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

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    Warehouses
    Warehouses

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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

 

 

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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

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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

 

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
Grinder
Grinder
Walking into an open MashTun
Walking into an open Mash Tun

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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

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Cooper
Cooper

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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.

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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.

Oban Distillery

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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

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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.