Now, where do I start? I’m no article writer and my brain isn’t what it once was… So I reckon we’ll just walk through my packed couple of days and randomly jump from one bit to another, how does that sound? Good, I’m glad you agree. You’ll probably get bored reading mind you, but give it a go eh?
Hang on… Let’s reverse up a little here… For those of you that didn’t already know, I was recently lucky enough to be announced as the winner of Glen Garioch’s Drambassador competition. In Glen Garioch’s own words “We are delighted to announce that Steve Prentice of Somerset Whisky Blog came closest to correctly guessing the tasting notes of our new, mystery dram and can now proudly call himself a Glen Garioch Drambassador”. Read more about all that, my tasting notes and more in my blog post about it here. Also, while we’re at it… Want to know how to pronounce Glen Garioch properly?! Check the wee video here (that’s the distillery manager right there, he’s got quite a thick accent!).
Let’s also say right here and now at the top that, no, I didn’t manage to find out even the slightest bit more info on the mystery dram(s) during my trip, it’s still a mystery! All I could find is that it’ll be launched in the next few weeks, with another release also in the pipeline very soon (I’ve hinted about that one for a wee while now, but no further info there).
Annnnyways… It’s an hour trip up to Bristol Airport in the South West UK for me, and what with needing to check-in for my flight up to Scotland at 6am I chose the option of getting a B&B the night before so that I didn’t have to get up quite so early, and so that I could leave my car there for a couple of days. Turns out that was a great decision as the B&B was only 3 mins away from the airport with a minibus to take me from door to door, stress free. Still a 5:15am up time though, ugg!
Like a kid at Christmas I waited patiently for boarding and was excited to find that my small plane was actually big enough to be a jet (Embraer 145) via BMI Regional – I expect small planes to be propeller driven, so a jet is exciting stuff! Also good news, I got breakfast on the flight which I’m totally unused to with airlines like Easyjet. At the other end it was a quick trip to pick up my bags, which amusingly enough came out on a carousel which just stopped as soon as the last bag came through the door… Those canny Scots obviously didn’t want to use any more electric than needed by leaving it to go round and round with bags on it! At the exit I found a smart looking chap holding a board with my name on it, good stuff, taxi was all ready for me, quite a chauffeured type affair in a very smart black Mercedes, nice.
Around 9am I eventually reached my final destination, the smart golfing / country hotel of Meldrum House who were very accommodating and let me sit in their lounge where I relaxed reading and was supplied with copious amounts of coffee and homemade shortbread.
After a wee while I bumped into fellow blogger Alwynne Gwilt (Miss Whisky) and we sat chatting by the log fire (it was a cold damp day) until our rooms were ready for us to go and freshen up in before being picked up and taken on to Glen Garioch Distillery to meet the folks and take a tour.
At the distillery we headed up to the conference room to have a spot of lunch and meet everyone, and to have our first dram of the day – some Founders Reserve. Actually, I tell a lie, it was my second dram of the day as my hotel room had a decanter of Founders Reserve that you could help yourself to, so I did!
We all then headed out into the pouring rain for a VIP tour with distillery manager Kenny Grant (aka Digger). Now I can’t do half the justice to the tour as my friends over at Whisky For Everyone, so if you want to read a really good in depth distillery write up (including why Digger is called Digger, and how his family saved the distillery) then go have a read of their excellent blog post here. However I’ll summarise a few bits and bobs that I found of interest…
Glen Garioch was closed for a while in the 90’s, which was the point at which it stopped it’s floor maltings. It was reopened in 1997. Our first stop was the old malting floors which are still there, and with some love could be brought back into use, although there’s no good economic reason to do that really… it’s good for tourists, but I would assume there’s not enough visitors to make it really worth while (however it’s lovely to see, usually by now they’ve been turned into shops or something). Therefore the malt comes from Simpsons these days. However Kenny gave a great walk through of the processes that would have happened, and indeed did happen in his youngers years at the distillery.
There’s a modern full-lauter mash tun, 8 fully enclosed metal wash backs into which they pour the wort and use dry bagged yeast. There’s 3 stills (1 x wash, 2 x spirit), however 1 of the spirit stills isn’t in use. There is space for a second wash still, and indeed there used to be one (it’s now found outside in the grounds of Auchentoshan). There are possible vague plans to get a new wash still back so that production can be increased, but it’s a bit of a watch this space I think at the moment. The stills have some of the longest lyne arms in the industry, and the spirit cut is quite short (75% to 69%), both of which lead to a good hearty drop of spirit which is filled into tanker and taken down to the central belt for casking and maturation (some casks return to the distillery to rest, others go around the various other MBD – Morrison Bowmore Distillers facilities).
We headed into one of the traditional dunnage warehouses and talked through the array of casks, and ended at a cask with a valinch sticking out of it, excitement obviously sets in at this point – we had arrived at the fill your own cask. A valinch, for reference, is a long copper tube that allows you to extract whisky out of a cask. With the help of the team we filled and labeled our own bottles with a vintage that was distilled in 2000, making it just under 14 years old by the time we got our hands on it. At almost 60% abv it appeared to be far far too easy to drink from the samples we tried at the time, gorgeous stuff!
