Scotland is not known for its good weather, but our first few days in Scotland have been very warm with clear blue skies and plenty of sunshine.
On 6 June 2018, a day after arriving in Glasgow from Australia, I woke up early at 4.00am with a sense of excitement like a little kid on Christmas Day. I was super excited about my upcoming tour that day of the Glengoyne distillery. But this would not just be any old tour. This would be Glengoyne’s Warehouse No . 1 tour.
The scenic drive to the Glengoyne distillery was breathtaking. The grass was lush and green and the picture perfect rolling hills look like they are made for postcards.
The Glengoyne distillery is located north of Glasgow at Dumgoyne and it is close to Loch Lomond. Interestingly, the distillery sits in the Highlands region while its warehouse sits across the road in the Lowlands region. This means that while the whisky matures in the Lowlands, it is still Highland single malt whisky. The distillery obtained its licence to distil in 1833, though before 1907 its name was Glenguin of Burnfoot.
Upon arriving at the Glengoyne distillery it is not hard to see why the distillery has a reputation as one of Scotland’s most beautiful distilleries.
The distillery itself resembles a quaint little village, with buildings painted in white and a large cottage styled building which was historically used as the distillery manager’s home. To add to the charm of the place, at the rear of the distillery a small waterfall feeds water into a gently flowing stream. Words, and pictures, do not do this place justice.
When we arrived at the distillery we were greeted by a tour guide name Vivienne. Little did we know it at the time, but Vivienne would prove to be an extremely knowledgeable and entertaining guide.
We were led to the small waterfall at the rear of the distillery. The waterfall flowed into a small stream which snaked its way aong the distillery, and some of it ended up in a large muddy pond by one of the distillery’s many buildings. That water was once used to make Glengoyne single malt, but these days it is used to cool Glengoyne’s three copper stills.
Vivienne then took us to the area of the distillery where whisky is made, but not before hospitably serving us a dram of Glengoyne Cask Strength.
We were shown the distillery’s mash tuns, fermentation vats bubbling with the “beer” that would be distilled into spirit, and finally, the distillery’s wash still and its two spirit stills. Each step of the whisky making process was expertly covered in our personal tour, though Glengoyne insists the last step is the most important: drinking the whisky! I’ll drink to that!
The tour highlighted the key processes used by Glengoyne to make its whisky.
For one thing, the distillery uses barley which is dried using smokeless coal. It never uses barley that has been dried with peat. This continues a 200 year old tradition started by the founders who decided to air dry barley for whisky making out of necessity, because there is no peat around Dumgoyne. This barley is ground into a grist and mixed with water, and then the sugary water is placed in large wooden vats for fermentation.
This brings me to the fermentation vats, which are made from Oregon pine rather than stainless steel. Glengoyne uses wooden vats because the bacteria from the wood is thought to give its wash, which is eventually distilled into spirit, a flavour boost.
Glengoyne’s stills and method of distilling are designed to produce a clean and fruity spirit that is jam packed with flavour. The distillery claims to use the slowest stills in Scotland. One possible benefit of slow distillation is that the spirit has more contact with copper (which is what the stills are made from) and this may help to purify the spirit by removing sulpher and other impurities from the spirit. Another is that copper contact is thought to bring together sugars and flavours in the spirit.
Once distilled, the spirit is then put into oak casks at 63.5% abv.
Whisky will develop certain flavours depending on the wood types in which it matures. Glengoyne use a selection of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks to make its whisky, though one gets a sense from visiting the distillery that sherry wood is the wood of choice.
A whisky’s colour is also influenced by the wood in which it ages.
Within the distillery, bottles lining the walls showed the gradual colour change in whisky as it aged for 29 years. The picture above shows the way new make spirt changes in colour over the course of 29 years maturing in certain wood types – the first bottle in the line up is filled with clear new make spirit, and each subsequent bottle represents one extra year of maturation until the last bottle which is filled with 29 year old whisky.
The No.1 Warehouse Tour
In 2014, the distillery converted its old barley kiln into its No. 1 Warehouse. The warehouse, with its thick walls and stone floor, is the place where Glengoyne chooses to age some of its finest casks. Even the President of Korea has a cask there for personal use!
The warehouse’s iron gates are securely locked with a huge padlock, though on occasion lucky folks such as myself are granted entry through its gates to sample and bottle whisky straight from the cask.
In the No. 1 Warehouse, I drew two samples of single cask cask strength whisky.
The first sample was drawn from cask number 3565 which is a first-fill bourbon barrel (starting at 180 litres in the barrel) filled in 2004.
The second sample drawn was from cask number 785 which is a first-fill Oloroso American oak puncheon filled on 5 June 2002, which makes it one day over 16 years old! It stopped aging when I took it out of the barrel on 6 June 2018.
The next step was to taste the whisky and choose a favourite among the two. Vivienne guided us through the proper method of nosing and tasting whisky. After lots of nosing, slurping, and “chewing” the whisky for a solid 14 seconds per taste both with and without a few drops of water, it was time to choose and bottle a favourite.
Fortunately, my wife came with me on the tour so there was no need to lament over which whisky to bottle. We chose to bottle both whiskies.
My favourite, however, was the whisky from cask number 785 because it had a spectacular oily mouth-feel with lovely clean sherry flavours that needed lots of time to unpack (lucky I have a sample to try properly at home). The other whisky, from cask number 3565 was also delicious, and it offered plenty of toffee, gingerbread, vanilla and developing citrus as the whisky rested.
Once the whisky was selected for bottling, paperwork needed to be completed for that bottle because duty had to be paid on the whisky. Then, once the paperwork was completed the bottles of whisky were ready to take home.
Being one not to wait and delay the inevitable, the morning after the tour I enjoyed wee dram of Glengoyne cask strength at Inverlochy castle whilst being in awe of the Scottish countryside.
Glengoyne’s No. 1 Warehouse Tour was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to any whisky aficionado. Trying, and then bottling, whisky straight from the cask is an invaluable experience and memories of the experience will make my mouth water for many years to come.
Thank you Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd for arranging this tour.