Saturday 6 September 2014

Whisky Distillery Discovery No.2 - Glen Garioch

Whisky Discovery
It was exactly one year ago that I visited my first Scottish whisky distillery, The Glen Garioch Distillery in Oldmeldrum and I still have fond memories of that September Friday afternoon.

I got the opportunity to visit Scotland on a business trip to Aberdeen during the that week of September. A large industrial show was being held in the city of Aberdeen I and was being sent up there to evaluate the show for a possible future exhibition. Although I hadn't left it too late to book flights which were readily available and still reasonably priced, booking a hotel was a little more tricky. The nearest place I could find to stay was in Elgin, some 60 odd miles away and an hour and a half drive each way.

Originally I was scheduled to travel with my Managing Director and I was already making plans to extend the trip over a weekend in order to take in some sights (read distilleries) but upon seeing the distance we would be traveling each way, he decided that I should go on my own, as he has little patience for travlleing, and so the trip was arranged. With a double room booked at the Premier Inn Linkwood, just outside Elgin, from the Wednesday evening until Sunday morning, and a hire car for the duration I thought it would be a good idea to ask my wife to accompany me. My wife doesn't drink and as long as I stayed awake to give directions, she would drive me home from the distilleries.

In the meantime I started investigating possible distillery visits and hatched a plan. The nearest distillery to Aberdeen is The Glen Garioch Distillery in Oldmeldrum, it was practically 'on the way home' taking the scenic route, and as the trade show finished early on the Friday (scheduled to close at 1400) it certainly seemed feasible to make an afternoon appointment for a tour. I made the necessary calls and booked it all up for 1500 which gave me plenty of time to escape from Aberdeen and meet my appointment.
Whisky Discovery
The Still Room
Glen Garioch is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Founded in 1797, it is Scotland’s most easterly distillery. Situated just twenty minutes from Aberdeen in the town of Oldmeldrum, it’s known as Aberdeenshire’s malt. Proud of their north east heritage, the Doric pronunciation is everything when it comes to Glen Garioch. Pronounced Glen Geery (which means Granary) the whisky takes its name from the local dialect for a tract of richly fertile land. It could be said the area was made for whisky production. The beautiful and richly fertile land has been famed for centuries as the ‘Granary of Aberdeenshire’, known for producing the finest barley in Scotland. When we visited the fields around were very busy with the farmers working hard and long hours trying to bring all the harvest home before the autumn set in

Arriving at Aberdeen late that Wednesday evening, we drove straight up to the hotel, it was very late when we finally reached our destination, overnight roadworks on the A96 causing some delays to the expected ninety minute run, and with a fairly early start the following morning decided to call it a day (the pub next door had already closed, so no dram before bedtime possible)

After a very long day at the trade show (Offshore Europe is a huge show and I spent the whole day walking each and every one of the halls, checking out the exhibits, looking for business opportunities and checking out competitors) I decided that we would take the long way back to the hotel, via Oldmeldrum, to check the route, the time needed and to make sure at could find the distillery the following afternoon. (I was a boy scout and being prepared is my motto!)
Whisky Discovery
Pagodas in the sunshine - the old Maltings are to the left
Over the years Oldmeldrum has grown around the distillery, now nestled on the outskirts of the thriving town. It was a glorious afternoon, clear blue skies with bright sunshine and when we pulled up in the visitor centre car park, there were still a few cars there, so we made our way into the visitor centre to have a quick scout around, meeting Frank who confirmed we we were expected for the following afternoon. With the weather so fine it was also a good opportunity to take a few photographs as the weather forecast wasn't quite so good for the Friday. 

The show in Aberdeen seemed to fizzle out earlier than expected on the Friday, with many of the exhibitors starting to pack up while I was still trawling the aisles so we decided to leave early and head out to explore Oldmeldrum first, stopping for lunch in the community cafe in he middle of town. The community cafe was a wonderful find. Every table was taken when we popped our head in, but one of the tables had two spare seats and we were asked to join them, as they were just having their lunch before their shift at the cafe started. The cafe is all run by volunteers, for the community, and all the food was home made and we got to chat to some of the locals and find out a little bit about Oldmeldrum

After lunch of home made soup, followed by tea and scones we made our way over to the distillery, which was conveniently located in Distillery Road. We were met by visitor centre manager Fiona who poured me a large dram of their Founders Reserve while we waited for Distillery Manager Kenny 'Digger' Grant to take us around.
Whisky Discovery
Although founded in 1797 The Glen Garioch distillery, like most of our older distilleries has had a chequered history. Production stopped in 1968 due to a chronic water shortage and five years passed before it started producing spirit again in 1973. It was then mothballed again for two years in 1995

Kenny has some history with Glen Garioch, having worked his way through every part of the process since joining the company as a young man after an initial career with the Army. His connection with the distillery goes back further than his own career, as his father affectionately known as 'Digger' Grant was responsible for finding a suitable water source after the distillery was mothballed in 1968.

