a sample dram in the car for Anders tour of Scotland

Andos Epic Whisky Tour 2016

Day 1 – mostly traveling

As usual, when flying to Scotland I need to get up at an ungodly hour to get to the airport for the customary fondle session at the security checkpoint. I was positively surprised at Helsinki airport as the check-in and security control took less than 15 min, so I had time to relax a bit and have some breakfast at the always cheap airport café.

Then it was liftoff and off to Schipol for what I was expecting to be a horrible panicking run thru the airport for the connecting flight. Once again I was positively surprised because although I had to switch terminals it took less than 15 min to get to the departure gate. 2 flights and in-flight snacks later I finally landed at Aberdeen airport. There Paul was waiting for me and off we went…with a dram in hand right away 🙂

On the drive down to Dundee where I would be staying for two nights.  We stopped for a quick photoshoot at Dunnottar Castle and then also Broughty Castle. I learned to recognise castles from quite a far way away.

The day ended with a proper pub crawl at Broughty Ferry, and then after about 22 hrs of travel it was time to sleep.

Kingsbarns distillery
Day 2 – Kingsbarns and Eden Mill

The second day was to be an excursion out towards St Andrews, and to Eden Mill and Kingsbarns istilleries. First up a bit of sightseeing at St Andrews golf course and the beach, then onwards to Kingsbarns for a quick visit and some tasters.

Next up was Eden Mill, and Liz´s daughter Shona had promised to show us around the brewery/distillery. It is a quaint small place where all the action happens in two big rooms, one where the wash backs etc. are and then the stillroom where the magic happens. The tour of the brewery/distillery ended with a mighty fine tasting including both beers and spirits which were excellent. The beers matured in used whisky casks were superb. As a nice bonus I got to taste some of their gins also. Thanks Shona for the tour!Eden Mill makes very good craft beer and their spirits show much promise.

This is one to keep an eye on. After the visit it was back to Dundee and time to celebrate Pauls birthday with good food and drink in good company.

Tony and Strathearn Distillery
Day 3 – Strathearn, Edradour/Signatory and Speyside distillery

After another superb breakfast at The Fort, it was time to head out towards Strathearn. There was  a thought that I would get to see my own cask but that was on its own holiday trip down to Glasgow, so I did not see it. But I got a taster of a cask that is the same age and has the same spirit in it. I also got to taste their peated new make, and also spirit that had been matured in a chestnut barrel. Then Tony was so kind to also let me taste their “cider brandy”…which was very nice.Strathearn is really experimenting with interesting things, and all are tasting very good.

After Strathearn we headed for Pitlochry and Edradour distillery. No distillery tour, just some tasting and shopping in their visitors centre. Also had a quick chat with Andrew Symington when we were leaving Edradour. From Edradour the front of the car pointed finally towards Speyside. And I mean both the area called Speyside, and the distillery Speyside, or more familiar, Spey. I was in for a treat at the distillery as the person who was supposed to show us around was on vacation, so one of the actual distillery workers showed us around and telling us about the distillery from his point of view.

Also, the distillery is very beautiful in general, with a small stream flowing past the distillery and with a working water wheel. Just beautiful. There was also a very nice tasting at the distillery, including some quite rare whiskies.

Spey is not usually sold in Europe, with most of it exported to the far east. So I was very happy to have had the chance to visit this beautiful place. Then after a nice visit it was time to get over to Grantown-on-Spey where we would spend the evening.

Paul and Liz had once again come up with new whiskies to taste as we had a private room reserved for dining and taking it easy in the evening. We were also treated to some bagpipe music by Spud the Piper.

a beautiful hairy coo at Cardhu distilelry Scotland
Day 4 – Into Speyside

Finally the proper Speyside adventure was beginning. After yet another proper Scottish breakfast we set out into Speyside proper…and the first distillery we encountered on the way was Tormore. After a few photos we continued our journey up towards The Glenlivet, and took some photographs of Cragganmore and Ballindaloch on the way.

At The Glenlivet I had the chance to taste the Guardians Chapter single cask, which was excellent. From The Glenlivet we had to follow a Chivas tanker truck, and I did not even have a hose and bucket with me.

