A Sunday Drive In Speyside


Many distilleries do not open on Sunday’s but we did have two on the day’s itinerary, and some interesting ancient sites. I was early for breakfast (a first for me) which did not start until 9:30am on a Sunday, so filled the time with a coffee and beginning the long task of downloading emails, and trying to get an idea of what was happening on Council during my absence. When the kitchen opened we had breakfast ‘the lot’, with extra toast and marmalade!
Today was my first turn to drive, something I was looking forward to. The car was a BMW 540i, with an M pack suspension upgrade. The 4.4 litre V8 had torque a plenty and when new boasted 210kw of power. The first impressions were that the car was quite heavy on the steering, brought about no doubt by the very wide tyres, tight suspension and heavy motor. It was however a comfy well behaved car. Most of the time we were touring, with 4 passengers, hard driving made for an uncomfortable ride in the back, so hard acceleration, braking and cornering tended to be avoided. However when circumstanced required it had stunning acceleration for overtaking, the steering lightened and the car really came together and loved the undulating windy roads of Speyside.
Entering Glenlivet was a confusing issue due to the distillery being a large construction site. They are building a new distillery and visitor centre substantially underground. I have to say the existing visitor centre is excellent for the task, and we passed more bonded warehouses than at any other distillery.

They were on of the many distilleries we visited that did not allow photography during the tour, a tour with more participants than any other. We were lucky enough to be the only people on many tours we took and that allowed the guide to miss out the basic stuff and focus on what they felt was their unique point of difference. As driver I limited my tasting, but can still say the 3 drams we tried were all driven by fruit flavours. The no age statement Founders Reserve and 12YO which were both appreciated by the group, however the tour guide seemed less than enthusiastic about the 15YO and pushed the group for their opinion. Unlike most I stuck to support the 15YO as the spicy character appealed to me more than the heavy fruit of the other two.

Glenlivet made much of their marketing coup at the end of Prohibition in USA. At the time Glenlivet was the only Malt available in miniatures, which Captain Bill Smith Grant sold to the Pulman Company who ran luxury train travel across the USA. Quickly Glenlivet became synonymous with whisky for well to do Americans. Glenlivet was, and still is the malt of choice in Middle America, borne out by sales figures, more Glenlivet is sold in America than any where else.
A little down the road is an old Packhorse bridge that’s a popular picnic spot and used on some of Glenlivet’s marketing material. There are in fact two spans with quite steep curves, across the Livet River.

Drumin Castle took some finding as the original access is now in private hands with signage that leaves one in no doubt about their lack of enthusiasm for people using it. The ‘official’ access is now from the valley floor. Drumin Castle is strategically located high above the junction of the Livet and Avon rivers; it estimated it was built in the 1370’s. It was hard to get the feel of presence due to the amount of privatised land, and the level of deterioration took away from the castle’s majesty, but clearly in its day it was a fine castle in a stunning location.

On our way to Glen Grant we dropped into Inveravon Church to inspect some Pictish standing stones displayed in the church verandah. These carved stones date back to before Roman times. This is an area possessing several stands of stones, most carved with similar runes. These are the same people who halted the Romans move north choosing the alternative of building Hadrian’s Wall.

Glen Grant is a very scenic distillery. The lady who took the four of us around was very well informed and tailored the tour to suit our knowledge level of whisky making. As can be seen in the picture, 8 large stills makes Glen Grant a very large operation.  We then went to the tasting room and tried The Major’s Reserve and the 10YO, both aged 100% in bourbon casks. The 10YO was a fine approachable whisky with slight nuttiness, apples and vanilla. The Major’s Reserve had been married to give a broad mouth feel.

Glen Grant has extensive well maintained gardens; they employ 5 gardeners, more than the entire workforce of smaller distilleries. A path up along the stream was a favorite walk for the James The Major Grant. A distance along the path is a secure cave with a locked gate, containing The Major’s private cask of whisky for his personal consumption, known as the Major’s Reserve.
The overcast weather was clearing so we took an evening stroll to the Fiddichside Inn for a pre dinner beer. It had been under the same landlord for many years and he was now well mature. There was a sign that informed visitors that; ‘The quality of service will depend on your attitude and my mood!’

I think the hospitality offered by the Highlander Inn was not up to our experience four years ago and I was getting weary of ‘chips with everything’. Our nightcap was a dram of Tomatin 12YO, a smooth dram finished in Sherry casks, exhibiting the years in American oak overlaid with the fruity Sherry character.