Kenny, who has also assumed his fathers nickname 'Digger', took us straight across the road and into the old maltings. The maltings haven't been in use since the distillery was last mothballed in 1995 and so have been slowly decaying through lack of use. It's sad to see such a grand old building with its two malting floors and two grain storage floors unused. Repairs were being made to the upper wooden floors and roof when we visited, but I'm not sure what they will be used for.
Whisky Discovery
Enjoying a dram of the 1999 'fill your own' with Kenny
As it was my first full distillery visit I'd never walked the malting floor, and although familiar with the process, Kenny explained what it was really like, back in the day when he was working in the maltings for real. It certainly sounded like back breaking work, but like all places of work, there seemed to have been a lot of fun there too, as Kenny let on about some of the pranks they would play on each other, and especially with the new guys.

From the maltings we went through to see the old kilns, again no longer in use. When the distillery was reopened in August 1997 it was decided that malted barley would be shipped in. Nowadays the malt is unpeated, but pre-1995 there peat was used in the kilning process to circa 8-10 ppm.
Whisky Discovery
Stainless Steel Washbacks
From the kiln we moved into the current working operational side of the distillery. The 4.4 tonne full later mash tun is used 15 times a week, filling the eight stainless steel wash backs where a fermentation time of 48 hours is usual.

There are three stills in the still room, there used to be two pairs back in the mid seventies, but now the 'spare' spirit still sits between the wash still and the spirit still that is used. The wash still is a traditional onion shaped still with a capacity of 25,000 litres, the spirit still similar, but a little smaller at 12,000 litres capacity. When we visited the distillery was more or less running at full capacity of circa 1 million litres a year, so it is one of our smaller distilleries in terms of capacity. There's very little room to expand, but if the missing wash still was replaced I guess production could be increased.
Whisky Discovery
The 12,000 litre Spirit Still
The spirit collected is tankered away for cask filling and although there is on-site dunnage the majority of the maturing stocks is held offsite. 
Whisky Discovery
Kenny reflected in the Spirit Safe
Our visit included a trip into one of the four warehouses where some 8,000 casks lie maturing. This was something I was really looking forward to, having heard so much about the 'Angels Share' and it certainly didn't disappoint. The heady aroma of maturing Whisky combined with the whisky soaked oak barrels and cool damp earthiness is just sublime!
Whisky Discovery
Traditional dunnage at Glen Garioch - the smell in here should be bottled
There's an opportunity to fill your own bottle straight from a cask in the warehouse. It was the first time I'd handled a valinch, but managed to fill the glass beaker without making a mess, or without bringing too much of the charred oak that lies in the bottom of a cask.. When we visited the 'fill-your-own' was a 1999 ex-bourbon cask (cask number 2907) that was filled on the 27th November. Once bottled you get to label your bottle and each is individually numbered, mine being No.100, bottle on 6th September 2013. I haven't opened it yet, but will be soon I'm sure.

Back in the visitor centre there are a selection of their current range to taste from their core staples, Founders Reserve and 12 Year Old, to some of their vintage releases. I have both the Founders Reserve and the 12 Year Old on my shelf, with the 12 Year Old my favourite of the two. Of the vintages I've tried, the 1986 is a stand out dram, although slightly above my budget, and the 1995 is just superb, although scarce now. I recently added a bottle of their 1999 Sherry Cask Matured vintage to my shelf having finished the 1995 vintage

Glen Garioch is certainly well worth a visit, and being just 30 minutes away from Aberdeen , and 'on the way' to Speyside it must be in your plans! I'm hoping to be able to return there soon, I'd love to spend time there to really get under the skin of the team. Whisky is about the people, and everyone we met at Glen Garioch are passionate about what they do. In addition to that, Oldmeldrum is a lovely Aberdeenshire town which has grown up and around the distillery and visitor centre making it truly part of the community.

If you've not been there yet, do something about it, you won't be disappointed
Whisky Discovery
My single cask bottle, No.100 from 1999 Vintage Cask No.2907
I've tasted quite a few of the Distillery releases as well as a couple of independent bottlings. I have (or have had) the following on my drinking shelf; Founders Reserve, 12 Year Old, 1995 Vintage, 1999 Vintage and my 1999 single cask that I filled myself.



Glen Garioch 1978 57.8% ABV

Glen Garioch 1990 54.6% ABV.

Glen Garioch 1991 54.7% ABV.

Glen Garioch 1994 53.9% ABV.

Glen Garioch 1997 56.7% ABV

Glen Garioch 1999 56.3% ABV Sherry Cask Matured (Whisky Discovery No.529)

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