit and a distinctive blackcurrant note. It is a whisky which gains in weight and toffee-like sweetness as it matures and has sufficient depth to be able to cope with Sherry cask maturation.

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While the entire Aberlour portfolio is great, A’bunadh has been a favourite for sometime now. In 1975, during the installation of two new stills at the Aberlour distillery, workmen discovered a time capsule that contained a bottle of Aberlour with a newspaper from 1898 wrapped around it. A’bunadh is an attempt to re-create the style of Aberlour whisky from that period. While it carries no age statement, each bottle carries a unique batch number. It’s released in limited-run batches ranging from one to as many as five per year.

With this we finished the three-day whisky tour and headed back to the splendid yet cosy abode for the trip — Linn House. A 19th century Scottish baronial mansion sitting on the banks of the River Isla, Linn House became a property of Chivas Brothers in 1993. It was time to enjoy the home made scrumptious dinner with the whole gang in the extravagant dining room with some live Scottish music and high-octane performances. The dinner highlight was Haggis, a quintessential Scottish savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck; minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach. It was a time to rejoice the company, the food, the conversations and most importantly, more whisky!

A man may drink and not be drunk
A man may fight and not be slain
A man may court a pretty girl
And perhaps be welcomed back again
But since it has so ought to be
By a time to rise and a time to fall
Come fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all
Good night and joy be with you all

(Excerpts from ‘The Parting glass’, a Scottish traditional song, often sung at the end of a gathering of friends)