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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Spey As You Go - Part 4

Our trip to the Speyside Cooperage was a true eye-opener and a real education in to the thought, effort and sheer craftsmanship that goes into creating the perfect cask. One note made in my tasting book was to amend my will on my return back home: I have to have some money set aside when I finally croak it to have the chaps at Speyside Cooperage make me a coffin! I’m thinking one stave from a barrel of each of my favourite distilleries. I guess this rules out cremation, as the threat to our national airspace from the ash and flames would be just as bad as from an Icelandic volcano....

Having been refreshed with a cup of coffee at the Cooperage and with the sun beating down on our heads, we decided to go for a short walk North towards Craigellachie to find a bus stop to take us back towards Dufftown. After 10 mins or so walking, we came across exactly what we needed, a bus stop and time table. With one issue: no buses for at least 50 mins. Negative. Now we needed two positives. You know, one to cancel out the negative and another, well, just so we can have a positive... and we were in luck! This bus stop was different from any other bus stop we’d seen in the past as it came with its own whisky bar...

Actually, to tell you the truth, this is a slight lie. But the bus stop was directly outside The Craigellachie Hotel, who have one of the best stocked “whisky libraries” in Scotland. How could we resist?!?! The very next moment we found ourselves nestled into two big leather Chesterfield armchairs, flicking through the bar list and salivating wildly. This was the whisky equivalent of dropping Any Winehouse in Columbia for the week, no questions asked... Several drams later and a hearty meal to boot, we made our way back to the cottage ready for our final day in Dufftown.

We awoke the next day to yet another glorious morning, but this time our destination was too far to walk. A quick breakfast and taxi ride later and we found ourselves at The Macallan. Now, Macallan is not a whisky we’ve reviewed much here at Being totally upfront about it, we both kinda find their whisky, well, a little bit lacking in personality. I once had a cracking bottle, from their Travel Series. I think it was the 1940’s or 1950’s bottling but can’t remember. And their Speaker Martins release was nice. But everything else has just passed us by. What better way to put us straight than to jump onto a tour and end with a round of drams, really discovering the range for the first time.

The Distillery tour was excellent. Our guide was Jennie and she was fantastic. Macallan have invested a lot in their tour and visitors centre, building around their new Mash House and Still Room. There are lots of pipes with coloured liquid in, flip charts and microscopic pictures; it was like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory meets The Science Museum. A touch over-heavy on the facts at times, but entertaining none-the-less. The main highlight being the “sensory tunnel” of different smells. The surrounding grounds and Easter Elchies house are beautiful, especially in the spring sunshine. It’s very much worth a visit. But be warned: it’s quite high up so can get a wee bit windy!

At the end of the tour we got to sample the New Make and four whiskies from their range (plus a wee bonus one!), the 12 Year Old Sherry Oak, 15 Year Old Fine Oak, 18 Year Old and the 30 Year Old Fine Oak. As a bonus we also had the 10 Year Old Cask Strength Release. Would this flight of drams change our perception of Macallan? You can find out next week...

...actually, we can’t be bothered to wait until next week! So here’s the answer: not really. First off we encountered a problem: There were 6 of us on the tour and when we arrived back to the tasting room, only 5 sets of whiskies had been poured. I opted to share with Neil but the excellent staff at the visitors centre had someone pour me my own set. However, it quickly became apparent from the nosing of Neil’s set vs. my newly poured whiskies that there was a problem. Whoever had the duty of setting up for the arriving tour party had either just washed their hands using a very fragrant soap or had been over generous with their perfume, as all Neil’s whisky smelt the same... and it was completely different from my batch where you could easily nose the unique aromas in each glass. In the end, Neil and I did end up sharing, but it was my newly poured set that took centre stage. The best of the drams we tried were the 15 Year Old Fine Oak, the 18 Year Old and the 10 Year Old Cask Strength:

Macallan – 15 Year Old - Fine Oak – 43% Vol

Nose: White Grapes, Wood (oak), Bread (brown, wholemeal) and an overall dryness to the nose.

Palate: Zesty notes of lemons, limes and grapefruit. Slight orange bitters and green tea. Vanilla right at the back.

Finish: Almost like a dry white wine, with hints of dark chocolate powder.

Overall: I’m guessing this isn’t as heavily sherried as other Macallans as vanilla notes come through along with slight hints of the European Oak, which seem to leave themselves until the final parts of the Palate and Finish.

Macallan – 18 Year Old – 1991 – 43%

Nose: Red apples, dried fruit and muesli (Alpan). Red apples, spices and cinnamon.

Palate: Lovely woody notes of Strawberry Jam and a hint of woodsmoke. This is how I’d imagine smoked strawberries to be.

Finish: Warming, gingers and clove-like spices.

Overall: Very well rounded and constructed. Not over-aged but with enough youthfulness to drive it’s powerful flavours through.

Macallan – 10 Year Old – Cask Strength – 2010 Edition – 58.6%

Nose: Really rich aromas of dark cherry and cigars

Palate: Honey nut cornflakes with apricots and syrup.

Finish: Long with lovely plumy notes

Overall: This is a cracking release but sadly only available Duty Free or at the distillery. It should have a wider release.

We left Macallan happy that we’d been, but not enthused with a fire for their drams. The people there were really lovely, the shop was excellent (I bought myself a Macallan travel bag) and the setting is just spectacular. But the whisky... we just can’t get excited about it. It’s all a little too safe, a little too bland. But this is their strength in their key markets, so who am I to judge! They sell well and have a very hardcore following, so onwards and upwards for Macallan.

It was time for us to head back to London. Unfortunately, our travel plans were scuppered by a certain Icelandic Volcano. What was supposed to be a 90 min flight down the UK from Aberdeen to London became an 11 hour train journey from Keith to Kings Cross... still at least we got home that week.

Speyside, thank you! It was a wonderful trip and we hope to be back sometime soon!

Joel & Neil