The next stop was Glenfarclas, where I had a quick tour of the still room, wash backs, mash tun and the warehouses. After the quick tour there was whisky to taste. I got the Glenfarclas £511.19s which was a very nice dram. But the other one, 1976 family cask blew the hair from my head. Never ever have I tasted a whisky that is so full of flavour, depth and incredible general awesomeness. Although, I am not inclined to pay £3500 for the bottle. But this was one of the highlights of the tour.

Onwards and upwards, a quick photoshoot at Dailuaine, and then off to one of my all time favourite distilleries – Imperial. The old Imperial distillery buildings have been knocked down and on that spot is now built the new fully automated distillery – Dalmunach. But the old Imperial administrative buildings and some of the warehouses are still standing around the site. I also got to see the inside of Dalmunach, albeit only the atrium. The whole site is very beautiful, and it is a bit sad that they demolished the old Imperial distillery.

Final stop was a quick drive to Cardhu where Liz wanted to feed the hairy coos that live by the distillery. We also did a quick drive by Speyside Cooperage, where the stacks of barrels are quite impressive.

a delivery of Chardonay casks to Speyside in June Scotland
Day 5 – Speyside adventure continues

The next day was mostly relaxed sightseeing and driving around Speyside. First up was a quick photoshoot of Craigellachie distillery and then passing by the thousands of casks resting at Speyside Cooperage. The sight never ceases to amaze. Then there was a short stop at an old graveyard where there were some very beautiful statues and tombstones.

After that a quick photoshoot of Aberlour, and some tasting and shopping in the visitors centre. The next distillery was again a silent one, Parkmore. The site has been left undisturbed and the warehouses are in use. Very lovely place in Dufftown. After that there was a quick drive by all the distilleries in Dufftown. Then a quick visit to Balvenie Castle. Again, a very beautiful old ruin to visit.

We then we had time to see the Rothes Castle, which is basically only one wall left that has not keeled over. Then quick peeks at Glen Spey and Glenrothes distilleries. At this stage Liz had to leave us to catch a train back home, and I continued with Paul up to Kinloss Abbey. As we got there we got our first proper rain shower, so instead we drove up to Findhorn where there is an eco village. When the rain stopped we went back to Kinloss to have a closer look at the ruins. Once again, a very beautiful place.

After that we met up with Vic Cameron who has been involved in the whisky industry for a long time. We had a nice and interesting discussion about all things related to whisky. Thanks Vic for an interesting afternoon!! On the way back to Craigellachie we had time to look at Rose Isle which is a very big industrial distillery.

Anders enjoying the Balvenie tasting
Day 6 – Balvenie day

This day had lots of good things to come. The primary visit was Balvenie with a three hour tour starting at 14:00. And before that there was Coleburn. On the way to Coleburn we had a quick stop at Glen Grant, and then to Coleburn. There we got a fabulous tour of their warehouse ending with some nice tasters. Then a quick detour via Glen Grant again, for some quick tasting, and then over to Glenfiddich for some lunch. Yes, only lunch. Had a quick browse thru the shop but did not buy anything. Before going over to Balvenie, we had some time to roll around the countryside and just enjoy the green fields of summery Speyside. Lovely scenery.

We drove past Alt-a-Bhainne for a quick photo or two. Then it was time for the main event, a three hour tour at Balvenie with a tasting afterwards. Balvenie has always been a distillery with whiskies that I have enjoyed but never though much more about it. So I did not really have any expectations about the tour as such. I knew that it was supposed to be good as they take only 8 people per your and only two tours a day. So, off we went into the house of magic. First, Fergus took us to the malting floors, but as they were in their maintenance period so there were no malting ongoing.

We also got to climb up into the kiln and the floors where they dry the malt. Felt a bit weird to walk on the grid floor where you could look down and see the floor far below. Then over to the mash tun room, where there are actually two mash tuns, one for Balvenie and one for Kininvie. The same with the wash backs, one room with wash backs for Balvenie and one room with wash backs for Kininvie. Only the still room only had the stills for Balvenie.

