Aberlour Distillery

Visit #9, September 24, 2016


In the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland surrounded by burns or streams and the River Spey is the town of Aberlour.  Some people know Aberlour from the famous Walkers shortbread which is made here.  Others make the pilgrimage to fish or enjoy the beautiful countryside.  Our group came to Aberlour for its whisky and what a great place to base oneself to visit the many distilleries in the area.  Of course, when you stay in Aberlour, the highlight has to be the Aberlour Distillery, and it was better than shortbread, a fine treat indeed.

The Aberlour Distillery was built in 1879 by James Fleming, the son of a local farmer.  He wanted to create a distillery that would represent what a true distillery should look like.  Unlike most distilleries, it was powered by a waterwheel until the 1960s using the rushing stream nearby.  He was a community man and did many important things for the town and people as well.  A town hall is now named after him, Fleming Hall.  But he was also very proud of the spirit that came out of the distillery and had a famous family motto of “Let the Deed Show,” telling people that the spirit itself was the true testament of his whisky-making and expertise.

Upon Fleming’s death in 1895, the distillery went through a number of hands and eventually was acquired by Pernod Ricard in 1975 which then joined Chivas Brothers in 2001.  Aberlour is the best selling Scotch in France with over a million bottles a year being sold there.ABERLOUR II

Our Aberlour Experience tour started at 10am and was led by Susan.  After telling us about the history of the Aberlour Distillery and James Fleming, we visited the different areas of production of the spirit, and here are some notes from our tour:

  • Water source comes from springs on the Ben Rinnes mountain and Linn Falls – pH of 7 (neutral)
  • 320 liters of liquid yeast used in each production
  • 1962 – the year malting was out-sourced, Balvenie still malts 10% of the barley for Aberlour – no peat used for their malt
  • 25 tons of malted barley delivered at a time, 12 tons used with each production
  • The Porteus mill is over 60 years old
  • In 1898 the distillery was completely destroyed by an explosion in the mill
  • 48,000 liters of water go through the Mash Tun – mash water temps are 65 degrees / 80 degrees / 95 degrees to produce the wort (about 60,000 liters)
  • 6 washbacks – stainless steel painted white – fermentation takes between 48-50 hours
  • 4 swan-shaped stills – 2 wash and 2 spirit stills (15,000 liters)
  • Heads: 15 minutes / Hearts: 1 hour (5,000 liters) / Tails: 2 hours
  • Ex-Oloroso sherry butts and Ex-Bourbon casks are used
  • 2 large racked warehouses (stacked 8 high) on site (15,000 barrels), some whisky stored off site but within 15 miles of the distillery
  • 7 team managers on site







The tour was very well done and and we were able to visit all of the areas of production.  The Aberlour Experience tour includes a nice tasting as well.  The following different expressions were tasted:

  • The New Make Spirit – straight off the still (un-aged), 63.5% ABV
  • Bourbon-Cask Matured 15 year old, 53.7% ABV
  • Sherry-Cask Matured 16 year old, 56.5% ABV
  • 10 year old – #1 selling whisky in France, 40% ABV, bourbon and sherry cask fill
  • 16 year old – first-fill bourbon cask, re-fill sherry cask, 40% ABV
  • A’Bunadh – Batch 51, cask strength 60.8% ABV






Let’s just say that it was good that we were able to walk to the distillery from our hotel up the hill!  It was a great way to end a very nice tour and experience.

The Dowans Hotel
The Dowans Hotel

Charles’ Notes: Aberlour was one of the distilleries that I was most interested in visiting due to its popularity abroad and the fact that we were staying right next to it at The Dowans Hotel for 4 nights.  By the way, The Dowans Hotel made for a perfect base to explore the Speyside region’s offerings and I would stay there again in a heartbeat.  Great food and whisky bar!  The distillery had a smaller feel than what I expected from a Chivas/Pernod Ricard owned maker, but this was a good thing.  It made me think of the late 19th century when the distillery was being run by Mr. Fleming.  It is set on a nice piece of property right along the stream.  It really is a perfect spot for someone to visit, especially if they are staying in town like we did.  I did regret not picking up the bourbon-cask matured 15 year old.  This was my favorite taste.  At home, the A’Bunadh has become one of my favorites as well (Batch 50).  I guess I will just need to make another visit!  Cheers.

