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Benromach Whisky Distillery, Scotland

Sunday, April 11, 2010

This evening, my focus is on Benromach Distillery, which is located on the outskirts of the ancient market town of Forres, east of Inverness and on the northern tip of Speyside. I came across this fantastic little distillery more by accident than design and it turned out to be a nice little gem. Being small Benromach is reminiscent of Edradour.

Benromach has a long and chequered history dating back to its foundation in 1898 subsequent to which it experienced numerous owners and even a period of mothballing. Benromach is now owned by Scotch whisky specialists Gordon and MacPhail which is perhaps an apt home for this niche operation.

I was very impressed by the distillery Tour Guide who provided a very full and enthusiastic tour when we (my tour group) descended on him at extremely short notice.

Relative to some of the other distilleries, Benromach's malt is relatively young and hence priced accordingly. A new and unusual product is an organic malt, produced from organic barley but which, crucially, is matured in new oak casks which have not previously been filled with Bourbon or sherry. An interesting experiment!

Benromach's other claim to fame is a maturing whisky cask signed by HRH Prince Charles to commemorate the re-opening of the distillery.

I will definitely be back to this little gem.

Here is the Visitor Centre

Malts for sale.
Cask signed by Prince Charles.

Maturing casks in the warehouse.

Stills and washbacks.
This allows visitors to bottle their own whisky.

Elsewhere today have been busy as ever:
  • Received sad news of cancellation of upcoming tour due to a family bereavement. Had to unwind the tour and cancel lodgings. Very disappointing as I spent many hours designing the tour to the specifications of a discerning couple. Regrettably, these things happen in life.
  • Worked on a self-drive tour of Scotland which has been long in gestation and now close to being given the green light.
  • Fine tuned a Speyside whisky tour for next month. I am beginning to get very fond of the Speyside area and its scenery.
  • Posted information to my GlasgowAncestry blog on Cruickshank family history.
  • Received enquiry in for an ancestry themed tour.
Nice to be busy but am sad about the cancellation.


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Scotland Whisky and Castle Tour

Friday, April 09, 2010

This evening, I am posting a record of today's Speyside whisky themed tour.

After departing our lodgings at An Cala, Grantown on Spey, we drove north for about 45 mins through Highland Grouse Moor and farming scenery to the country town of Forres to the east of Inverness.

At Forres we enjoyed a private tour of the distillery of Benromach, a small distillery owned by whisky specialist, Gordon and MacPhail. This distillery dates from 1898 and subsequently changed hands many times and was even mothballed for a few years until re-opened by Prince Charles in 1998. In the warehouse we viewed a cask signed by the Prince.

This proved a fascinating tour led by a guide with long experience in the whisky industry and a passion for the product. We were taken through the entire malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation process. Benromach produces relatively young malt whisky although some older expressions are also available. One notable feature is an organic single malt produced with organically grown barley and matured in new wood oak casks, i.e in casks which have not previously been used to hold Bourbon or Sherry.

After a tasting and some purchases at the Distillery shop we drove west toward Inverness passing, en-route, the famous Culloden Battlefield, site of last battle on British soil in 1746.

Here is the guide at Benromach explaining the importance of oak barrels in the maturation process.

Stills at washbacks at Benromach. This shot illustrates the compactness of this small distillery.

Tour in process.
Maturing whisky cask signed by Prince Charles.

Visitor Centre at Benromach.

Benromach Organic Whisky which is matured in fresh oak casks.

After Inverness, self styled 'Capital of the Highlands' we drove down past Drumnadrochit to Castle Urquhart on the banks of Loch Ness. The castle (see image below) is of interest in its own right but the location is popular due to the superb vistas and photo opps of Loch Ness which the site offers. We had a light lunch here and then moved on through Fort William, Glencoe, Rannoch Moor and Stirling arriving at Edinburgh about 7.30pm and fond farewells after conclusion of the three day tour.


