Sunday, 10 October 2021

Glen Moray and Glenfiddich

One of my favourite distilleries is Glen Moray, even more so after our previous trip in May 2019. At home we have three Glen Moray whiskies: traditional, Fired Oak and my favourite Chardonnay cask, but it is always good to discover more.

This was the only distillery we actually took a tour of; the whisky process is the same in all distilleries, the difference being the shape of the stills and the finishing casks. As with most places we visited Glen Moray is very picturesque but noisy too as we visited on a working day with lorries and fork lifts moving about giving warning hoots on the horns as they went.

We were shown how the grain is turned into grist and then mash before going through the stills to become a clear alcoholic spirit ... whisky gets its colour from ageing in the various casks and a spirit cannot be called whisky until it has been maturing for 3 years and 1 day.

Scotland's Covid restrictions are higher than here at home and because we were in a working environment we had to wear our masks as well as using hand gel on entering any building. This isn't quite the 'still' photo we expected to take but it will certainly bring back memories in years to come. 

The final part of our tour was into the Duty Free Warehouse. No tax is paid on whisky until it is bottled so this warehouse is kept under lock and key. Each barrel is recorded and regularly checked as the value for the taxman is very high with the warehouse holding hundreds of barrels until bottling time, in some cases over 20 years.

I find it amazing how the cask changes the clear spirit. The combination of finishes is vast, not only the oak used but the previous contents of the barrel and the amount of charring given to the inside. I am always drawn to a wine cask finish but my favourite is a port cask, I'm not so keen on the sherry cask whiskies but then I'm not keen on sherry.

There were many barrel and whisky examples in the warehouse; these particular ones looked intriguing as not many distilleries use ale or cider casks, and the three wine barrels would always catch my eye. I'll be looking out for these when they are released in a few years' time.

No tour, be it whisky, gin, wine, beer or something else, is complete without a tasting. I was the driver so I could not join in as Scotland has a zero tolerance to drink driving. My tastings were certainly enjoyed by Hubby, along with his two wee dreams that were not so wee. We all selected one whisky from Glen Moray's bottled range with our other tasting from their cask strength whisky which is stored in the cask in the shop. When buying a cask whisky you have the joy of filling the bottle yourself and adding the label, a very personal bottle if you like this stronger spirit

As I said before I do enjoy a port cask whisky so it would have been very remiss to not purchase this set; a great whisky along with two Glen Moray glasses, I do like a branded glass. 

As well as a distillery tour we visited Speyside Cooperage. This is one of four cooperages in the same company but the only one where the coopers are on piece work meaning they are paid per barrel. This is very unusual these days but apparently it is what these coopers want as they enjoy the challenge of producing the quanitiy as well as quality ... the most unpopular cooper is the chap checking the barrels and returning any not right!

This cooperage refurshines barrels to the specific requirements of each distillery, all barrels are made of oak and the coopers check each to see if any staves need replacing. In some cases the barrels are completely taken apart and rebuilt before being charred to the said requirements. It was great to see the coopers at work, they cannot choose which barrel to work on as this could give an advantage given their piece work employment. 

There are so many gifts relating to whisky, some ornaments, some practical, some sadly too big to bring home (a garden table and chair set made from barrels) but I couldn't leave this pourer behind. I wonder which whisky will this be pouring at Christmas? 

A distillery name I have always known, mainly as it was my Dad's favourite malt, but also because it's one of Hubby's favourites is Glenfiddich. Their stag head is an iconic symbol of their brand, there was a stunning wooden pallet sculpture in the grounds ... so striking in the brooding sky.

Entering the Glenfiddich shop the stag head again stood out. I'd love to be writing this blog in that location, a wee dram making it perfect.

In 1887 William Grant, along with his wife, seven sons and two daughters began his dream of owning a distillery. They built the buildings by hand, completing the challenge in a year, William named his distillery Glenfiddich, the Valley of the Deer.

Glenfiddich is still family owned, something that's rare these days. It is one of the most awarded Scotch Whisky and is a name known worldwide.

Glenfiddich have a super range of whisky, as with all distilleries it has various casks and uses different maturation styles. Bottling and branding is also an important side of the whisky industry. Glenfiddich Grande Couronne is a 26 year old aged whisky, finished in French cognac casks. It certainly is a crowning glory, an eye catching bottle with the eye opening price of over £400.