Charles and Father In Law
Charles and Father In Law

Glenmorangie Distillery

Visit #8, September 23, 2015GlenmorangieI

A safari in Scotland is something most people would laugh at.  But in the Highlands of Scotland, about an hour north of Inverness, is a waterhole where a certain type of game can be viewed.  Giraffes.  A whole herd of them.  Tall and colored in copper.  Here at the Glenmorangie Distillery are the famous stills, the giraffe stills, which they say are the tallest in Scotland.  Set in a beautiful location outside of Tain, the Glenmorangie Distillery produces classic single malts using a number of types of casks.  These giraffes produce a lighter, cleaner taste, one that represents the beautiful location and air surrounding the Dornoch Firth and area around Tain.  There were no lions, just thirsty tourists!

The history of the Glenmorangie Distillery goes back to 1843 when the “Morangie” farm distillery was started by the Matheson brothers.  Malt wasn’t produced until 1849 and it wasn’t until 1887 that the Glenmorangie Distillery Company, Ltd. was founded.  The distillery was sold to two partners, Macdonald and Muir, in 1918.  The Macdonald family would run the company until 2004 when it was purchased by LVMH, a French multinational luxury goods conglomerate, headquartered in Paris, France.

Prior to our tour we had the opportunity to go walk to the shore banks at the base of the slope where the distillery overlooks the Dornoch Firth.  It is a beautiful spot and one where the warehouses filled with spirit get to rest and take in the fresh Scottish air and temperatures.  It is a great time to reflect and think about the long history that these distilleries have withstood.  It is also a great time to prepare you for the tour and the process from which their spirit is born.GlenmorangieIVGlenmorangieVGlenmorangieVII

Our tour was led by Michael Fraser who started with a description of their famous icon, the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, a Pictish stone discovered on the East coast of the Tarbat Peninsula in Scotland.  This carving inspired the brand emblem and ties both the old skill and modern day skill of the Scottish people.  Michael led us through the distillery and here are the notes we took:

  • They don’t add their single malts to blends
  • In 1977 they started to use off-site malting, 6 million liters/year of malted barley
  • They only use 2 parts per million peat
  • 10 tons of grist per batch
  • They use hard water (lots of calcium and minerals) taken from the Tarlogie Springs – only Highland Park and The Glenlivet are the other two distilleries using hard water
  • Mash tun is stainless steel and holds a 9.8 tonne mash
  • Mash tun water temps – 63.5 degrees / 84 degrees / boiling point
  • 12 stainless steel washbacks each holding up to 50,000 liters – they changed to stainless steel in the 1960s and they were one of the first
  • Fermentation takes between 52-55 hours
  • 12 stills – the tallest in Scotland called “giraffe” stills, measure 8 meters, 5.14 meters is the neck of the still – still house is called Highland Cathedral
  • 6 wash stills holding 11,400 liters each
  • 6 spirit stills holding 8,200 liters each
  • Pressure relief valves seen on the stills are there for aesthetics, no purpose
  • Stills run 15 minutes of head, 3 hours of hearts and 2 hours of tails
  • 1st to use an ex-bourbon cask in 1949
  • 29 warehouses, Cellar 13 is famous because of its proximity to the water
  • They own some forests in the Ozarks, wood is dried for 2 years and then used in Kentucky for 4 years before being sent to Scotland
  • Barrels are only used twice
    Giraffe Stills
    Giraffe Stills




Overall, the tour was very informative.  Michael was able to answer our questions or guide us to someone who did.  At the end of the tour we had a tasting of the 10 year old.  It is the 4th most popular dram in the world and the 1st in Scotland.  We also paid to taste a couple of different other editions as well.

Charles’ Notes:  I wasn’t sure what to expect with Glenmorangie but I was very impressed.  The location is stunning and I think this is what stood out most about this visit.  Just to walk down to the shore and see the warehouses overlooking the water…  We were unable to take pictures inside which always is tough for me since I like to have these memories recorded.  But I understand that safety and liability is the number one priority at these highly-visited spots.  The giraffe stills were beautiful and definitely unique.  They had a nice little museum and gift shop.  I would like to come back to Glenmorangie one day and do the Heritage Tour and visit the springs and have lunch at the Glenmorangie House.GlenmorangieII



The Dalmore Distillery

Visit #7, September 23, 2015Dalmore VIII

Certain single malt whiskies have a special place in our hearts.  Maybe it was the first one you tried.  Or possibly a special dram for a special occasion.  The Dalmore holds a place in my heart.  It was one of the first whiskies that I tried making me want to buy another bottle!  The trip to The Dalmore distillery just north of Inverness in the Northern Highlands of Scotland was a day I was looking forward to for a long time.  The distillery is set on the banks of the Cromarty Firth overlooking the Black Isle.  It is a beautiful spot and turned out to be worth the wait.