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Private Speyside Whisky Tour Scotland

Thursday, April 08, 2010

This morning we commenced by availing of a Connoisseur Tour at Glenfiddich Distillery which lasted over 2 hours. This was very well delivered, taking us through the history of this famous and privately owned enterprise and the principal malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation processes culminating in a sample of 4 malt whiskies. A quality experience. Glenfiddich suffered significant damage to the structure of its buildings-and bonded warehouses in particular-during the recent harsh winter due to the weight of snow on roofs.

Mash Tun at Glendfiddich

See this video clip for an illustration of the veracity of the fermentation process in a washback.

Stills at Glenfiddich.
Tasting at Glenfiddich.
After the distillery tour we had a light lunch at Glenfiddich and then drove round the corner to photograph Balvenie Castle, an impressive edifice. The castle has experienced an unusually peaceful life notwithstanding its strategic importance above the waters of the Fiddich. This castle has passed from the Black Comyns, to the Stewarts Earls of Atholl and then the Duff family whereafter it was abandoned in the early 18th century. Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in September 1562.

We next drove to nearby Macallan Distillery where we were provided with a 'standard' tour. The tour lived up to the image of this famous, premium, brand. The visitor experience is excellent aided by a new interpretation exhibition which aids understanding of the Macallan whisky making process with emphasis on the role played by the Spanish and American oak casks in the maturation process. Unfortunately, photography is severely restricted in this distillery.

After the Macallan tour we drove down to the large house which now features as the Macallan logo and took pics of this building, Easter Elchies House, which overlooks the River Spey and Craigellachie.

This is Craigellachie which sites in the heart of the Speyside whisky industry.

Our final distillery call was Glen Grant which is owned by Campari of Italy. We were provided with the standard distillery tour which was of good quality. The stills (see image below) feature unique condensers invented by a member of the founding Grant family.

Glen Grant produced a whisky which is light and very popular in Italy, often featuring as an aperitif. The malts here are matured for shorter periods than in most other distilleries and hence tend to be cheaper in price.

Inspecting the Mash Tun at Glen Grant.

Inspecting the washbacks at Glen Grant.

Stills at Glen Grant.
After Glen Grant we visited the famous whisky bar at the Craigellachie Hotel which is home to some 700 different malts.

Finally, we drove back to Grantown and a meal at the Craggan Mill restaurant which is famous for whisky themed meals.

This image is An Cala, our lodgings during our Speyside tour.


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Private Whisky Tour Scotland

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

This morning, I collected guests in Edinburgh and then, after navigating through the maze of road works in the city, drove north to Stirling and its famous castle. This is a very popular visitor attraction comprising a former royal palace (James IV and V) and military fortification dating back to the 14th century and earlier. We joined in a Castle tour led by a very competent tour guide which included visits to the Great Hall and Chapel Royal. As the weather was dry and sunny we enjoyed superb views over the local countryside, the Ochills and Wallace Monument. Stirling Castle was key to the control of Scotland in medieval times and close by were fought two critical battles affecting Scotland's independence from England: Stirling Bridge in 1297 and Bannockburn in 1314.

After Stirling, we drove further north to Tullibardine Distillery in Perthshire where we joined in a small group distillery tour led by Gavin, a good tour guide who clearly has a passion for the product of this privately owned distillery. We had a light lunch here in the distillery restaurant.

After Tullibardine we drove north again, to join in a tour of Edradour Distillery, Scotland's smallest.See image below. It was interesting to observe the owner wearing a boiler suit assisting with some manual work on the access path. Apart from its own niche output, Edradour is part of the Signatory Group which specialises in rare and unusual whiskies which can be purchased in the Distillery shop.

Finally, we headed into Speyside and Grantown-on-Spey and our lodgings for the night at An Cala Guest House. En-route we stopped for images of the Spey valley which was flooded, no doubt as a function of the snow melt arising from one of the worst winters on record.

This is the flooded Spey Valley near Grantown on Spey

Stills at Tullibardine
Tullibardine Distillery
Gavin, genial host at Tullibardine.

Inside Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle. Note tapestries which were specially woven.

Great Hall at Stirling Castle
Royal Palace at Stirling Castle

Entrance to Stirling Castle.
Edradour Distillery, Scotland's smallest.