The Kininvie stills are in a separate building where the wash is routed via pipes. After having gone thru the whole process we got a jeep ride over to the cooperage at the site. Balvenie repairs and maintains their casks at their own cooperage. We were able to see how the coopers work, and the speed for replacing a stave in a cask was incredible. The next stop on the tour was the warehouse where you can bottle your own whisky straight from a cask. So of course I had to fill up two small 20cl bottles, one a 13yr first fill sherry one, and the other a 14yr first fill bourbon.

The final part of the tour was then the tasting. We got a superb set of whiskies to taste, the 12 yr double barrel, 12yr single bourbon barrel, 17yr double barrel, 14yr rum cask, 21yr port wood and as a final one a 34yr first fill sherry from the legendary warehouse 24. Incredible good whiskies. The tour at Balvenie was incredible and I really recommend going there if you have the chance. There was still some driving around, having a look at Glentauchers, Strathmill, Auchroisk,  and Glen Keith distilleries and then back to the Highlander Inn for the final night in Craigellachie.

a nice day to visit Duffus castle near Elgin on Speyside
Day 7 – Sightseeing

Time to say goodbye to Craigellachie and our host at the Highlander Inn, Mr Tatsuya Minagawa. If you ever need a place to enjoy a few good whiskies The Highlander Inn is the place to visit. The people are very friendly and the food is good, and the whiskies are even better. As we left Craigellachie we headed north towards Elgin again. On the agenda today was the Elgin Cathedral and what else could be seen around the city. As we had to stop for fuel I made a very nice discovery in the petrol station. They sell whisky! And somehow it feels wrong that they have Port Ellen and Brora for sale at a normal gas station, and many other nice bottles for decent prices. In the end I settled for a 1979 Glenlivet single cask bottled by Macillops Choice for 115 pounds. Could have been worse.

It was then castle time again, as we headed up towards Lossiemouth and Duffus Castle. The castle had been built in 1150 and then rebuilt somewhere in the 1300s but it had been build on such a site that the ground had failed and one of the walls had slide down the hill a bit. So a nice place to visit, but was not build to stand the test of time. Lossiemouth was a very nice little seaside town as we drove thru it on our way back to Elgin. There we had some pictures of the Elgin Cathedral which is quite a sight. Impressive old cathedral ruins.

It felt a bit sad as we then started driving slowly down towards Aberdeen and towards the end of the tour. Good thing that there were still some things on the road to see. Next was a quick shopping stop at GlenDronach. I just had to get the hand filled bottling at the visitor centre. After that we drove onwards towards Knockdhu distillery to see if we could have a quick look around.  We were treated to a nice tour and tasting at the distillery. Had never had an Ancnoc whisky in my life previously so this was a nice surprise. And their whisky is very good and well made. Positive surprise of the day.

After this we had a slow drive down towards Aberdeen just enjoying the scenery. At the hotel we met up with Liz again as Paul and Liz would switch places for the final day of the tour.

three wee Balvenie that give so much pleasure
Day 8 – the final day of the tour

So, slowly the tour had come towards the end and now was the final day. The first stop this final day was Glen Garioch distillery. This is also a relatively unknown distillery for me so I was very happy to get a private tour of the distillery. Lots of very interesting things on the tour and a very nice tasting afterwards again. Then I just had to bottle the hand filled first fill sherry cask that they had available. It was a marvellous whisky and overall the visit left me very happy. Then it was time for some general sightseeing and castle photographing.

First up was Fyvie castle, and after that we went to Delgatie castle for a quick lunch. The castle was a quaint old castle where the interior was decorated like an old mansion. The dining area was in a part of the old castle kitchen. Had to buy a small plush sheep for my nephew from the gift shop too. Then a quick stop at Ellon Castle for some photos, and finally a stop at Castle Fraser for some tea and cake. There had been some small showers of rain during the day but now it just poured down. So the tour ended with proper scottish weather.

So, after 8 incredible days in Scotland it was over. I had seen 42 distilleries during the tour, and many castles and other interested sights. A big thank you to Paul and Liz who made this unforgettable tour possible. It was grand! I got to meet incredible people and see incredible places, and got to spend time with two fantastic friends!

This was a journey I will never forget.