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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Strathisla, Keith, Scotland

This is the malt at the heart of the Chivas Regal blends and much of the tour is focused on that.  Unsually for a whisky tour they gave us a dram of Chivas 12 year old at the beginning while we waited for the tour to start (but as they charged over $10 to take this tour and they have no cafe or other facilities it seemed like the least they could do).  They also have some interesting old Chivas memorabelia on display as well.  ( The original Chivas grocery store in Aberdeen is now a Chinese restaurant called Sam's on King Street and by all accounts if you ask them they will take you into the back to look at some of the old Chivas Bros fixtures and fittings).  The site is attractive and photogenic with a nice waterwheel feature and next door to Strathisla is the old Glen Keith distillery which they told us will re-open in 2 years time (see my blog "Return of the Dinosaurs?").  I made a note on the tour that apparently just one man runs the whole distillery such is the level of automation now, which might make at least 15 men in Tain quite nervous.  We finished the tour with samples of Chivas blend 18 year old and Strathilsa 12 year old single malt.  I find the Strahisla single malt, like the distillery itself, doesn't really stand out (maybe why it is used in blends) although I always get some banana notes when I taste it.  I sometimes get those same notes in the Chivas Regal blends although part of me wonders if that is just power of suggestion, would I taste banana if I didn't know Strathisla was in the blend? 

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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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