Aberlour Distillery

Visit #9, September 24, 2016

ABERLOUR I

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

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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

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ABERLOUR X

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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
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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.