Overlooking Cromarty Firth
Overlooking Cromarty Firth

Dalmore VII

Founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson, the distillery was leased and managed by the Sunderland family until 1867.  In 1886 the distillery was sold to new owners, brothers Andrew and Charles Mackenzie, members of the Clan Mackenzie.  Currently the distillery is owned and operated by Whyte and Mackay Ltd which is owned by Emperador, Inc., a Phillipine holding company involved in bottling and distributing distilled spirits.

Our late-morning tour started by learning some of the history of The Dalmore and the story of “The Death of the Stag,” which is also a painting by Benjamin West found in the National Galleries of Scotland.  The story goes that the first chieftain of the Clan Mackenzie saved the life of the Scottish King Alexander III during a hunting expedition in 1283.  In turn, the King gifted the chieftain with the Royal emblem of a 12-pointed stag that was used in the coat of arms.  The 12-pointed Royal Stag emblem is now found on every bottle of The Dalmore spirit, called the caberfeidh.  It is quite the story and a great symbol for The Dalmore.Dalmore IV

Here are some of the notes from our tour:

  • Malted barley goes into 14 twenty-five ton bins
  • Stainless steel Mash Tun holds 42,000 liters of grist
  • Three water infusions of 62 degrees, 75 degrees and 82 degrees in Mash Tun.  Process takes about 7 hours.
  • 8 washbacks hold approximately 49,500 liters of worts.  Washbacks are made of Oregon Pine and are between 50-80 years old.
  • 50 hours of fermentation in washbacks
  • 8 stills in total – 4 wash and 4 spirit
  • Flat-top stills because of the roof of the old barn
  • Wash stills – 13,000 liters and Spirit stills – 8,000 liters
  • Heads run for about 30 minutes, hearts for six hours and tails for about 30 minutes
  • 9 warehouses on site (4 racked) holding 4 million liters of spirit
  • 10% is kept at the distillery, about 60,000 casks on site
  • Down time is 2 weeks in summer and 2 weeks near ChristmasDalmore IIIDalmore IXDalmore X

Overall, it was a great tour of the facility.  Pictures were not allowed inside the facility, unfortunately.  But we were able to walk around the property and enjoy the views and take in that great distillery smell.

Our tour ended with a tasting in a very nice tasting room where we watched an initial video on the history of The Dalmore.  The tasting included:

  • 12 year-old, which is aged for 9 years in bourbon casks and 3 years in sherry casks
  • 15 year-old, which is aged for 12 years in bourbon casks and split into 3 sherry casks for 3 years
  • 18 year-old, which is aged for 14 years in bourbon casks and 4 years in  Matusalem sherry casks
  • Cigar Malt, no age-statement, approximately aged for 15 years and ends in Cabernet casks for 18 months
  • Distillers Edition 2015 finished in bourbon casks, higher ABV (my favorite)

Charles’ notes: The Dalmore distillery turned out to be a great experience.  I did have one regret, however.  I ended up not buying a bottle of the Distillers Edition and it haunted me for the rest of my whisky tour through Scotland…!!  There were only a limited number of bottles left too.  Well, we do learn.  The tour was very nice and informative even though our guide was battling through a cold, but she was great and a trooper.  There was a funny story about some Scandinavian visitors skinny dipping in one of the water troughs after hours, but that is for another time.  I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to The Dalmore.  It was set in a great spot and close to some good food options as well.  We made the day trip up from Aberlour in the Speyside region and this is very doable.  We combined this visit with a visit to Glenmorangie later in the day.  I look forward to the next visit at The Dalmore.Dalmore V


Glenfarclas Distillery

Visit #6, September 22, 2015GLENFARCLAS XIV

There is a sense of calming when visiting the Glenfarclas distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland.  Maybe it is the “family” atmosphere which is evident at the distillery as we saw Mr. Grant loading the family dogs into his vehicle.  It could also be the Glenfarclas dram and taste that has become so memorable over the years.  But the real calming came from the tour and experience of visiting this family-run distillery, one of the last remaining family distilleries in the Speyside region.

