'Kinchie Stryder... get it?
As you may have seen from our last post, Joel and I were up in the Lowlands recently, experiencing the 2 ends of distillation. From the powerhouse of Cameron Bridge, with its column stills seemingly extending as far as the eye can see, we move on to, what is ironically the distillery with purportedly the tallest pot stills in the business... Glenkinchie!
However, our first port of call was a rather interesting history lesson and little trip down memory lane with a certain striding gentleman.
Diageo's archives in Menstrie, are an extraordinary wealth of rare documents, bottles and paraphernalia from a bygone era and not just from a whisky perspective. Tanqueray, Gordon's and even Bailey's bottlings have all been pains-takingly collated by Head Archivist, Christine McCafferty and her team, with some real eye openers filling the various cabinets and draws. Our highlights included a near complete set of Gordon's Pre-mixed cocktail bottlings from 1924- 1967, (Manhattan's, Gimlet's and Piccadilly cocktails!) as well as documents dating back to 1819, detailing the very first business dealings of a certain John Walker - and the Holy Grail of JW bottlings- an original white label. Truly fascinating stuff and a great insight into how certain brands have evolved over many decades.
From Menstrie to East Lothian and a distillery tour with a difference. Glenkinchie, one of the 3 remaining open Lowland malt distilleries is indeed a far cry from the Cameron Bridge way of doing things. The distillery, which produces 2.4 million litres per year is on the site of a former sawmill, dating back to around 1825, originally being called the Milton Distillery.
Our guide for the day was Distillery Manager Kay Fleming, who appeared kitted out in a warming coat and scarf, as the distillery heating was apparently on the blink! Minor chills aside, Kay explained that the distillery gets around 35,000 visitors a year and it's easy to see why. Situated in a highly picturesque glen, the distillery is an absolute dream for tourists visiting from Edinburgh, which is only about 25 minutes drive away.
One of the first things to see, alongside an antique pot still and wormtub is a complete miniature replica of a distillery, which looks like it may have actually been remotely functional at one stage. The model, crafted in Linlithgow many years ago by George Cruickshank is perfect in every way, right down to the dimensions of the washbacks to the detailed tooling of the miniature copper stills. Oh, the irony.... from the smallest stills in the business, to allegedly the largest... and all under one roof too.
...and the real things
Speaking of the business end, in the actual stillroom, it was fascinating to still see the original Dramming bell in situ, which of course signified distillery breaktime, when it was still customary to dole out more than (un)healthy measures of newmake spirit to the assembled workers. What was equally surprising was the story of the wooden ball on a string, attached to a hook near the top of the stills, which was swung by the stillman, and the resulting 'clang' used to gauge just how full the stills actually were! I sometimes resort to similar methods when my laptop's hard disc appears to be filling up...
The stills are indeed very tall, with a steep lyne arm and a slender waist. Kay explained that the fermentation process lasts about 64 hours, which, coupled with the dimensions of the still, helps to create a light and fairly sulphury newmake spirit. And we were lucky enough to try a sample, taken just the day before.
Glenkinchie - new make spirit - sample date: 13/1/11 - 71.1% (liver pate, anyone?)
Nose: Heavy notes of butterscotch, sugary cereal (Crunchy Nut Cornflakes), with slightly sulphurous /gassy aromas.
Palate: Green apple skins, more of the sweet cereal and a sort of coppery note (if you've ever put a two penny piece in your mouth, for some unfathomable reason, you'll know what we mean here)
Kay very kindly led us through a series of different expressions of Glenkinchie, a couple of which were accompanied by something we'd never thought of pairing whisky with... Terry's Chocolate Orange!! Our highlights are listed below, but we'll get tasting notes of all the expressions we tried into the Caskstrength Warehouse at some point soon.
Glenkinchie - 10 yo - 43%
Nose: Quite perfumed, with marzipan, ripe plums, light wool notes, orange bitters and a hint of grassy straw.
Palate: A dusty, coal-like start, followed by liquorice sticks, heather honey and a touch of the green apples found in the new make.
Finish: A slight brine note, with more honeyed sweetness and sharper citrus notes developing as the palate dries.
Overall: If you're familiar with the fairly easy-to-obtain 12yo bottling, which superceded the 10 year old, you're in for a surprise. They are distinctly different whiskies, with this, in my opinion having the edge on its slightly older brother. Well worth investigating if you can find a bottle.
Glenkinchie - Distiller's Edition - 43% 1995 - 2008 bottling (Finished in Amontillado casks)
Nose: Similar ripe fruits and marzipan to the 10 year old, but with a distinctly sweeter fruity wine note.
Palate: Initially a little drier, with some dry sherry influence, coupling with humbugs, dark honey, nuts and a hint of seville oranges.
Finish: Lingering notes of ripe plums, with a much drier and nutty aftertaste.
Overall: The Amontillado casks used here have clearly influenced what is a very lightweight whisky, perhaps more so than a number of the other Distiller's Edition bottlings. Nonetheless, the distillery character is still there in abundance.
Glenkinchie - 20 year old - Special Release, 2010 - 55.1%
Nose: Milky cereal, with fresh strawberries, strange hints of waxed jacket. (and I was standing well away from Joel, dressed as the local farmer in his Barbour) With a dash of water, the fragrance of fresh fruit becomes much more pronounced, with melons, stewed pears, ripe bananas and boiled lemon drop sweets.
Palate: Powerful, but distinct notes of fragrant honey, sweet caramel (Caramac bars), creme brulee and even a touch of the exotic, creeping in for good measure, with a mango/lychee note developing.
Finish: The honey lingers, along with the ripe bananas, giving this a much more pronounced and developed finish, as one would hope for from an older expression.
Overall: A really excellent bottling, still retaining the distillery character, but bringing many more fruity and floral elements to the fore.
Glenkinchie - Distillery Only bottling - 59.3%
This whisky is particularly intriguing, in that we're told it has had the benefit of a second maturation in American oak, seasoned with Amontillado sherry, then a further period in a neutral oak cask.
Nose: Very dry oak note, with a distinct warehouse mustiness at the forefront. Hints of wet cardboard, dried apricot, malted milk biscuits, dark chocolate and an almost balsamic vinegar note. Quite distinct indeed.
Palate: A pronounced woody dryness leads the palate too, with some spicy fig notes, plum jam and dried orange peel. With water, a hint of hazelnut can be found, along with some softer, more obvious summer fruits and floral notes, which can be detected in the other expressions of Glenkinchie.
Finish: A decidedly lengthy finish, with a lingering dryness and the residue of dried figs propping up the back.
Overall: Certainly the most original Glenkinchie in the tasting flight, with the dry oaky notes doing their best to overpower the subtleties of the lighter, fruity Glenkinchie. It all comes together with the addition of water, bring it back into line with the inherent distillery character demonstrated in the other bottlings.
If you're spending any time in Edinburgh, it's well worth taking the short trip to Glenkinchie and our thanks to Kay for her wisdom and expert knowledge throughout the tour.
Part 3 of our Lowland's Odyssey will see a special guest post and notes on Auchentoshan's most popular bottling, the 3 Wood, as well as several other gems from the region and even a couple of rarities. Stay tuned!!