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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Ardbeg, Islay, Scotland

This was the distllery I was most looking forward to visiting when we went to Islay in 2010.  Why?  Well Arbeg was the reason I even started drinking Islay's peated whiskies, though I had tried the unpeated Bunnahabhain before, and it was because of an expression called Blasda.   I tasted a sample of Blasda in Oddbins in Cults and thought it was delicious, very sweet and flavorful and with a lighter, more subtle peat taste.  So I bought a bottle and found it was the perfect entry into the world of Islay whisky.  The fact they made a whisky that was so approachable encouraged me to explore Ardbeg more and to look for the subtle, sweet flavors I loved in Blasda in their other expressions and to succesfully "look past the peat".  Before I knew it, I loved peated whisky.  The distillery is really well done with a great cafe, an expansive gift shop and a detailed tour with a knowledgable and passionate tour guide (all for about $3).  However the best part was the tasting as they pulled out the really good stuff.  They offered the standard 10 year old, Blasda (Tammy chose that), Uigeadail and even the amazing 60% abv Supernova.  I ended up buying the Supernova because it was so good.  Other distilleries take note, pouring your premium offerings can help sales, after all I am much more likely to spend $100 on a bottle of whisky if I have actually tried it.... just a suggestion.

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Macallan, Speyside, Scotland

Macallan, Speyside, Scotland The Macallan is the distillery in Craigellachie where many of the myths espoused by other distilleries come to die.   It is a place of contrast and contradiction and I loved it. 

The distillery visitor's center is small and it is a place for whisky lovers to pay homage, not for the tourists.  No café or other family facilities, people come here to see the whisky being made and to buy from a very wide range of products available including many that cannot be found anywhere else in the UK.  The tour is very informative and goes into great depth into some of the areas of whisky production that others skirt over, particularly barley varietals (Macallan favours the less popular Golden Promise) and wood.  In fact they have an entire wood exhibit.  I don't mean the exhibit was made of wood, but a detailed exhibit on the types of wood used in their range and even goes in the detailed biochemistry of oak to explain the impact on the taste and aromas of their whisky. 

But what strikes you walking around the site is the industrial nature of the site.  This is not your quaint, Victorian, artisan, highland distillery, this is first and foremost a whisky factory with huge modern warehouses looming over you on the hill behind the distillery like the dark satanic mills of the famous hymn Jerusalem.  They use different mash tuns, different styles of wash backs (some steel, some wooden) and they even have two different still houses on the site with some still direct heated while others are steam heated.  All the sorts of variations in process that many other distilleries claim to reject and say would greatly affect the nature of final spirit seem less important to Macallan who produce a single malt, The Macallan 18 year old, sometimes called the Rolls Royce of Whisky (admittedly usually by them), and many consider one of the best single malts in the world.

Interestingly, despite being now reported as the second largest global brand of single malt whisky in sales, behind the Glenfiddich and ahead of Glenlivet, the success and globalization of brand Macallan does not seem to generate the angst and backlash Glenfiddich occasionally does within certain parts of the whisky community.  Discuss.

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