Having a few Glenfiddich bottles at home, namely IPA and Select Cask, but not having time for any tastings we decided to buy miniatures of Glenfiddich 12, 15 and 18 year old and as with the Glenlivet (see my previous post) we'll have a tasting night here at home. 

Two great distilleries, we will certainly be enjoying whiskies from Glen Moray and Glenfiddich here at home ... roll on cold winter nights!

Jean-Max Roger Sancerre

At a Majestic tasting in Leicester in August 2019 we tried Jean-Max Roger's Sancerre Cuvée Genèse and although nice for me it had something missing. As you know I love Sancerre wine but had I been given this blind I would not have said it was from this appellation. Feeling the need to cleanse/change my palate I nibbled on the selection of cheeses offered ..... and yes it worked. Still a light Sancerre the flavours of gooseberries and citrus appeared. A good amount of acidity with now more length on its finish, but it left me a little disappointed.

In September 2019 we visited Sancerre  (a dream trip) and as Jean-Max Roger is in Bué, just outside Sancerre village but still within the appellation, we drove over and met Jean-Max's son. They were busy bottling 2018 vintage in order to make room in the vats for this year's wine with the grapes being harvested in the next week. I find it fascinating to see the articulated lorries at the domaines, turning into a mini bottling plant with the distinctive sound of bottles chinking along the conveyor belts.

We were warmly welcomed, especially when we said we had tried their wine at Majestic, although I did not mention my disappointment. We tasted four wines from their range of both soil varities and vintages. As soon as I tasted the second wine I knew it was the one we'd had at Majestic Leicester, confirmed by checking my photos online!

Last night we enjoyed a bottle of their Cuvée Les Caillottes that we had purchased when visiting the domaine two years ago. It's a beautiful elegant Sancerre, full of minerality with fresh citrus. This is my style of Sancerre and I really enjoyed it, many memories of our holiday.

This, and our trip, highlights for me two things: the vast different in any appellation, even by the same winemaker, and how much is discovered by visiting vineyards and domaines, something I hope we can be doing again soon.

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Pernod Ricard .... whisky

Many of the whisky distilleries are owned by bigger international groups, Pernod Richard is one of the biggest, owning many vineyards as well as distilleries worldwide.

During our tour of Scotland we visited three distilleries who are in the Pernod Ricard Group under Chivas Brothers; Glenlivet, Strathisla and Aberlour.

Our first visit was to Glenlivet. In 1822 in the remote Livet valley whisky was distilled without the knowledge of the Customs Officers. Hidden away George Smith distilled and perfected the Glenlivet whisky that is now known world wide. It was even requested by King George IV even though an illegal dram. 

In 1824 George travelled to Elgin where, because of a change in legalisation, he obtained a licence and became the first legal distller in Glenlivet parish. 

Hubby and I did not get the chance to visit this distillery in 2019 so we were very excited to fit in a trip this time. Stunned ... it just took my breathe away, the typical Scottish stonework outside did not prepare us for the amazing interior.

The array of whisky was vast, there were so many aged whiskies, so many variations on maturation as well as shiny gold, sparkling lights, comfy leather chairs - certainly a distillery that is high on my revisit list. A revisit with plenty of time to sit and enjoy the surroundings whilst enjoying a dram of this superb whisky .... but which one? 

Scotland is a zero tolerance country regarding alcohol and driving so it wasn't always possible to try any whisky. Hubby and I bought six Glenlivet miniatures so we can discover more here at home, probably on a dark winter's night with the fire on and if we're lucky snow outside.

Our second distillery in the group was Strathisla Distillery, an unexpected visit. We saw the sign and popped in, little did we know it is the Heart of Chivas Regal. Started in 1786 it is the oldest, and said to be prettiest distillery in the Highlands; it was certainly a beautiful setting.

I am always amazed at the vast variety of whisky in the distilleries. I guess it is similar to wine as in we only know what we see in the supermarkets and shops, our buying is controlled by the supermarket buyers. It's an education and delight to discovery much much more. Each distillery we visited had a vast selection of choice, Starthisla was no different with so many Chivas Regal whiskies all having a different and distinctive colour from the various casks used for maturation. 

