Monday, May 14, 2012

Of Scotland and Distilleries

There's a whole world out there with plenty of bits in it I'd like to see one day but still my preferred holiday destination is Scotland - it's full of things I like, including variety. Glasgow for example is a great city with all sorts going on and last week I managed to leave my phone charger in it. I didn't discover that I'd done that until I was in deepest Argyll.

Initially not much of a problem because deepest Argyll isn't big on signal but when not admiring mountains it's nice to be able to talk to people so the search for a new charger began. The nearest town was Loch Gilphead. Whatever it's many amenities include they don't include selling phones, the response when I asked  was a pitying look and the assurance I would have to go to Oban. Oban was 50 miles in the wrong direction. Round here it's hard to go anywhere without tripping over a phone shop, they're as ubiquitous as Starbucks but Argyll eschews such fripperies - which is one reason to love it. Oban was out the question but finally after a bit of searching I found a shop run by a little old man (quite deaf, very shaky, and not the clearest vision either). His till was operated by a lever and was probably as old as he was but bless him he had the technology, wouldn't let me pay for it until it had been properly tested, or until he'd given me a lecture about how he didn't hold with credit cards (or phones).

Campeltown doesn't do phones either, but it does have 3 distilleries (another reason to love it) which might sound like a lot for a small town but when you consider it used to have 34 sounds quite sober. I do like whisky and distillery visits have become a bit of a hobby for the Scottish one and I. We've been to about 20 so far and although we don't always take the tour we quite often do. I would once have thought after half a dozen or so there wasn't much left to see or learn, but I'd have been wrong.

We went to Auchentoshen (just outside of Glasgow and probably the most accessible distillery to visit anywhere) I saw what foreshots look like for the first time (which will be of interest to pretty much nobody but whisky geeks like myself) and to Springbank where they do everything on sight including their own malting (so exciting) and bottling (best smelling factory I've ever been in) and let us try all sorts of things that you normally don't get near (worts and all as it were) including the new make spirit which was potent. All the while the normal day to day business of the place was going on which gives an insight into the process it's generally very hard to see - honestly if you ever do want to see the workings of a distillery there isn't a better one to go to than Springbank (even if it is a bit out of the way).

Whisky is an amazing thing, when I first got interested in it I fell for the marketing romance of a drink that absolutely reflects the specific place it comes from, now I know it better it's even more interesting. The water  which is the really local element has only the smallest effect on the finished product. The still shape matters, but not as much as how smoky, or otherwise, you make the malted barley - they do a whole range at Springbank from non peated to just by a bonfire (there is a small by-product in the way of smoked flour which I'd love to get hold of to bake bread out of). There are a whole range of things the distiller can do with his spirit (the excitement just continues) but the real alchemy happens when that spirit goes into the barrel - they all age differently and are as individual as fingerprints and then all those elements are married together to make the drink you buy. It can take decades for the contents of a bottle to be ready for sale - I really do love it.


  1. I went to Bladnoch Distillery for a visit last year with my boyfriend, his parents, sister and her boyfriend. I'm a big fan of whisky and was thrilled to look round and ask questions but the others don't like it at all. It was so interesting to watch them slowly come round to the idea and then the taste by the end of the tour as everything was explained. :)

    Bladnoch's really small and much harder to get to but you can see my photos at if you're interested to compare it to the ones you've been to so far. :)

  2. Am I interested - of course I am, I'm ashamed I didn't know more about Bladnoch, I remember it from it's udv days so clearly have a bit of reading to do to catch up. Your blog looks great so more reading to be done there as well :)

  3. I visited my first distillery during my Jubilee weekend in Scotland and really enjoyed the experience (including the generous tasting!) We went to Glenturret in Perthshire which was the closest one to where we were staying. Bought a single malt back for my father:)

  4. I love distillery visits, the more I go to - by which perhaps I mean the more whisky I drink - the more interested I've become in the process of making it. Also I like all the shiny copper! Sounds like you had a great holiday :)