So, I’ve been on a Last Great Malts trip, kindly put on by Dewar’s… To read about day one of the trip, go here.
Day 2, and it’s a bright and early start. Actually, I tell a lie, it’s an early start with a sore head, but a good full Scottish breakfast and coffee later and the world seems just about right again. Which is a good thing as we’re straight back onto the coach for the next part of our tour. It’s a different coach to yesterday, we won’t mention the mishap the day before.
First stop of the day is Royal Brackla distillery. An interesting distillery in that it was, like the others, remodeled in the Waterloo Street style, however there is still the odd old building and warehouse left which helps to give the place a slightly older feel. With a lake in front of the still room there is a great view to be had, and we stopped off for a breakfast dram before taking a look inside. We try a pre production 16yo, which I loved. It will be finished in sherry, but I liked it just as it was. My short notes read as such:
Light floral and gently honied, however it’s also got a grassy and robust highland style. It will be finished in PX and Oloroso, but actually this is good just as it is.
We find out that the distillery was established 1812, with a royal warrant being granted in 1833. Different to normal we learn that the lauter mash tun is not stirred… does that mean it’s less efficient? Either way it produces what they want! There’s 6 washbacks which are wooden with stainless steel covers on the top of them. Out of the distilleries we’ve been to so far this seems by far the most automated with valves, monitors and motors on most pipework meaning it can all be controlled centrally by computer.
Royal Brackla is close to Cawdor Castle, and Fort George, both successful tourist attractions, so it is no surprise to learn that there is a small possibility that the distillery will have a visitors centre attached to it if the range/launch goes well… there should be enough passing visitors, and there is enough good looking old buildings that a visitors centre would work well here, let’s hope that happens at some point.
Royal Brackla 12yo, 16yo and 21yo are all to be released next year (in the early summer).
We hit the coach again taking the longer trip down to Aberfeldy, with a quick pit stop in Aviemore.
Aberfeldy is the only distillery out of the Dewar’s range that I’d visited before, and in fact the only distillery to currently have a visitors centre. I’d previously done the warehouse tour and sampled a 23yo from the cask which was one of the best drams I’d had in 2013, so I had high hopes for this tour.
We started by heading into the visitors centre to have lunch; they’d put on a good range of soup, sandwiches and cakes, just what we needed to get us going.
Once topped up we headed outside for a bit of a look around; we look at the old train line that would have been used to transport barley in, and the whisky out… there is still a small train on the line to be seen, so go looking for it if you visit. Then we take a walk into the woods at the back of the distillery. The water used is from the Pitilie Burn which (we’re told) is famed for being pure and fresh, and for containing deposits of alluvial gold.
There’s a small shelter in the woods next to a waterfall and we take a stop here to enjoy some of the 12yo, a fairly well known dram… and one which is admired for its honey notes and ease of drinking, it is 40% abv after all. We learn that Dewar’s slowly over time will start to increase the abv up to 46% and lose the caramel colouring, a much needed move.
We have a quick whiz around the distillery noting the 8 wooden washbacks and 72hr+ fermentation period that helps to give the honey notes, and then on to the warehouse.
I remembered you can sign a cask end for posterity – so I did just that, I also knew there is a cask from which you can valinch out some whisky… although this time rather than there just being a single Aberfeldy cask, there are now also casks from the other distilleries in the group and you get to try them all which is a treat… there is a 31yo Deveron which I thought was particularly excellent, as did Charlie and others. At this point we also got the opportunity to bottle our own to take away, definitely a treat considering the BYO is £150!
We get back on the coach to take the remainder of the trip down to Edinburgh, and a bottle your own bottle is opened and consumed…. giving me the time to write fuller notes on it:
Slightly dusty and spicy on the nose, old wood and ripe fruits come out at you with time to open up, slight coffee grounds note. Definitely cask oak at the foreground.
Rich and full on the palate, mouth coating oils that turn very spicy. Old wood and furniture polish at the back.
Deep and long finish; spices lead with woods and then ripe fruits follow on.
Water doesn’t affect the nose much, although reduces the spice hit. Similar for the palate, a good slug of water hardly changes things, it can take quite a lot of water easily.
Aberfeldy is not really known for being spicy, usually it’s more honeyed and gentle; this isn’t that, but the character is there if you look. It’s complex… And for me it’s rather too spicy – which is where a good drop of water helps out; with a large dash of water the honey tones reappear and I am happy once more!
Named “Highland Whisky of the Year 2014” by Whisky Magazine, Aberfeldy has been repackaged and is available globally as a 12yo and a 21yo (reviewed here), with an 18yo (reviewed here) exclusively available in Travel Retail. The Company plans to launch a 16yo sherry finish and a 30yo in 2015.
We’re dropped off at a very smart hotel near the castle in Edinburgh, have a fantastic meal in The Tower and after some cocktails we all head to bed before flying back to our various destinations the next day.
Many thanks to everyone involved with making this an unforgettable experience… Thanks to Stephen Marshall, Global Marketing Manager for Dewar’s for being such a fun and generous guide… thanks to Charlie MacLean for his interesting facts and company, and thanks to everyone else for all the organisation and smooth running, including Quercus who did a great job of keeping us all on track. 🙂
I’m looking forward to the rest of the Last Great Malts range hitting the market; they’ve been years in development and I think they’ll all do really well, they’re proper whiskies which are safe in Stephen’s hands.