After filling was complete we all headed up to the Bothy, basically a rather luxurious, log fire warmed, dramming room where we ran through more of the Glen Garioch range, from new make spirit (thick, fruity and sweet), Founders Reserve (hearty, spicy and rich), 12yo (older and more refined), Virgin Oak (tasty freshness!) and the 1999 Sherry Cask matured small batch which proved a favourite for quite a few of us… there was quite some discussion about warming (particularly sherried drams) up to a good body temperature to release the best of the flavours.
After a nose around the visitor centre we headed back to the Hotel to have a bit of a relax and allow the others to all get checked in.
What did we find when entering our rooms? Only that the most awesome hampers had be delivered to our bedrooms and were awaiting us on the beds, pretty sweet eh, full of Glen Garioch goodies… a glass, some fudge, a bottle of Founder Reserve, and most importantly a Garioch pinney which would come in useful for the next set of activities…
Soon enough we were back in a minibus and off to Inverurie to Davidsons Butchery for a masterclass in animal choppery. Davidsons has won best butcher in the UK, that’s a pretty awesome thing to win, and lucky us to go there and get a masterclass!
We had a really interesting walk through how to cut up a lamb, a talk about hanging / maturing beef and the various cuts from it… and then we went into the back room to make sausages with much hilarity. We made pork, haggis and Glen Garioch whisky sausages and they were very very good. The folk there let us take them away and we stashed them in the Hotel’s fridge ready to be cooked for breakfast, ideal. There were still quite a few left, and as I enjoyed them so much, and no one else seemed bothered, I asked for them to be sent down to me, BBQ time here we come!
We all returned to the hotel to smarten up ready for our evening meal. Before sitting down we first had a pre meal cocktail in the Hotel’s bar. The Glen Garioch Blood & Sand cocktail is made from…
1 oz. GG 12 Year Old
.75 oz. Orange Juice
.75 oz. Cherry Heering
.75 oz. Sweet Vermouth
Shake with ice and strain into chilled coupe. No garnish.
It’s an award winning cocktail, pretty strong, but great stuff!
On to our private dinner involving some great food all prepared with various types of Glen Garioch…. To start, Garioch 12yo infused cured salmon followed by Aberdeenshire Beef fillet with Founders Reserve mushroom sauce and finally Garioch 12yo poached strawberries. The message from this really is that whisky can match very well indeed with food, especially Glen Garioch which is thick, hearty and can stand up well when paired with food. My favourite? Me and my dining buddy both agreed that the pudding was stonking stuff, I could have eaten it two or three times!
We retired up into the “doocot”, the hotel’s old converted dovecote which was fantastically lit by 100’s of tealight candles. Here we had a cheese and whisky tasting… What Glen Garioch like to call a Rare Pair. Four different drams with four different locally produced unpasteurised cheeses. And they went together amazingly well, not really a surprise after I learnt that Rachel Barrie (MBDs Master Blender) had hand picked the selections, she knows her stuff!
Wine and cheese? Pah, go away French traditions, hello Scotch traditions! To save me typing everything, I’m going to borrow Rachel’s notes with her kind permission. We had:
1) GG Founder’s Reserve with Cambus O’May
Nutty, earthy and full-flavoured cheese – traditional old farmhouse recipe from 1955 made from unpasteurised milk where the curds from two separate days’ milking are mixed together to achieve a distinctive marbled effect. Reborn in 2009 (when GG Founder’s Reserve was launched!). Unlike mass-produced cheese that is standard in consistency and unexciting in taste, Cambus O’May, made from raw milk, boasts a wealth of interesting flavours and textures, capturing the authentic flavours of days gone by.
Cambus O’May is a wonderful combination with Founder’s Reserve as it boosts the nutty, fruity and tangy flavours as well as the creamy/waxy textures in the whisky. It has many analogies with the full-flavour of Glen Garioch (meaty, nutty and spicy) and old-fashioned artisanal methods of production, promoting an authentic, rich and robust flavour.
2) GG 12 year old with Cambus O’May’s Auld Lochnagar
Creamy, textured and acidic cheddar – matured for 12 months for greater depth of flavour. The added maturity of this cheddar brings a fresh fruity tanginess to the cheese which slices through the creaminess. It combines a full flavoured creamy and rounded texture (reminiscent of the Bennachie hills) with the fruity acidity.
The cheddar combines beautifully with the ‘lifted’ mature acidity of fresh apple and pear notes in Glen Garioch 12 year old softened by creamy vanilla and honey following 12 years maturation in predominantly bourbon casks.
3) GG 1995 vintage with Monarch from Devenick Dairy
Devenick dairy is in Bishopston, on the south side of Aberdeen in Banchory-Devenick, where it has been run as a dairy farm by the Groat family for generations. In 2006, they started to make other products and Monarch cheese was created. They also sell other artisanal products in their farm shop.