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The Macallan Malt Whisky, Scotland

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This evening, my theme is Macallan Scotch Whisky which has been distilled on Speyside since 1824.

Macallan is positioned at the top end of the market and promoted as a 'luxury' brand. Water is sourced below ground from boreholes and the malted barley is lightly peated. To accommodate demand a former 'mothballed' section of the distillery has been brought back into use and adapted to latest technology. Macallan is noted for its small, onion shaped stills. The oak casks for maturation are critically important and here Macallan works in close cooperation with the Spanish Government which controls the oak forests from which casks are made in which oloroso sherry is first matured before being recycled into the whisky industry.

The visitor centre is very well presented with latest visual aids to help understanding of the whisky making process. Unfortunately, photography inside the distillery is very restricted.

Here is an image of snow capped Ben Rinnes taken from the distillery.

Barrel making exhibition at the Visitor Centre.

Another view from the distillery.

Elsewhere today, I have been very busy with tour enquiries covering:

  • Isle of Skye
  • Hadrian's Wall
  • Scottish Gardens
  • Ireland
  • Self-Drive tours
Also, posted information to my separate GlasgowAncestry blog on Arthur White who died in

Weather in Glasgow has deteriorated with low temperatures and snow. Worse to come over the next 24 hours! May have to reconfigure upcoming private tour.


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Glenfarclas Distillery, Speyside, Scotland

Monday, March 29, 2010

This evening, my theme is Glenfarclas whisky distillery which sits on open farmland beneath Ben Rinnes. This distillery was originally founded in 1836 and has remained independent under ownership of the J&G Grant family.

Key feature of this distillery is the six, very large direct pot stills and use of outside condensers. The whisky is matured in, predominantly, sherry casks and matured for 10, 12, 21, 25 and 30 years. The malt is very lightly peated.

An interesting aspect of this distillery is the black mould-covered walls of the warehouses. The mould is a form of lichen which thrives on then whisky fumes.

This distillery is open to the public and offers good value tours.

Elsewhere today:

  • I have been extremely busy working on a wide range of tours including garden themed, whisky and ancestry.
  • I have posted information on Curtis genealogy to my separate GlasgowAncestry blog.
  • Weather here in Glasgow has edged back toward winter with cold temperatures and some rain. Apparently worse is to come!


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Speyside Distillery Tour, Scotland

Friday, March 26, 2010

Today, was the third and final day of our Speyside whisky themed tour.

First stop, by way of variety, was the ruins of Drumin Castle via a tour taking in Speyside scenery and the River Avon. Around the castle ruins was a good display of seasonal snowdrops. We also took pics of Highland Cattle in a nearby field.

Unfortunately, this visit took longer than planned but, fortunately, our first distillery, Glenfarclas, were able to accommodate our late arrival and we went on to avail of the standard distillery tour with some other visitors. Glenfarclas is family owned and very independent. A surprisingly large production capacity for a private distillery.

Next we went to Aberlour for some lunch and shopping. This is a nice enough town on the banks of the Spey.

Our final call of the day was Macallan, part of the Edrington Group. To accommodate extra demand Macallan has brought back into production a formerly mothballed section of the distillery with updated technology. New warehouses have also been built. Macallan is positioned at the top end of the market and sees itself as one of the finest malts on Speyside. The visitor experience (as manifested in the various aids to understanding the whisky making process) is one of the best I have encountered. Macallan malts are shown below.

After the Macallan tour we said farewell to glorious Speyside and started the long trek south back to Glasgow thereby concluding a whisky tour comprising 7 distilleries in 3 days.

Drumin Castle

Washbacks at Glenfarclas

View from Macallan-Ben Rinnes (2759ft.)

Finished product at Macallan


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Speyside Whiskey Tour, Scotland

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This evening, I am collating today's whiskey tour activities.

