We came, we saw, we drank.
Our new Whisker Tour Tester, Chris McIntosh, heads to the foot of the Scottish Highlands to check out one of our top whisky tours, with nothing but a camera, sunglasses and a thirst.
A few miles from Glasgow, bedded into the foot of Dumgoyne Hill (an excellent little climb if you have an hour or two to spare) this wonderfully friendly distillery sits on the border between the highlands and lowlands, with the still room in the highlands and the maturation warehouses in the lowlands.
Outside, the Glengoyne distillery still retains its old-world charm, inside it’s all business, seamlessly mixing its heritage (established in 1833) with modern techniques and high-tech kit. In fact, to the untrained eye it all feels a bit ‘James Bond villain’s lair’, although this isn’t a good place to do your Sean Connery impression. Especially if you’re English.
“Never delay kissing a pretty girl or opening a bottle of whiskey.”
– Ernest Hemingway
The tour begins in the recently added bar/presentation area where we were greeted with a 12-year-old dram and an introductory video about the distillery. One thing the video doesn’t mention is the distillery ghost.
Legend has it that in 1899 the distillery manager, Cochran Cartwright, got drunk and drowned in the loch that is fed by the same burn the distillery gets it’s highland fresh water from. They say his ghost still haunts the distillery… Probably still p***ed.
We were duly taken outside to see the natural water source (still no mention or sight of any spectres) then on to the production building. This is where the magic happens. We saw the malting process, where malted barley is converted into a sugary liquid called wort en-route to becoming the drink we know and love. It was great to see Glengoyne still use traditional wooden ‘washbacks’ (huge vessels where the wort is mixed with yeast).
Next up were the three huge stills and the whisky safe which is the most important part of the whisky process as every single drop of alcohol that is in Glengoyne whisky runs through a pretty small and insignificant looking tap that sits in this room. From this single room you can actually follow the entire production process and it makes it a little bit easier to see and understand the steps taken to create whisky.
“Whisky is liquid sunshine.”
– George Bernard Shaw
We were then lead back outside and over to their famous No.1 Warehouse where you are greeted by a wall of whisky bottles which vary in shades of gold and amber and are all filled to different levels.
Last but certainly not least we were taken along to the house for our tasting session. Being ‘on duty’ so to speak I’d opted for the premium Gold Tour, which meant I was tasting the really good stuff, an 18-year-old and 21-year-old which both won gold medals at the International Wine and Spirit Competition and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
“It is true that whisky improves with age. The older I get, the more I like it.”
– Ronnie Corbett.
Whisky Distillery Top Tip
Ask questions, it’s great to learn about the whole process, plus Meghan (the guide) and all the staff at the excellent Glengoyne Distillery are rightfully enthusiastic about their whisky and happy to answer questions. While I didn’t manage to take enough notes to build my own illicit still, I certainly have a greater understanding and appreciation one of the world’s finest drinks.
As W.C. Fields once said, “Always carry of small flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and always carry a small snake.” It’s certainly advice worth heeding and from now on I’ll be carrying a small flagon of 10-year-old Glengoyne. Cheers!