Monarch is a Scottish brie with a soft creamy texture and smooth velvety rind. The 1995 vintage has a wonderful smooth creamy and cocoa-like powdery texture from the 1st fill bourbon cask influence. The soft buttery creaminess of the Monarch brie and natural velvety rind complements the smooth buttery, toffee and velvety cocoa-mocha flavours in the 1995 vintage.
4) GG 1986 vintage with Dunsyre Blue from Ayrshire
A soft blue, mould-ripened cheese made using unpasteurised milk. When aged, the smooth, cream-coloured cheese is streaked with blue-green mould, giving it a spicy ﬂavour with a slightly bitter tang, balanced with a mellow fruity creaminess throughout.
An unexpectedly superb combination. The blue-green mould boosts and lengthens the subtle smoky, heather and wood-spice notes of the 25 years old 1986 vintage. A distinctively different combination reflecting the unique characteristics of this vintage.
Five is a new one coming soon at 51.9% ABV, no info on the night, but I’m pretty confident it’s a 15yo which celebrates The Renaissance of the distillery since 1997. Might be wrong tho!
Six was the one I had won the competition with, but still no info, how frustrating is that?! Also pretty sure that it’s around 15yo too, or at least that’s what my winning blog post thought. 48% ABV.
A few folks retired to bed at this point, but us hard core ended up in the Hotel’s fantastic cave bar which literally feels like a cave inside; it was the house’s old cool store for hanging meat, but has been marvelously converted into a bar since. This is where I finally got to try Glen Garioch 1978, one I’ve been after trying for a while. Sadly by that point of the night I was far past making any notes, but I remember really enjoying it, a good earthy dram, a little dry, slight smokey tickle and lasting finish.
Day one done, as was I; I slept like a baby in a fantastically huge bedroom suite.
Up early the next day to have breakfast (with those wonderful sausages) and check out before heading on to Cocoa Ooze in Aberdeen for a workshop in making whisky infused truffle chocolates. We split into two teams… the best team (mine, of course!) had Rachel Barrie, on it… Can you actually get any better than creating your own whisky chocolates with a master blender at your side?! We began by measuring out the whisky in a cap, cap-full by cap-full to get the taste just right. After 20 cap-fulls we ended up throwing the entire sample bottle in, ideal, strong dark chocolate whisky truffle encased in a dark chocolate shell and covered in, you guessed it, dark chocolate – our thinking being that the slightly earthy dark chocolate would mix perfectly with the hearty thick Glen Garioch. Our second batch was dark chocolate truffle, less whisky, and a drop of natural ginger essence, in a milk chocolate case and encased in dark chocolate. Fantastic fun, and another example of how well Glen Garioch goes with food as a pairing.
A quick hiatus while we travelled from one destination to the next saw me get to sit with Rachel for an hour or so blethering about all sorts of things, mostly whisky related, but not all. Rachel knows her stuff inside and out, and the fantastic knowledge of the chemistry side of things really only helps to improve the geekiness that can be talked about. I won’t regurgitate our conversations here but there was some fab stuff on those “farmey” notes I often find in lowland malts and what they actually are and why they’re there (note: more of a grassy hint is really what I’m talking about, but it’s more along the lines of the smell of the hay used for feed that makes me think of farms here). Also some interesting chat about what happens / can be done when a parcel of whisky doesn’t quite come up to scratch… all I’ll say is that there are perfectly natural (although cunning) ways and means of improving it, which to a geek is really interesting stuff.
Our last tour of the day was at Cambus O’May Cheese Co. These guys are passionate local artisanal cheese makers (and their cheese formed some of the tasting from the previous night), and there’s many interesting similarities / parallels with whisky making in the attention given to detail and the processes required. For example, Glen Garioch has longer fermentation cycles at the weekend and they’re mixed together with the shorter weekly ones. One of Cambus’ cheeses is also produced in two ways and mixed together (as mentioned above in the notes of the first cheese and whisky tasting from the previous night). Great attention is paid to both whisky and cheese in terms of maturation and experimentation. Even smoking to the cheese vs smoking the malt, really interesting stuff! We ended by having another cheese and whisky tasting session, which again proved the two go so well together. I think one of the favourites on the day was Auld Lochnagar which has a slight crunchy texture due to crystals forming during the aging process, however I came away with a block of Auld Reekie, mostly because I’m a sucker for anything smoked – and this is quite a different smoked cheese to any I’ve had before, much more subtle.
Finally a quick stop by the Keiller Brasserie & Lounge / Hilton Hotel in the Cairngorms for a great lunch before winding our way back to train stations and airports… Finally the trip draws to an end, boooo.
I can’t thank MBD and Consolidated PR enough for allowing me the privilege of joining them, I was looked after like a king. What a great set of folks looking after the brand, it’s in safe hands. Let’s cross fingers that the new folk from Beam don’t decide to mess things around too much during the merger, there’s no point in fixing something that ain’t broke guys, hands off.
Also a quick thanks to MBD for taking some of the pictures I’ve included here… some are mine, some are theirs; thanks for the permission to use them. Basically all the good ones are theirs.
The summary… Glen Garioch is a rare find, and it’s matches with food fantastically well, a rare pair! I think that’s all the marketing buzz words packed in there. 😉
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