My visit to Glasgow had two specific purposes: To visit Douglas Laing (full report to follow) and to tour Glengoyne. After arriving in Glasgow on Tuesday evening, I went to the Bon Accord, where I was summarily invited to join the great guys from the Glasgow Whisky Club for their monthly tasting (Thanks Guys! Isn’t the world of whisky just amazing?), Wednesday was spent in Glasgow itself, spending the morning at Auchentoshan and the afternoon at Douglas Laing, then bright and early on Thrusday morning, I headed to the B10 bus out to Dumgoyne (that hill in the background of the picture). The bus has a stop right across the road from the distillery, and the one hour ride winding its way north through the Glasgow suburbs is very pleasant. The distillery’s proximity to Glasgow and its picturesque settings really get tourists to the distillery, and by one o’clock, when I was done, the distillery was full of visitors, with 2-3 different groups being guided around, and this wasn’t even tourist season.
It’s known, but is worth mentioning that the road is actually on the old Highlands Line, which separated the Lowlands from the Highlands. So the Whisky is distilled in the Highlands and matured across the road in the Lowlands.
Glengoyne is one of my favorite distilleries, and I reviewed the full gamut of the core range last year (in order: 10, 12, 15, 18, 21 and 25). I was booked on the Malt Master tour for 10:40 that morning and I was hoping to have a chance to sit sown with Robbie Hughes, the distillery manager, but he was on his way to Stockholm, so that interview will wait for my next visit.
I’ll say it again later, but if you get to Glasgow, you MUST visit Glengoyne, and I highly recommend the Malt Master tour, but we’ll get back to that. It turned out that I was the only one booked on that specific tour for the morning, which was a good thing, as I wanted to go across the road to the dunnage warehouses, which is no longer part of the tours, since crossing the road to the warehouses is a pretty dangerous thing, especially for those of us who come from countries that drive on the right 🙂 My guide, Jim Carney, met me at the visitor’s center, and off we went to a private room to watch a short video about the distillery, and warm up from the morning chill with a dram of the 12 year old. The distillery just revamped their website, and redid the video and it was a great opening for the tour. Pretty quickly, the tour went “geek” as we got into the technical details of the distillation process, basically following the malt through the different stages of the process.
The distillery uses 60 tons of malted barley per week, and the distillery switched from the Golden Promise and Optic strains it used to use, to 100% Concerto barley. There was a delivery of malt being made as we started the tour. From there, we went up to see the now closed floor maltings, which are now used by the distillery staff as a resting area and the other side is now used a a warehouse.
This building is the old malting and kiln (note the pagoda roof):
I was able to sneak a picture of the actual malting floor as it is today:
We then proceeded to the mashing room through the mill house having a look at the malt screen, which separates the high quality barley from other stuff (from stalks to stones) in 3.72 tonne batches, each ton yielding about 410 liters of alcohol:
The barley then drops one floor below to the mill:
From the mill, those 3.7 tonnes go to the mashtun, where the wash is produced with three waters at 63.5°C, 78°C and 90°C. The wash then spends 56 hours in the 19,000 liter washbacks, together with 60 kilos of yeast.
Glengoyne has three stills: One wash still and two spirit stills. This is not in order to perform triple distillation, which hasn’t been practiced since 1886, rather to enable the distiller (AKA Duncan) to divide the 25% ABV low wines into two batches of 3750 liters distilled simultaneously in the spirit stills. The 16,520 liter wash still is only charged with 12,500 liters, thus ensuring a very slow distillation with a lot of copper contact. As distillation was going on at the time, I could not take pictures until I was ‘safely’ away from the stills:
From the stillhouse, we went across to the new “Highland” Warehouse number 1, comissioned to prevent tours from crossing the road. The warehouse is home to a stunning new display on wood and its effect on whisky. In each display are bottled drawn at regular intervals from casks of each type, making for a clear visual reference on wood effect on color:
After carefully crossing the road (trust me, it’s scary….local drives use this road as their private Grand Prix course, and this is coming from a driver who will keep to 90 kph only when looking for a parking space 🙂 ), we went to see the warehouses. There are new warehouses on the eastern side of the lot, while the western side is taken up with the old dunnage warehouses. The first shed in the new warehouses is the filling room, where the new make comes from the spirit safe via a pipe laid under the road to be filled into barrels. From there, the barrels will either go into the new racked warehouses, or into the older dunnage warehouses.
And there are also horizontal storage racks:
From there, Jim got Deek Morrison’s permission to take me into the off limits dunnage warehouse where we looked at some sleeping beauties. I was hoping to have the opportunity to say hi to Deek, but he and his staff were busy moving stock for warehousing at Tamdhu, and my timing off for that. In the warehouse, Jim and I tried to hunt for some 1969 casks, but if you share that quest, please note that they aren’t in Warehouse 8 😉
Once we re-crossed into the Highlands, we walked passed the distillery to the waterfall in the back. This summer has not been rainy, and the waterfall is a mere trickle. More disturbing is the fact that it is this water, which pools in the back of the Visitor’s Center, that’s used for cooling the wort and is used in the condensers. So this is a concern.