Located in Ballindalloch, the Glenfarclas distillery was first founded in 1836 by a farm tenant John Hay.  It wasn’t until 1865 that the Grant family became involved.  Since then it has remained in the Grant family and is currently run by both the 5th and 6th generations of the family.  This is quite impressive and unique in this era of large corporate-run makers of spirits.GLENFARCLAS XVI

Our tour started in the Visitor’s Center where we learned about the family history behind this special malt.  From here we were led down to the working facility.  On the way we passed a waterwheel being fed by water from springs coming down from the Ben Rinnes mountain, the main water source for the distillery.  The facility is not fancy or embellished.  It is a true working facility and not set up for looks…GLENFARCLAS IIGLENFARCLAS I

We visited all of the different stages of the process, including the mill, the mash tun, the washbacks, the still room, and the warehouses.  Our guide was excellent and she provided a lot of information on all aspects of the production.

Here are some notes from the tour:

  • 11 storage tanks / hoppers store 3 weeks of grain for spirit production
  • Up until 1975, Glenfarclas did their own malting but it is now delivered
  • Buhler mill is used to make grist, they test the grist three times looking for a mix of 80% grist, 15% husks and 5% flour
  • 16.5 tons of grist is placed in the mash tun which is 10 meters in diameter
  • Three water stages during the mashing at 64 degrees / 78 degrees / 89-90 degrees
  • 12 stainless steel washbacks from over 40 years ago hold 41,000 liters each
  • Fermentation takes approximately 48 hours
  • Six stills heated by direct fire (gas)
  • 1 large wash still (26,500 liters) and 1 large spirit still (21,200 liters)
  • 25,000 liters of wort in the wash still
  • Three cuts of the spirit: 20 minutes of head, 3 to 4 hours of heart, and 4 to 5 hours of tail
  • A total of 33 warehouses store 55,000 casks
    Grist Mill
    Grist Hopper
    Stone Remover
    Malt Mill
    Stone Remover
    Stone Remover
    Mash Tun and Washbacks
    Mash Tun and Washbacks
    Large stills
    Large stills


    Spirit Safe
    Spirit Safe



    Family Casks
    Family Casks

The standard distillery tour ends with a tasting at the Visitor’s Center.  They have two other tours that are provided for a higher price, including the Connoisseur’s Tour and Tasting, and the Five Decades Tour and Tasting.  These tours offer more to taste and the Five Decades tour includes a taste of each of the decades from the family casks.  Very cool.  Our guide let us taste the 10-year old Glenfarclas, but then did let us taste the 25-year old as a special treat.  Classy!  It was very much appreciated.

Tasting Room
Tasting Room

Charles’ Notes: I was very much looking forward to this visit.  Glenfarclas has always been a favorite, but this propelled it to a place of admiration that is tough to beat.   There is something to be said about a family-run distillery.  Maybe it is the buy-in of the people who have worked there for so many years.  But it is also the old-school methods that are still used to produce this great spirit.  Compared to some of the distilleries we visited, there was less computerization, more human contact and a family history that is still seen.  I definitely want to return here for another visit when I am in the Speyside next.  What was also fun was that the Mash Tun hotel/restaurant down in Aberlour had many of the family casks available at their bar.  Not a bad way to end a day!


The Glenlivet Distillery

Visit #5, September 22, 2015Glenlivet III

The Glenlivet Distillery is a very popular stop on the Whisky Trail in the Speyside region of Scotland.  Its global presence in the marketplace is unmistakable.  Even the branding includes the saying, “The single malt that started it all.”  It’s definitely one of those malts that everyone has heard of and maybe even tasted.  There were travels that I took in different parts of the world where The Glenlivet was the only selection of single malt Scotch available.  Not surprisingly, it continues to be the largest selling single malt in the United States and now ranks second globally.  It also doesn’t hurt that the distillery is located on a beautiful hillside just outside of Ballindalloch.  Quite a stunning sight!

The history of the distillery goes back to the time when Scottish legislation was passed in 1823 for distillers to apply and receive a license to legally produce spirit.  George Smith, the creator of The Glenlivet, was one of first adopters of this “legal” process to the dismay of many other distillers who wanted this new legislation to be repealed.  Many threats on his life were made, but eventually The Glenlivet distillery was established in 1824.  The distillery remained in the family and it wasn’t until the early 1950s that the distillery went through a variety of mergers and acquisitions and is currently owned by the French spirits company, Pernod Ricard.

Stills to the left and Visitor Center straight ahead
Stills to the left and Visitor Center straight ahead

The Glenlivet distillery offers one of the few free tours found in the area.  The distillery also has additional tours that are more specific based on different experiences and tastings and these are priced accordingly.  We decided to do the free tour since we were short on time and visiting two other distilleries on the same day.  There are also walking trails of varying lengths that can be done in the surrounding countryside.  On a return visit, we would definitely include some time to do this.  It is such a beautiful area.

