Lucie Loves... Whisky // The true Spirit of Speyside: a trip to bonnie Scotland for a whisky-laced tour with Chivas Brothers [press trip - review]
When Lucie asked me if I’d like to go on a trip to visit Chivas Brothers as part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival... it was mission accepted! I had been involved in working on Chivas Regal packaging back in the 00’s I felt I had a connection straight away. I know about wine production having worked in a winery, but even though I’m a whisky lover, I hadn’t ever visited a whisky distillery.
After an early start I was wondering what to expect when we arrived in Aberdeen. No worries... we were met by Graeme Gardiner, one of our hosts, and I felt totally relaxed... everything was organised like clockwork.
Magical mystery tour...
On our first day we visited four of Chivas Brothers iconic whisky distilleries. All were different, absolutely fascinating stuff. Tristan Campbell, Brand Ambassador, was a great guide as he shared his knowledge of the distilleries and distilling spirits.
Our first stop was Allt’a’Bhainne Distillery near Dufftown. It was founded in 1975 so it’s relatively young as a distillery and was acquired by Chivas in 2001. The first thing that hits you when you enter is the heat. It’s so warm. This was my first time of seeing the amazing copper stills… They are monolithic!
A 22-mile drive away through the amazingly beautiful Scottish countryside, we found our second destination, Braeval Distillery. Braeval has the distinction of being the highest distillery at 1,655 feet above sea level. It was the second one that Chivas Brothers built and it opened in 1973.
Half way through the day we all piled into a fleet of Land Rovers and were taken for a welcome lunch at Ghillie Başan’s. What an amazing experience in idyllic surroundings! Great food and a whisky tasting where we sampled the production from the distilleries we were visiting. A perfect place to explore the subtleties and differences of the four different whiskies.
Braeval 16 years old single cast edition
Cask no 13910 strength 55.8%
Delicate, slightly floral, notes of vanilla from the cask. Smooth tastes of lavender long finish. Easy to drink and enjoy. My favourite, I think it’s due to those extra few years in the cask. Delicious with apricots poached in rose syrup and stuffed with Labneh, a soft, cream cheese made from strained yogurt.
Allt’a’Bhainne single malt
A subtle peat flavour, as they say…‘just enough peat to start a fire’
Smokey sweet spicy smooth and a good accompaniment to its food pairing of Smoked Halibut with lemon dressing infused with larch needles.
Tormore 14 year. 43%
Citrus really comes on the nose also vanilla notes, a touch of liquorices, a long finish with a bit spice. Great with chocolate and particularly good with Gillie’s chocolate ‘Tiffin’ cake.
Dalmunach single malt. Four and a half years old
Strong on the nose, magnificent sweetness, quite young, can taste of the spirit, touch of pineapple, buttery and work well with the sweetness of the sticky Baklava.
After the tasting it was time for lunch; a full on spread of amazing food all made by Ghillie from local ingredients.
One more dram as a pick-me-up and it was time to move on to Tormore Distillery.
Tormore means ‘big hill’ and it’s an imposing building set within some stunning gardens. It even originally had it own accommodation for the manager and the staff on site. It went into production in 1959 and it has four steam powered copper spirit and four wash stills.
Our final visit was to Dalmunach Distillery, which is one of Scotland’s newest super distilleries built in 2014 and is named after the nearby pool in the River Spey. The distillery’s super contemporary design is based on the shape of a head of barley as a nod to old whisky traditions.
This was a fascinating tour and it was great to spend some time with an expert who definitely knows his business.
So it was time to return to Keith to check into Chivas Brothers’ Linn House, a Victorian lodge in the heart of Speyside. Set in beautiful gardens next to Linn Falls, it’s just a short walk from Chivas Brothers’ Strathisla Distillery, our destination for the next day.
There was just time for a quick change into our glad rags and we were on our way to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival’s, Touch of Tartan opening dinner. A great evening of food, drink, speeches and awards. It was a great event for celebrating and having a chat with new friends at the Glenlivet bar designed by Bethan Gray.
A delight to the senses...
Day two was less hectic, so after a proper Scottish breakfast headed down the road to the Strathisla Distillery. It’s a gem of a place; it’s steeped in history and is the oldest working distillery in the highlands of Scotland. The gardens are pristine and must be one of the most photogenic distilleries in the country.
Alex Robinson, Head of Heritage & Education, was our host for the day and took us on a tour around the site. He gave us lots of information about the production of whisky and of the skill of blending them too. The tour gave a great insight into a distillery in full operation.
We were lucky enough to visit the Chivas archive. It’s amazing, there is so much there. Old documents, photos and bottles of whisky dating way back when. I could have spent hours listening to Chris and Alex talk about the history of Chivas and it just goes to show how passionate everyone is about its heritage. I love archives and I could listen to these guys all day!
The Chivas Whisky Warehouse No. 1
Opening the doors of the warehouse you are faced with racks and racks of whisky filled casks. The cool, dark, atmosphere instantly strikes you when you walk in.
We had an exclusive tasting of whisky drawn straight from the casks in the Chivas cellar, including a rather special Chivas Regal Ultis. This insanely good, cask strength, luxury whisky was amazing.
Chivas Regal whisky tasting
Alex led the tasting and it was a really educational experience. We had an opportunity to learn how to best taste whisky. He explained how to work out the key differences in the samples and that when tasting several whiskies its good to add water so it doesn’t kill all your senses. This also helps to reveal its flavours. We tried four different whiskies including a Chivas 12 year old, a blend of malt and grain with Strathclyde and Strathisla at its heart. Its character is classic, floral, red apples and vanilla sweetness. What’s not to like?
The art of blending your own whisky
One of the best experiences was to create our own blend of whisky using four single malts and a single grain. Each of the five elements brings a different character to the end product: floral, citrus, fruity, creamy and smoky. Although we didn’t have a lot of time to create our blends, this was a real insight into the complexity of blending. I’m so proud with the result of my whisky, I feel like a master blender!
Do you want to be a whisky blender?
The last of our sessions for the day was a masterclass run by Sandy Hyslop, Chivas Brothers' master blender, and his team. It was all about the nose, most probably the master blenders most important tool. The idea was to identify where something was wrong with either the grain or a whisky. We had eleven glasses in front of us; one was a pilot sample and then 10 other samples. We were set challenges to identify which samples weren’t right, if any, totally by smell alone. They even used blue glasses so your not influence your choice when deciding. It’s very difficult but it’s a great challenge!
This was busy couple of days but it was so worthwhile, I would recommend a trip if you have chance. Chivas Brothers were great hosts and I know I’m going to enjoy my whisky even more now I have had this experience. They offer tours of the distillery, tastings and even blending experiences and you can find out more on their website.
Winter opening: November to Easter, 10am - 4:30pm, Monday - Sunday
Summer opening: Easter to October, 10am - 6pm, Monday - Sunday
Photos & Words ~ Simon Goodwin - Follow Simon’s adventures on Instagram @SimonGoodwin1