Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Scottish Heritage

What could be more Scottish than a whiskey distillery? Not just any distillery, mind you, but the Glengoyne distillery, one of many that has been Scottish run for the entirety of its existence.

Glengoyne is located about 14 miles north of Glasgow. You take the number 10 bus from Buchannan bus station and tell the driver that you're headed to get plastered visit the Glengoyne distillery. He drops you off right in front of it, then you head to the back to the reception area. On the way there, I met three Canadians from Toronto, one guy, his wife and their friend, who were also setting off to specifically visit the distillery. Thankfully I went when they did, otherwise I would be alone on the tour and well... that would be just weird.

I decided to go for the Tasting Tour, which includes four drams of their best whiskeys. I originally wanted to go for the Master Blender Tour, which allows you to create your own blend from various others but they said you have to RSVP that one in advance. Alas...

Heading upstairs, we get to a bar area with a big TV. The tour guide pours a dram of their bread and butter 10 year old single malt for the four of us. I try some of it, and also with Jason's expert whiskey advice, I put a bit of water into the whiskey. The water breaks a seal on the whiskey and releases deeper flavors, while reducing the harshness of the alcohol. Works like a charm.

After the small video, we head outside to their back area to show us the natural water that they use in part of the distilling process. It didn't exactly look so fresh or clean. Thankfully they only use that water for cooling and get their pure spring water from another area in Scotland. Taking us outside and into the actual warehouse, we get to an area where he shows us the process of malting, or smashing barley and heating it in water. He basically takes us next to a giant vat of it, opens it up and lets us stick our heads in to smell and see what's going on. Neat.

Next, he takes us to the huge wooden fermenting barrels where they take all the malted barley, throw it into fresh spring water, and add yeast. They ferment until the yeast kills itself to about 8% alcohol, sort of a malted beer. Taking this beer, they put it into multiple distillers, each time concentrating the alcohol until it's somewhere north of 70% alcohol. At this point, it's still just a clear spirit. Where does it get the color?

Why, from the oak barrels. These barrels are from various parts of the world, and they are cask sherry barrels (sherry is stored in them for some years to infuse flavor into the wood). The spirit is put into these barrels, where they sit and mature in their storage area, soaking up the flavors of the oak and sherry for over 10 years. The whiskey also soaks flavors from the air in the area, and since Glengoyne is in the highlands where it's beautifully clean, you don't get a lot of the harsher iodine flavors you'd get with a distillery near the ocean, for example.

Each year, a small percentage of the whiskey evaporates into the air. The Scots call that the "Angel's Share" and joke about how happy those Angels are. The alcohol evaporates faster than the water does and the concentration lowers over the years spent aging.

Next, we're taken into the boardroom where we are poured drams of their 17 year and 21 year whiskeys. The 17 year is even smoother than the 10 with a deeper sweetness to it.

How's the 21 year?

Smooooooooooooth. Delicious. I could possibly be drunk at this point. Adding some water, the flavors really come out. I can see the look in the Canadian guy's face, he says he's definitely going to buy something expensive here.

Now taking us back to the shop called Slainte Mhath (Gaelic, pronounced "slan je vah", means "good health to you!") he passes us each a dram of 12 year cask strength whiskey. Cask strength means they don't dilute the whiskey to it's regular 43% alcohol volume, it's straight from the barrel at 57%.

Oh gawd, it's like a bear clawing its way down my throat. A bear with sweet honey tasting claws.

The Canadian guy grabs one of the 21 year bottles, and the ladies get some souvenirs. It turns out they're in Glasgow and then eventually Edinburgh for their friend's wedding. Pretty cool. They have to head back but I hear about this very nice local restaurant and inn so I turn at the road and head towards... well I can't see anything but fields past this point, so I just head down the road.

10 minutes later, I happen upon a small town and get to the Beech Tree Inn. They have this thing called High Tea time where you get an entrée, a set of desserts, and tea for 10 pounds! Woo!

And that's that for the day.

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