Below are notes that we took during our distillery tour:

  • Josie’s Well is the main water source for The Glenlivet distillery.  The name Glenlivet in Gaelic means “valley of the smooth flowing one”
  • 400 metric tons of malted barley are delivered into the Malt Bins – this lasts about 5 days
  • The distillery operates 6 days a week and 42 weeks a year
  • 13.3 tons of grist are mashed with 105,000 liters of water
  • Three water temps (Fahrenheit) used during the mashing process: 65 / 78 / 78->96
  • 59,000 liters of wort are produced per mash
  • 8 washbacks seen on tour, an additional 8 washbacks in the old building
  • Washbacks are made of Oregon Pine and are 8 meters deep
  • Fermentation takes 2 to 3 days
  • 3 pairs of stills in the new building and 4 pairs in the old building
  • Wash stills hold 15,000 liters / Spirit stills hold 10,000 liters
  • Head cut – 20 minutes / Heart cut – 2 hours / Tails cut – 3 hours
  • Silent season – time needed for maintenance, anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks
  • Casks are re-used 3 times
  • 6,000 casks in 10 different warehouses totaling 60,000 casks
  • No cooperage on site
    The Still Room - behind the windows - no photos allowed inside
    The Still Room – behind the windows – no photos allowed inside

    Glenlivet II


The tour ended with a tasting.  Three tastes were provided which was generous considering that the tour was free.  The first taste was the no-age statement Founders Reserve.  The second taste was the 15-year-old French Oak Reserve at 40% ABV.  The last taste was the cask-strength Nadurra, another no-age statement whisky at 63.1% ABV.

There is a nice cafe and small exhibition space at the main visitor center.  This is helpful because at The Glenlivet they do get busloads of people so there might be a wait for the free tour.  We did have to wait, but this was fine since we were hungry and needed a little break.

The Glenlivet Chandelier
The Glenlivet Chandelier

Charles’ Notes: The Glenlivet distillery was a nice surprise.  I did not have very high expectations since it was a free tour, an immensely-marketed whisky and such a popular destination for tourists.  For some reason, I always think this would make for a lackluster experience.  But it turned out to be a very nice visit on a beautiful property.  The views were incredible.  The tour itself was very informative and open to information (sometimes you never know what they like to keep secret).  The one downside was that they do not allow photos inside any of the working buildings.  For this reason, I do not have many photos to share!!  Most distilleries that do not allow photos say it is for safety reasons (fire danger, etc.), but there are a lot of distilleries that do allow photos.  I think at times it is said more for keeping things secret, but oh well.  I would like to return to The Glenlivet to do a higher-level tasting tour and then go on one of the walking trails nearby.  Now that sounds like a nice Speyside day.  Slainte!

Glenfiddich Distillery

Visit #4, September 22, 2015


It was a cool, damp Speyside morning.  One that begs to be distilled.  The visit this morning was to the Glenfiddich Distillery just outside of Dufftown.  Upon driving into the parking lot, you are greeted by huge antlers shaped from two-by-fours and other plant material.  Quite a sight.  The antlers are appropriate since Glenfiddich means “Valley of the Deer” in Scottish Gaelic and they can be seen on every bottle.P1020288


Founded in 1886 by William Grant and sons, Glenfiddich is one of the few remaining distilleries to remain family-owned.  You could feel the pride in this from our tour guide.  This is quite amazing since they are such a large producer of single malt Scotch and since 2000 they have received more awards than any other single malt Scotch whisky in both the International Wine & Spirit Competition and the International Spirits Challenge.  We took the Explorers Tour, one of three tours that are available at Glenfiddich.

The water that sources the world’s best-selling single malt whisky is the Robbie Dhu spring.  100 tons of barley a day are used and this is taken down to 9 1/2 tons during processing.  They use two mills for grinding the barley and two mash tuns that hold up to 60,000 liters each.  The three water sparges in the mash tun are at 68 degrees, 75 degrees and 86 degrees.  41,000 liters of mash are converted into wort and then cooled in a heat exchanger before being sent to fermentation.  Glenfiddich uses 32 washbacks made of Douglas Fir for fermentation.  It was an interesting note that they use the high branch line of the Douglas Fir (over 17ft) for their washbacks.  Fermentation takes approximately 72 hours and produces a wash of 9.6% ABV.