Strathisla was certainly a hidden gem, Hubby discovered they also sell Glen Keith which is one he liked from a tasting elsewhere so we purchased a bottle to bring home. By signing up to their newsletter we were all given a Chivas glass and a Chivas Regal 18 miniature, one for another tasting at home. 

Aberlour was just down the road from our final stay in Dufftown, a small but prominent village with the main road running through and the fast flowing Spey river running nearby. Our third Pernod Rocard distillery was Aberlour founded in 1879 by James Fleming.

Here, with the backdrop of Ben Rinnes, the Lour burn flows into the Spey. The water used for Aberlour whisky comes from two high up burns with the Lour water used in the cooling process. 

Aberlour is a smaller, more intimate distillery and we very much enjoyed their 12 year old double cask single malt. Matured in Oloroso Sherry and American Oak barrels this whisky is quite complex in flavour. Full of citrus aromas with hints of apple, following on with rich fruit flavours with rich chocolate, finishing with sweet and spicy notes. As with all whiskies this really opens up when warmed, the Aberlour glass is perfect for caressing in your hands to warm the rich contents. 

Three superb distilleries, amazing whiskies which we will be enjoying at home with fond memories of our tour of Scotland. Glenlivet is certainly a place I'd love to revisit with time to savour.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Robertson's of Pitlochry and Gordon & Macphail

Two years ago Hubby and I took our first trip to Scotland, we were not great whisky fans when we set off but we certainly were when we came home. You can read about our previous adventures in my May 2019 blog posts.

Always happy to revisit places we have just enjoyed 10 days exploring Scotland with friends; visiting old places but also discovering new. There is so much to write about I have split my blog posts into themes but it may take me a while to write them all. 

I'm beginning with our tasting at Robertson's of Pitlochry hosted by the very knowledgeable owner Ewan McIlwraith. It was at this tasting two years ago we discovered whisky so we were all looking forward to another whisky afternoon. 

The tastings are held in The Bothy on a beautiful oak table laid with barrel staves holding four Glencairn glasses. Although a second visit I learnt so much more about this golden liquid.

Whisky can only be whisky if it has been in an oak barrel or cask for 3 years and 1 day and it cannot be below 40%. Blended whisky is different to malt as it can contain many different whiskies; Bell's can have up to 46 different varieties in its blend.

Whisky is a clear spirit when it enters the cask, it draws its colour and flavour from the type of cask it is stored in. Bourbon, sherry and wine barrels are the most commonly used, however some whisky producers do use caramel to add colour. It is often thought that the older, darker, more expensive a bottle is the better the whisky; this is not always the case but my final part of this blog will hopefully agree with that thought.

Our four whiskies were Stronachie 10 year old, Edradour, Robertson's Tobermorey and Golden Cask. All very different in colour, flavour and enjoyment.

Stronachie is a Speyside whisky finished in a bourbon cask. There were plenty of toffee and vanilla aromas along with hints of coconut and creme brulee in the flavour. As it warmed I could certainly find flavours of rich vanilla custard.

Edradour is a small distillery just outside Pitlochry; the next day we drove up to see the beautiful white buildings although the distillery was closed to visitors. We found many distilleries closed or only had their shop open due to the current restrictions, it must be so hard to comply with all the guidelines. Even though closed it was lovely to visit them as all the buildings are very different and all in beautiful settings.

As you can see we liked the Edradour so much we bought a bottle for home (along with many more on our travels, but more about that in my other posts). Aged in a combination of an Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon cask it is chill filtered to 40%. This is a more complex whisky with earthy, woody notes and a touch of honey.

Robertson's Tobermory was our third tasting, this was only launched on 21st March 2021. It is finished in a sherry cask and is sold at 61% cask strength. A little strong for me, I needed 10 angel's tears (drops of water) to soften it but it's marmalade notes were a hit with Hubby.

The Pitlochry shop has many many whiskies in their own range. Ewan chooses and buys a cask from a distillery and cask finishes the whisky to his own specification. Hubby previously bought a Robertson's Tullibardine and this year I bought him a bottle of Robertson's Tobermory as a treat for his upcoming milestone birthday. 