After a leisurely breakfast at our Grantown on Spey Guest House we drove about 30 mins north to Aberlour Distillery where we availed of an excellent two hour plus tasting tour with genial host, Julian.Image below shows guests filling own bottle of Aberlour single malt for purchase. A notable feature of this distillery is the blackened trees and vegetation close to the distillery which is attributable to a non-lethal fungus growing on the branches which in turn feeds on the alcohol fumes.
After leaving Aberlour we drove to nearby Glenfiddich Distillery. Firstly, we availed of a spot of lunch at the distillery restaurant and then joined the 2.15 Connoisseurs Tour which lasted about two hours and culminated in a tasting of Glenfiddich's principal single malts. This was a quality experience.

Next we drove to nearby Craigellachie Hotel to visit the famous Whiskey Bar which boasts about 700 single malts daring from as far back as 1919!

After a few samples at Craigellachie we drove back to Grantown for an evening meal and our lodgings for the night.

Stills at Glenfiddich

Bottling own whisky at Aberlour


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Whiskey Tour Scotland

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This evening, I am summarising today's whiskey themed tour.

Starting from Glasgow we first drove to Auchentoshan, a Lowland ( triple distillation) category distillery where we availed of a tour exclusive to our group.The guide (see image below) talked us through the entire process from malting and mashing through to fermentation and distillation. The distillery was in full production which added an extra dimension-including noise! A good tour rounded off with samples of the Auchentoshan single malt.

Next we drove north to Blackford in Perthshire where we had a spot of lunch and then joined the 1.00pm tour of Tullibardine Distillery. This is a Highland category distillery (double distillation) which dates from 1949, albeit on a site used for brewing for about 800 years. Again distillery was in full production with associated noise, steam and odours. Another competent tour guide with tour rounded off with usual sample.

After Tullibardine we were off again, this time to Edradour at Pitlochry in central Scotland.This is Scotland's smallest distillery under ownership of a businessman who specialises in rare and unusual whiskies. Again, we had benefit of a private tour which proved of good quality. After some purchases in the shop we headed north up the A9 to Grantown on Spey to our lodgings for the night at An Cala Guest House.

Guests availed of evening meal at Craggan Mill restaurant which is renowned for its whiskey themed meals.

Overall, a successful day, notwithstanding the mixed weather. Snow still on the mountain tops in the Highlands.

Inspecting the Mash Tun at Tullibardine

Inspecting the washbacks at Auchentoshan

Learning about the distillation process at Auchentoshan


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Islay Whisky Region Scotland

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This evening, I am continuing with my Scotch Whisky theme via some comment of the Islay Whisky Region.

The island is pronounced Eye-la and situated off the west coast of Scotland on roughly the same latitude as Glasgow. Historically, the island was a power base for the MacDonalds when 'Lords of the Isles' but that came to an end in the 15th century.

Islay's main claim to fame now is the famously peaty whisky produced here by seven of the eight distilleries on the island. The vibrant whisky industry is influenced by abundant supplies of peat (decayed vegetation used as fuel) and water which help to produce a range of classic malts from:

  • Ardbeg (Founded 1815 and located at Port Ellen.) Produces a 10 yr old and a 17 yr old.
  • Bowmore (Founded 1779 and located at Bowmore.) Produces a 8-10 yr old, a 12 yr old and a 15 yr old.
  • Bruichladdich (Founded 1881 and located at Bruichladdich). Produces a 10 year old, a 15 yr old and a 20 yr old.
  • Bunnahabhain (Founded 1881 and located at Port Askaig.) Produces an unpeated malt, chiefly for use in blends. Single malt is a 12 yr old.
  • Caol Ila (Founded 1846 and located at Port Askaig).Output mainly used in blending but does produce a 15 yr old single malt.
  • Kilchoman. A new distillery which produced its first spirit in 2006. First 3 year old produced in 2009.
  • Lagavulin (Founded 1817 and located at Port Ellen). A sister distillery to Caol Ila. Output includes a 16 yr old.
  • Laphroaig (Founded 1815 and located at Port Ellen.Products include a 10 yr old cask strength and a 15 yr old.

I have toured Islay a couple of time in the past, in context of ancestry themed tours. The Loch Finlaggan historic site (Macdonalds) is definitely worth a visit.

Looking forward to visiting the distilleries next year.

Islay is accessible by air from Glasgow or by ferry from Kennacraig.