Mash Tun
Mash Tun



There are two still buildings at Glenfiddich containing a total of 28 stills.  The life of their stills is between 8 1/2 to 9 1/2 years and they use gas heating, not coils.  Once the wash stills have started to produce the condensed, cleaned-up spirits, the first 1/2 hour comprises the head or the foreshots and this is then taken to be redistilled.  The heart, or the runoff with the proper high percentage of alcohol, runs for about 2 1/2 hours at 21% ABV.  This tail or the feints are the last runoff and they last for about 1/2 hour and are redistilled.  The low wines (heart) is then heated and condensed again in the spirit stills.  Glenfiddich has two differently shaped spirit stills, one that is a pot belly where vapor spirals up and the other which is a witches hat or lantern where the vapor goes straight up.  The heart from this new distillation will produce a ‘new make’ spirit of about 70% ABV.

Entrance to one of the still buildings
Entrance to one of the still buildings


Glenfiddich houses its own onsite cooperage where the coopers build and char new casks and do repairs as needed.  They store 1 million barrels and casks among 46 warehouses.   Amerian oak and Spanish Oloroso oak casks are used.   We visited one warehouse with a marrying tub where spirits of 85% bourbon and 15% sherry were being married.   Here also is where Glenfiddich uses the Solera process for its 15-year old whisky.


Our Explorers Tour ended with a tasting of four Glenfiddich whiskies.  The first taste was the 12-year old which is comprised of 85% bourbon casks and 15% sherry casks.  The second taste was the 14-year old Rich Oak, also a mix 85% bourbon casks and 15% sherry casks.  The third taste was the 15-year old Solera Unique Reserve.  The last and my favorite was the 18-year old which is comprised of 80% bourbon casks and 20% sherry casks.

Matt and Charles taking notes
Matt and Charles taking notes
Tasting Room
Tasting Room
Glenfiddich Artwork
Glenfiddich Artwork

Charles’ Notes:  I was not sure what to expect from this distillery visit.  I was thinking it was going to have more of a corporate feel since it is such a large producer worldwide, but the family influence came across nicely.  Our guide also made it feel that way which was nice.  I think he was the only guide on our 11-distillery visit that even wore his tartan clothing!  The tour itself was very well done with a movie to start in a nice facility and then a full visit to each stage of the operation.  The tasting room was nicely laid out with artwork and Glenfiddich memorabilia.  It made me want to come back and do their other tours which I will definitely do the next time I am in the Speyside.   Just a quick note, if you are a driver and visit this distillery, they do provide “to go” drams so that you can taste at your leisure when you return back to the hotel or home.P1020279


Tomatin Distillery

Visit #3, September 21, 2015Sign

Located in the Northern Highlands of Scotland, the Tomatin Distillery was our third distillery visit on our 9-day whisky tasting tour of Scotland.  Reservations were for the Taste of Tomatin Tour.  The distillery is approximately 20 miles south of Inverness and is set in a good location on the Alt na Frith, which is a water source that means ‘free burn’.  Founded in 1897, Tomatin is named after the Gaelic word for the Hill of Juniper Bush.  There are currently 30 families that work at the distillery.

In the 1970s, Tomatin saw its largest growth with the addition of 6 new pairs of stills totalling 23 in all.  At this time they were producing 12.5 million liters of spirit a year.  They were the largest distillery in Scotland.  During the tough times of the Scotch whisky industry in the 1980s, Tomatin was forced into liquidation in 1984 and was purchased by a Japanese company in 1986.  The current production is circa 2 to 3 million liters of spirit a year.

Tomatin gets its malted barley from Berwick-upon-Tweed which is southeast of Edinburgh on the coast of the North Sea.  They work with 120 tons a week and 8 tons per batch.  The grinding of the barley takes about 1 1/2 hours.  The production cycle runs from Sunday to Friday where they do three mashes producing 45,000 liters of wort using three temperatures of 60, 70 and 90 degrees.  We were actually able to walk into a mash tun (which was a first) and it was quite impressive to see the blades on the bottom and the size from within.

Malt Bin
Malt Bin
Walking into an open MashTun
Walking into an open Mash Tun


12 washbacks are located on the site where fermentation takes approximately 56 hours.  During the distillation process, the heart run lasts about 4-5 hours.  The stillman swings a rope to hit the still to listen to what is going on.  Depending on the sound that the still makes, the stillman is able to adjust or even repair if necessary.  This was something that we did not see at most distilleries and it takes a good amount of skill and experience.  The spirit is then put into the barrel at 63.5% alcohol.  At the Tomatin distillery, they store 180,000 casks on site.  They do have an on-site cooper that repairs barrels.  We were able to visit the workshop and see them working on constructing and repairing barrels.

