An eventful day began with a quick visit to the Dufftown Whisky Fair, and say hi to the Tomintoul/Glencadam crowd - there's also stalls from Duncan Taylor, Cadenheads, Whisky Castle, Dream Drams, Gordon & MacPhail/Benromach, but I've only time to gulp down a few drams, mainly from G&M, who won't be there on Sunday, as I then have to dash off to Rothes to visits all 4 remaining distilleries, and Forsyths, who make the stills (and other equipment) for most non-Diageo distilleries.
It's about 8 miles form Dufftown to the far end of Rothes where the Glen Grant distillery is situated and the tour will start, the weather is better than yesterday, though it's still not very spring like, and I decide to take the road rather than the Speyside Way to Craigellachie. This proves to be quicker and in no time at the Speyside Cooperage for a quick photo stop, then Craigellachie Distillery for a little bit longer. Then it's down the hill and on to Rothes, with just a brief stop for a picture of Ben Rinnes, now with new snow on top. Finally, the sun comes out, and a further stop is required to take the jacket off!!
A sample from the washbacks is passed around - it's like hot beer without any hops - not really to my taste, but a couple of people think it's great.The feature of this tour is a detailed description of the Glen Grant purifiers, including an up close look at them. They work in a different way to those at Strathmill and are clearly visible from the floor, and when we are taken up to the gallery, it's clear to see (and feel) how they work. They are large tanks of water continually fed with a supply of cold water. inside of which is a further vessel fed from below by the lyne arm - the lighter spirit will escape via a secondary lyne arm to the traditional condenser, while heavier spirit is re-liquefied to fall back for further distillation. Purifiers are fitted to both wash and spirit stills. A dram of 10yo Glen Grant with some whisky fudge follows, and we head for the bus to take us on to Glen Spey.
All my pictures from Glen Grant Tour are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633476940018/
Glen Spey's malt mill, like that at Strathmill is of German origin, but of more recent origin, and much smaller - nothing much to look at compared with the big red Porteus mills in many distilleries, but as Glen Spey is not open to the public it doesn't have to pay too much attention to its looks - stills are not polished and gleaming like those at Glen Grant, but this makes them look more functional. Glen Spey also uses purifiers, but only on its spirit stills, and the condensers have had to be boxed in to prevent a repeat of the winter damage that occurred a couple of years ago.
The distillery's entrance is adorned with the name Spey Royal as well as Glen Spey. I have pictures from 2004, when the main sign at the distillery read Spey Royal - a closer look at the pictures does reveal that it says Glen Spey Distillery, home of Spey Royal. The Spey Royal blend is no longer available in the UK, but is apparently a big name in Canada.
The visit concludes with a dram or two of the Glen Spey F&F with cheese, biscuits, chocolate and Maltesers (they contain barley malt extract, so why wouldn't they go with malt whisky?)
All my pictures from Glen Spey Tour are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633476944948/
We are met by Alasdair Anderson, who starts off by explaining some of the complicated story of who owns Glenrothes - the simple answer is the Edrington Group, but this isn't the whole story, as Edrington has only 70% of the 1887 Company who are the actual owners of Glenrothes, Highland Park, The Macallan ,Glenturret, Brugal Rum and 50% of the North British Grain Distillery - with Diageo. Edrington are in turn owned by the Robertson Trust, a charitable trust set up in 1961 by the grand-daughters of William A Robertson founder of Highland Distilleries in 1887. The other 30% of the 1887 Company belongs to William Grant & Sons (Gleniddich). The Glenrothes brand name however is now owned by Berry Brothers and Rudd, who exchanged it for the Cutty Sark brand in 2010. None of the above should be confused with a different William Grant of William Grant & Co who was one of the founders of the Glenrothes Distillery in 1878. Right, I think I've got my head round all that.
Glenrothes does have a nice big red picturesque Porteus mill, it has a mixture of stainless steel and wooden washbacks, and now uses condensers, having switched from worm tubs in 1963. The stills themselves are housed in what was once a malt barn - when the distillery still had its own maltings - a massive building known as the cathedral. There are 5 pairs of stills, but the cathedral has room for at least another pair should there be the need to expand production again - it can currently produce 5.6m litres a year.
The tour is completed with a dram of the 1995 vintage in a small glass, which we get to keep. The problem with these glasses is they make it easy to get a noseful if you nose too vigorously - which I did on this occasion - not recommended!
All my pictures from Glenrothes Tour are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633476993996/
There's a lot of copper lying around, from sheets to parts that are recognisably bits of still. These are marked with the distilleries for which they are being built - including "Glen Carron", which we are told is not to be taken as the name for the rebuilt Imperial distillery, but just a working name they are using. There are also replacement parts for Balblair and Kininvie amongst others, and at least 3 new stills for an expansion at Ailsa Bay. A new spirit safe for Laphroaig is also in the workshop, and then we are taken to the pit - where large parts are suspended for their pounding. The Forsyths plant has expanded into what was the former Caperdonich distillery and its former stills are still there - now apparently bound for the new Falkirk distillery. There's also a massive copper-domed mash tun, not sure if that's ex-Caperdonich too.
All my pictures from Forsyths are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633476999620/
The mill is a Boby; the mash tun, copper-domed, the washbacks are made of wood, and the stills are dumpy. Very much a cursory visit, and then we're given miniatures of Speyburn 10yo.
All my pictures from Speyburn Tour are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633477010180/
We then have the option of having a further dram in the gardens or in the visitor centre, the visitor centre is the popular choice and we are given a dram of Glen Grant 170 - a 2010 bottling to commemorate the 170th anniversary of the distillery. There are also bottles of the 5yo on the table, which is what ordinary visitors would get - its youth is very evident, but it's extremely popular in Italy. I have to leave to get back to Dufftown in time for the coach to Glenlivet, but Ed Dodson is outside handing out 20cl bottles of a Festival blended malt.
All my pictures from Glen Grant Bottling Hall are at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633477017138/
I recognise a few people at the event including one of last year's winners. Frank and Geraldine are at table 21. Time for a little revision on Glenlivet history from the dates on the wall. We get a dram of Nàdurra to start, but it's a cash bar after that - still drams of Nàdurra at £2.50 isn't too bad, but other than Glenlivet there's not much else on offer. Down to the serious business of the questions.
By the time of the food break - after 7 rounds a list of the tables in the running is read out - and we're included as are table 21 and the Danish Drinking Team. Haggis neaps and tatties, followed by cheesecake and coffee and a none too successful attempt to write tasting notes on the mystery dram (which turns out to be Glenlivet 17yo Cask Strength).
After all ten rounds there are three teams tied - ourselves, table 21 and the Danes. So we've won a bottle of some sort. Tie break time. But first the tasting notes. Our irreverent "forget the notes, just taste the whisky" at least got a mention, but table 21 wins - so they've got two bottles!
Still tied after a further three rounds. Sudden Death - after a couple of questions, there's lots of discussion among the officials - it's getting late or they're out of questions - it's decided that the prizes for second place will be shared - turns out that's been the problem all along. A winner is declared - we've won!
Glenlivet XXV comes in a very elaborate ash box - it's also a very heavy box - every silver lining has a cloud! Still for now it's time to enjoy the success - only trouble is it's time to head for the buses home - and my team mates are on the Elgin bus, but they're coming to the whisky fair tomorrow.
My pictures from the Whisky Challenge are on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633476653720
Official pics are at: https://www.box.com/s/e39zikwauqu45wbgwvlh
All my pictures from the Speyside Festival at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633453515031/