Our final tasting was Golden Cask, an Islay peated whisky at 57%. I'm not a fan of peated whiskies as I struggle to get past the medical ointment smell, I do keep trying though. The peatiness in a whisky comes from the firing to stop the grain germinating, in these whiskies it is peat that is used as the heat source when malting.

Thank you Ewan for a superb tasting, it was so lovely to be back in The Bothy and I hope it will not be too many years before we are again. 

Now returning to the assumption of the older, darker, more expensive a bottle being a better whisky. Ewan told us about a very special whisky soon to be launched by Gordon and Macphail, the world's leading malt whisky specialists based in Elgin.

They have an 80 year old Glenlivet whisky that is being launched on 7th October 2021 with the first bottle being sold at Sotheby's in Hong Kong. It is expected to sell for between £80,000 and £140,000 although it could go higher. There are 250 decanters from this 80 year old cask.

Distilled in 1940 it has been in a sherry cask ever since. Sir David Adjaye OBE has designed the unique decanter and oak case around the theme 'Artistry in Oak', it currently rests in the tasting room at Gordon and Macphail's Elgin whisky shop. 

Trees for Life is a charity whose mission is to rewilding the Caledonian forest and proceeds from Decanter#1 will be donated to resource their nursery which grows 100,000 rare native trees from seed. 

It will be so interesting to see how much this unique whisky sells for, and how much the remaining decanters are priced at. It is a long long way out of my buying range but I have seen the whisky as we were privileged to be shown into the stunning tasting room. The proof I was actually there is obvious in this photo.

Two super visits as part of our Scotland touring holiday, there's plenty more whisky, beer and so many beautiful sights to blog about I'll be busy for quite a while.

Monday, 20 September 2021


Hubby and I have missed our short breaks away, we have always been travellers and often took our children away for a few days especially for their birthdays and between Christmas and New Year.

The last 18 months has been unbelievable for everyone, it is impossible to put it into words and does feel so surreal. For us taking  short breaks is our way of bringing life back - with caution.

We are very impressed with Premier Inn - a basic hotel chain that offers good clean comfy rooms. We know what to expect and are very confident with their policy of not housekeeping the room unless your stay is over 6 days (in which case you get a clean room and your room is deep cleaned). If we need anything such as clean towels or new rubbish bags we ask at Reception. 

That said we do take our own pillows, I use antibacterial on the chairs and headboard and we wipe every surface with antibacterial wipes - it may sound OTT but it gives me confidence to be away from home. 

So mid August we took had a short break in .... Hartlepool. I had seen their Premier Inn was on the harbour side so as everyone rushed south we drove north.

What a super location, boats in every view. We were right at the end of the corridor on the first floor, a long walk with the cases but an amazing view outside our window.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy has a base in Hartlepool with the stunning HMS Trincomalee it's feature ship. The dockside around the ship is full of buildings recreating the shops needed to support sailors and life in an 18th century seaport.

We had a super visit including a tour on board. It was very tight in places with low ceilings and narrow passageways. I'm very glad not to have been born in that era and thankful neither my Hubby or son worked on such a ship, I cannot imagine the noise, smell and danger when the cannons were fired.

Our hotel faced the museum and at night HMS Trincomalee looked magnificent against the setting sky. It would have looked very formidable at sea.

As well as visiting the museum we drove a few miles north for a stroll along the cliff tops. A glorious day with still waters. The beaches below looked similar to those at Berwick-upon-Tweed where we stayed in April, it's just under a 100 miles north from Hartlepool.

We also drove a little south to Middlesborough, a large industrial port that has one of the only two transporter bridges in the UK. Sadly it is not in use but we wanted to see it as it's an amazing structure.

We also visited the Tees Barrage used to control the tidal river. There's a foot and road bridge across and alongside is the Tees Barrage International White Water Centre although no-one was rafting when we were there. 

I was amazed at the Archimedes Screw that generates power and the fish ladder for the salmon needing to get upstream, along with spikes to stop the seals sitting on the wall stealing the fish.

Hartlepool is not known for being a holiday destination, it has very few shops in the High Street (but if there you must go to Sambuca for dinner, lovely food, good prices and a lively atmosphere). There a large shopping centre with the usual big stores and Camerons Brewery is nearby as well as a good selection of bars and restaurants along the harbourside.

We had a lovely couple of days seeing new things in quiet surrounds, thanknyou Hartlepool.