12 washbacks
12 Washbacks
Still room
Still room




One other interesting note: Tomatin is one of the greenest distilleries.  They work with a biomass plant that reduces the distillery’s energy cost and greenhouse gas emissions.

Our Taste of Tomatin Tour concluded with a tasting of 6 different whiskies.  This was held in a tasting room which was nicely decorated with bottles of whisky in marked containers along the walls.  The first taste was the New Make, or the spirit that gets placed into the barrel at over 60% alcohol.  The second taste was the Tomatin Legacy, which is a non-age statement whisky but we were told it probably uses a combination of 5 to 8-year old whiskies.  The third taste was the Tomatin 12-year old.  Both the Legacy and the 12-year old whiskies were 43% alcohol content.  The fourth, and my favorite, was the Bourbon-barrel Cask Strength whisky at 56.4% alcohol and a 12-year old aging.  The fifth taste was the Sherry-barrel Cask Strength at 57% alcohol and 12 to 13-year old aging.  Our last taste was the Cu Bocan (the sprectral dog) which is a peated whisky (15 ppm), non-age statement but aged approximately 8 years.  Overall, it was a great tasting.


Charles’ Notes:  Our Tomatin visit was extremely informative.  Being a larger operation, you sometimes do not know what type of experience you will receive, but our guide provided  great information and took us through their whole facility.  It was a nice combination of history and the working process of this distillery.  Highlights included the mash tun visit, where we could actually step up into a mash tun to feel its immense size.  It was also nice to see the cooper at work and be able to ask questions directly.  This is something that would be difficult to do at a cooperage where everything is on such a timed clock.  The tasting was also well planned with a good selection of all of the various Tomatin whiskies.  The tour and experience well exceeded my expectations.

Ben Nevis Distillery


Visit #2, September 21, 2015

The amazing thing about travel is the unexpected.  Our Scotland whisky-tasting tour initially planned on visiting the Ben Nevis distillery in Fort William, Scotland, but a reservation was difficult to make so we planned on skipping it.  But while passing through Fort William, we stopped at a BP gas station to take a break.  Across the street from the BP station is the Ben Nevis distillery (picture above), staring at us and enticing us to visit.  What did we have to lose…  Upon entering the distillery, our expectation was to visit the gift shop, but we were pleased to find out that a tour that was starting in a few minutes.  How great!  I explained the difficulty we had with initially communicating with them and they apologized and mentioned that some employees were away and this caused some of the issues.  It turned out to be one of the best distillery visits we had out of the 11 that were visited during our Scotland adventure.  A truly special treat.

The Ben Nevis distillery sits at the base of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.  It is an impressive and beautiful mountain and area where many outdoor enthusiasts search for their time in nature.  The water that is used for the distillery comes from the Allt a’Mhuilinn, which is a stream descending from the northern slopes of Ben Nevis.

It was founded in 1825 by Long John McDonald (from where the blended scotch, Long John, was named).  The distillery is now owned by a Japanese company Nikka which acquired the distillery in 1989.  10 people currently run the distillery.


The are two malt bins at the distillery where Ben Nevis stores the malted barley it uses.  The process begins on Sunday at midnight.  The mash tun is 21,000 liters in size.  There are four stainless steel washbacks and two wooden washbacks on site.  Eight years ago, these two wooden washbacks, made of Dougles Spruce, were reintroduced to the distillery.  Each washback holds approximately 43,000 liters and fermentation takes about 15 hours.

Ben Nevis Mash Tun


Washbacks - Two wooden
Washbacks – Two wooden



The two pot stills and two spirit stills are made of copper.  Our guide, John Carmichael, stated that this was due to the fact the stainless steel was not available 1400 years ago…  14,000 liters of spirit are made weekly at the distillery.  The spirit is taxed at 87.2%.