The standard distillery tour is a great tour of a beautiful distillery, with the stunning settings and the waterfall a mood setting bonus. Also, score extra kudus to the very thoughtful and informative display on wood in warehouse No. 1. Obviously, having access to some of the off limits parts of the distillery was a great bonus but where the tour really took a turn into AMAZING territory, is this next part: The Malt Master workshop, where you create a single malt out of different types of casks the distillery makes. I did an in depth blending class once with William Grant whiskies, but that was all about painting on the grains with specific flavors from the malts. Here it’s about getting a coherent balance between somewhat similar casks, some of which were even distilled on the same day! I was really excited…
Jim led me to the beautiful sample room, where I could have spent a few weeks tasting and nosing those little bottles lined up so beautifully, sometimes five deep, in the cabinets:
Alas, that wasn’t going to happen, as the business at hand was waiting for me on the table. The Malt Master Tour is centered around tasting five cask selections from the five types of casks the distillery uses, blending them together to your taste, and creating your own one off single malt, of which you then make 200 ml, and take home your own cask strength single malt. When you come in, the whisky from all five casks is waiting for you, with five 10 ml samples already drawn from them into five lab tubes. Five nosing glasses, a measuring beaker and a mixing beaker, a nosing copita, a 200 ml bottle with a funnel and box, and a page with all the information on the different casks the samples were drawn from with official tasting notes are provided. You can get a pipette if you ask for one (and I recommend you do).
The five casks were:
- Refill Remade Bourbon Hogshead, Cask 3139, 18 year old, distilled 29.9.1997, at 55.6% ABV.
- First Fill Bourbon Barrel, Cask 1790, 18 year old, distilled 15.5.97, at 55.0% ABV.
- First Fill American Oak Sherry Hogshead, Cask 1937, 17 year old, distilled 2.7.1998, at 59.5% ABV.
- First Fill European Oak Sherry Butt (lighter), Cask 1926, 17 year old, distilled 2.7.1998, 58.4% ABV.
- First Fill European Oak Sherry Butt (dark), Cask 1916, 17 year old, distilled 2.7.1998, 58.3% ABV.
Any of these casks could be easily bottled as a single cask, sold for a premium and they would make their owners very happy. These are cracking drams in their own right (and the casks were obviously selected for that), and I was honestly tempted to just bottle up 200 ml of my favorite single cask, thank Jim for the experience and be very happy. I’m sure you all guessed which one that was, right? If not, it’s coming…
But of course, the purpose of the tour is to learn about how the malt master balances different casks to create a balanced single malt. While I didn’t take full notes on each of the single casks, I did make the following notations about them:
- The refill bourbon hogshead is sweet and fruity with honey and light spice. In a word: confectionery.
- The first fill bourbon barrel starts out really spicy on the palate and brings out sweet notes a bit into tasting it with a drying finish.
- The first fill American oak sherry hogshead was spicy and dry with notes of coffee and chocolate.
- The light first fill European oak butt had wood spice and citrus zest aplenty. This is a nice cask on its own, but it got TOTALLY overshadowed by cask 5.
- The dark first fill European oak sherry butt is flat out one of the best sherry bombs I have tasted. EVER. I’d marry that cask if bigamy were legal 😉 Dried fruit, treacle, leather, tobacco in the finish, which was dry and never ending.
My first step after tasting the five casks was to find a balance between the sweetness of the refill and the harsh spiciness of the first fill bourbon, and played around with the ratios. I ended up with three parts of cask 1 to one part of cask 2, which would make a beautiful unsherried whisky. It was time to work with the three sherry casks: First I tried cask number 3, and blended some of it with the bourbon matured malt. They don’t play well together, and this addition killed the nose. Casks 3+4 were pleasant together, but not more than that, so it was clear that my blend is going to be some combination of my nicely balanced ex bourbon whisky and cask 5.
3:1 was a ratio that worked well with the bourbon casks, so I figured I’d replicate it, this time with cask 5. You start by making 100 ml, and if you like what came out, you make another 100 and bottle them. 75 ml of cask 5, plus 18.75 ml of cask 1 and 6.25 ml of cask 2 gave me my final creation. I mixed it in the beaker, poured some into the copita and got an exact replica of the 18 year old Glengoyne, in cask strength. I nosed again and tasted…yup…it’s the 18. Jim tasted and agreed! Maybe it’s time for a career change?
I made another 100 ml, bottled them up, and we were ready to finish up, when Jim remembered my asking in the still house if we could taste some new make, and got out a sample bottle of new make (we were in the sample room, after all).
This new make was distilled on 14.2.2012 and came off the still at 69.9% ABV. The new make is malty and fruity on the nose, with a lot of cereal and grain. The palate is cereal-y and dry and the finish is very long and tangy. From there we went to the shop, where I was planning to get a bottle your own bottle, but sadly the previous cask ran out and the new cask was not yet made available. Instead, I was treated to a taste of the excellent 15 and 26 year old single cask distillery bottlings that were on sale at the shop.
This post would be remiss without tasting notes for ‘Michael’s Own Glengoyne Single Malt’:
‘Michael’s Own’ Glengoyne ‘Malt Master’ 17 year old Cask Strength (57.8% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Mahogany, liquid is viscous with very slow and thin legs, leaving a lot of residue on the glass.
Nose: Sultanas, dark berry compote, fresh pineapple, warm wood spices with cloves pretty pronounced, old leather, dark chocolate, red wine notes. After a few minutes in the glass more dried fruit appear. A few drops of water bring out old dusty leather and strengthen the spices, with a hint of tobacco leaf and more chocolate.
Palate: Sweet attack, then perfumy spice followed by a deeper sweetness from the sherry, with notes of orange and rich chocolate. Thick, mouth coating and rather drying. Water makes it spicier with blackcurrant.
Linger: Dry and slightly bitter on the palate, like after an espresso. Dark fruit around the mouth, dryness inside the cheeks and long and spicy in the back of the throat. With the addition of water, the inside of the cheeks tingle with a strong sweetness.
Needless to say, a visit to Glengoyne is a must if you’re in the Glasgow area, and the Malt Master component is extremely informative and fun, and I would recommend upgrading the tour to include it. And the whisky…well, the 180 ml left of it (for now) will not last for long 🙂
I wish to thank the Glengoyne Distillery, Paul Jones, Yvonne Granger and Jim Carney for their hospitality and generosity in making this visit so memorable!