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Island Whisky Distilleries, Scotland

Friday, October 16, 2009

This evening, I am continuing my Scotch Whisky theme with a summary of Scotland's island distilleries. This excludes Islay which is usually considered a separate region.

Possibly due to poor grain growing conditions, historically the islands ( e.g. Uists, Mull, Skye, Lewis, Arran) had a low incidence of whisky distilling. Only 13 distilleries were ever licensed in the Hebrides, excluding Islay.

Below is provided information on the four distilleries currently operating, i.e.Talisker, Tobermory, Isle of Jura and Isle of Arran.

Talisker on the scenic Isle of Skye was founded in 1830 and is now owned by drinks conglomerate, Diageo. Originally, the spirit was triple distilled but, since 1928, the spirit has been subject to double distilling in common with the majority of the Scotch whisky industry. There are five stills which produce some 1.5m litres of alcohol which eventually its way into blends such as Johnnie Walker plus some interesting single malts such as Talisker's 10 year old 45.8pct and Talisker 1986 Distiller's Edition 45.8pct. The product is medium peated. Distillery tours are available but, unfortunately, photography is restricted and hence video covers external views.


Tobermory Distillery can be found on the main street of the capital of Mull, an island off the west coast which can be accessed by ferry or air. The distillery was founded 1797 and is now owned by Burns Stewart.This distillery has witnessed a roller-coaster history with periods of closure lasting up to 40 years. The current distillery dates from its rebuilding and re-equipping in 1972 and boasts four bulbous stills. The island water from the Mishnish Loch which is used by the distillery is high in peat but the barley is unpeated. The final product-Tobermory 10 year old 40pct.-contains a hint of peat.

Isle of Jura Distillery dates from 1810 and is now owned by Fortune Brands. Following a long period of closure between WW1 and 1958 the distillery was resuscitated by initiative of local businessmen with double the distilling capacity. Jura now produces a 10 year old at 40pct and a 16 year old at 40pct which are popular with aficionados of whisky.

Isle of Arran Distillery was founded as recently as 1995 by Harold Currie, a former Managing Director of Chivas Brothers. The malt is unpeated and water sourced from the Eason Bioroch Burn (stream) close by. One of the early single malts was a five year old which has been well received by the market.

The idiosyncrasies and histories of these distilleries add to the allure of the malts they produce. I still have to visit Jura and Tobermory distilleries in the course of my touring activities.


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Lowland Whisky Distilleries, Scotland

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This evening, I am continuing my visit to the various whisky regions of Scotland and this time focusing on the Lowland region.

The Lowland region is south of a dividing line between the Forth (west) and the Tay (east) and encompasses a small number of distilleries, viz:

Auchentoshan, near Glasgow
Bladnoch, Bladnoch Bridge.
Cameronbridge, Windygates, Fife
Glenkinchie, Pencaitland

Traditionally, lowland malts are distinguished from the rest due to a practice of triple distillation vs.double distillation elsewhere in Scotland. However, this does not apply to Glenkinchie where the spirit is double distilled, albeit in two very large stills.

Auxhentoshan, which dates back to 1823, still triple distills its malts which contain no hint of peat. A light, elegant whisky sometimes used as a light apertif.

Stills at Auchentoshan

Photography is restricted at Glenkinchie so I have only the bar in the visitor centre (below) to display. The standard distillery tour here is of good quality. Being just south of Edinburgh, the distillery readily attracts large numbers of tourists. Principal products are the 10 year old at 43pct and the 1986 Distiller's Edition at 43pct.

Cameronbridge is a massive operation geared to the production of grain whisky for use in blending to produce the likes of Bells, J&B and Johnnie Walker. The spirit is also use for making gin and vodka. The product retails as Cameron Brig 12 year old single grain whisky.

Bladnoch, which dates from 1817, is Scotland's most southerly distillery and produces a very modest output. Now in private hands, this distillery has always been at the outer fringes of financial viability and has experienced many ownership changes. There is a visitor centre and tours can be arranged. I will definitely put this one on my tour agenda when next in the area.


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