Pot Stills
Pot Stills


Ben Nevis uses a mix of Spanish, French and American oak for their barrels and all barrels are made on site.  Some of their casks are from Jack Daniels.  They typically can do up to 5 different fillings per cask.  Sherry casks are also used since they are large and have less evaporation.P1020252

Once the tour ended, we were back in the gift shop and tasting counter where we all were able to taste the 10-year old.  Before we knew it, John, our guide, came back over to us and led us outside and upstairs for an unexpected treat.  He had set up the executive conference room for us to taste some of their aged bottles.  We tried the newmake straight out of the still, the 12-old and the 25-year old.  Wow, how great this was.  We went from almost passing by the distillery on our way up north, to getting a great tour, followed by a special tasting.  The 25-year old Ben Nevis was one of the best whiskies I have tasted.  At 56.4% alcohol, it had a kick but the age smoothed it out.  We tried bottle #151 out of 227.  It was a fantastic treat and one that I will never forget.  Cheers to John Carmichael for making this distillery stop one of our favorites.

25-year old
25-year old
12-year old
12-year old
Mr. Carmichael
Mr. Carmichael
Matt with John Carmichael

Charles’ Notes:  The Ben Nevis distillery was a great stop.  Not only is it located at the base of  one of the most beautiful mountains in Scotland, it felt real and didn’t have that corporate feeling that you can find with some of the larger distilleries.  We had full access to take photos, to ask questions, and to explore each room on the site.  John, our guide, made this extra special as well with his humor and Scottish charm and, of course, the special private tasting that we had.  We are already looking forward to our next visit at Ben Nevis in the future.


Oban Distillery


Visit #1, September 20, 2015

When entering the resort town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, it is hard not to notice how perfectly situated this town surrounds the bay on the Firth of Lorn.  It is protected by islands to the west and to the north.  The modern town of Oban actually grew up around the distillery, which was founded in 1794 by the Stevenson brothers.  It is so centrally located that it is not necessary to drive there.  Just by walking around the corner from our hotel, we were at the doorstep of a beautiful stone building housing the distillery and its classic single malt.20150920_141127


Local seafood
Local seafood


The three in our group signed up for the Sensory and Flavours Tour in the afternoon on a busy Sunday in Oban.  The tour began with an overview of its history and the many changeovers of ownership since 1794.  It is currently owned by Diageo who acquired it in 1989 through a merger.  The water source for their whisky comes from Loch Glenn a’Bhearraidh.  The four primary senses that the tour guide told us to look for were: 1. smoky, 2. sea salt, 3. orange peel, and 4. honey.

The malting of the barley does not happen on site as is the case with most distilleries in Scotland.  They do add a small amount of peat to their whisky which distinguishes it from many Highland malts.  When they grind the malted barley, they are looking for a composition of 20% husk, 70% grist and 10% flour.  They use a sieve to check the consistency of the grind.  That is one thing we heard from Oban that we didn’t hear from many other distilleries.

Once ready, the ground malted barley is placed in the mash tun, or a large vat of heated spring water and goes through three water stages, each at an increasing temperature.  At Oban the first stage was at 64°, the second at 78°, and the last at 83°.  They do 6 mash tuns per week at the Oban distillery.  Once the starch in the barley is converted into sugars, the wort (sugar liquid) is placed into one of four washbacks for fermentation.

The washbacks at Oban are made of European Larch and will last up to 40 years.  When they need to be replaced, the roof at Oban is detachable and they can be lifted in and out of the distillery.  Each washback can hold up to 36,000 liters of content but they are only filled up to 31,000 liters initially since the yeast will cause the froth to grow and you don’t want the washbacks to overflow.  It takes about 4 days for fermentation in their washbacks which produce a 9% wash.  The washbacks get steam-cleaned between each use.

At Oban there are two copper stills: a wash still that holds 18,880 liters and a spirit still that holds 8,296 liters.   The spirit receiver holds up to 5,270 liters.  25,000 liters of newmake are produced every week.  During the tour, we had the privilege of tasting a 58.2% 11-year-old cask strength sample, straight from the cask.  Pretty cool.

Our guide explaining the whisky chart
Our guide explaining the whisky chart
Matt holding the standard Oban 14yo
Matt holding the standard Oban 14yo









Charles’ Thoughts:  Oban was one of the first single malt scotches that I tasted in my life so it is fitting that it is the first distillery in Scotland that I visited.  The town was quite impressive and so was the distillery.  Unfortunately they did not allow pictures inside of the working part of the distillery for “safety” reasons and this became common among some of the large corporate-owned distilleries that we visited.  But I do have to say that the tour was very informative, the guide great and the distillery quite stunning.  It was just amazing that it was in the middle of such a beautiful town.  And it doesn’t hurt that their 14 year-old malt is still one of my favorites.

Looking up the hill towards distillery
Looking up the hill towards distillery
A parting shot. Goodbye Oban, we enjoyed our time here.
A parting shot. Goodbye Oban, we enjoyed our time here.