Glenfiddich’s iconic triangular shaped bottle was designed in 1961 by influential 20th century designer Hans Schleger. Why triangular? Well, water, air and malted barley are a trinity expertly crafted together to make Glenfiddich.
In 2011, Glenfiddich sold the Janet Sheed Roberts limited edition (55yo) which was then the most expensive single malt sold at auction. Janet was at that time 110, and Scotland’s oldest woman as well as the last surviving grandchild of William Grant.
Although the cask yielded 15 bottles, only 11 bottles were released worldwide. The remainder 4 were kept by the family. Each of the 11 are auctioned for charity. Bottle no. 7 is still up for sale at Edinburgh and the money from that will go to a charity for making school and home for physically challenged children in Ramnagar, India. The last bottle was sold for around INR 57 lacs.
The snow from the Conval Hills melt into the Robbie Dhu, which is the water source of Glenfiddich. Glenfiddich is one of the only Single Malts which uses the same source of water throughout the production process.
David Stewart, only the 5th ever Malt Master for Glenfiddich used the Solera process, traditionally used to make Sherry, to create the Glenfiddich 15 yo. The giant Solera vats are kept half full from every batch for consistency.
[highlight]Distilling this legendary distillery experience[/highlight]
Before you clap your hand and squeal with joy over any Indian connection, I’d like to pause and say no. This is no desi ‘nagar’. Scotland’s famous Royal Lochnagar, whose ch is a kh (that’s right, from the epiglottis), and nagar is a jet-lagged nagaar, is a quaint distillery in the highland region of Scotland.
But for me, the long drive from Speyside to the Highlands was for 3 selfish reasons – to experience the Royal Games – Breamar Royal Highland Gathering, and if lucky enough, catch a royal glimpse of Her Majesty The Queen, a patron of the games. Finally, the most important – a visit to the Royal Lochnagar distillery.
Braemar a small village in highlands known for its sporting event, Breamar Royal Highland Gathering. Athletes, musicians, dancers from across the world compete with one another at this annual event that puts Aberdeenshire’s only highland village on the world stage, this year following close on heels to the commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
My euphoria of reaching the gathering was a bit short-lived, for between the pipes, fanfare, marches and games, was a spell of rain, rendering it quite a slushy fare. Beef hotdogs, fresh cream and strawberry and rain soaked boots is a memory I will cherish forever. And the fact that I did manage to spot Her Majesty’s car. I am sure she saw me waving madly at her! Bucket List, box number two – check.
From sports to spirits, the distillery, outlined by a dense green forest, is a short drive from Braemar and has been set by the Balmoral estate, one of the private residences of the British Royal family. The prime location is its vantage point, one that bagged it the Royal Warrant in 1848 when John Begg, its founder, invited Prince Albert to visit the distillery. The following day, the distillery played a happy host to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children.
If you ever venture from Speyside, one cannot spot signature pagoda atop the distilleries there. Instead a long stone walled building, housed within manicured green surroundings is a captivating sight. However that’s not where the romance lies, it’s in the small production quantity where the magic is. One almost forgets that this tiny unit is a part of a gigantic group called Diageo. Much of its whisky is released as a single malt, although it is also a key component of high-end blended whiskies, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
The visit also revealed intriguing chapters from its history – the first Lochnagar distillery was burnt down under suspicious circumstances in 1824, by illicit distillers and a replacement again burnt down in 1841. In 1845 John Begg built the “new” Lochnagar. They also claim, “if Glenfiddich has the largest production in Scotland, then we produce annually as much as they produce in two weeks.” Wow – if craft distilling has ever been equated to scale, this sure would have qualified.
Light, sweet and delicate is the hallmark of all Royal Lochnagar whiskies. With maturation in Spanish sherry casks, the affair gets a lot more regal, especially with the expression – Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve. The filling up of the cask happens 100% at the distillery, a rare practice that highlights the level of craft here. The infant spirit un-matured out of the distillery when tasted, almost tastes like the Walker short bread, since it is a bit malty in addition to being sweet and elegant.
We tasted 2 variants, Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old and Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve.
I found the 12 Year Old refreshing, fruity, a spicy malt, sweet on the palate, reminding me of apples, bananas, malty and dry at spaces. Overall, elegant and delicate enough to give whisky newbies a go or for those moments when you need a refreshing and clean drink.
The Select Reserve, on the contrary, has a big sherry influence. An un-aged variant, this malt is dark, with an exceptional fruitcake-like influence on the palate, the rum and raisin lending the effect of a Christmas pudding. It’s such a bold contrast to the earlier expression that it almost wipes the distillery character off one’s head.
I’d make this an after dinner or a dessert malt, and if paired smartly to scoop the flavor out, could accompany the main course like a mutton shank or Tenderloin of Beef. Though my most divine pairing with a malt, such as this, is dark chocolate with a big swig of the Selected Reserve.
Bring on the Christmas cheer, intense, dry, vintage and regal!
45 years ago when the Beatles broke out, Paul McCartney and his wife Linda left for Scotland to rejuvenate and relive the next phase of their lives. The little town of Campbeltown allowed them to flirt with mother nature, set about writing some of the best post-Beatles songs and live an almost reclusive lifestyle. Some of the people even called them the worst dressed people in the town ! However, when Linda died of cancer, there was a memorial set up, for the love, charity and kindness she shared with the locals. It was the simplicity of the people and the place that left a mark !
Today you ask anyone at Campbeltown along the harbour, which are the places to see,
“weel naethin’ much….Linda in the garden (her memorial !), “few auld fellows like me at th’ harboor” & Springbank distillery.
A region that could once swagger under the prolific comfort of 34 working distilleries was reduced to two, owing to the economic depression across the Atlantic, supplemented by prohibition era and also some distilleries spoiling the region’s reputation by relaxing their quality standards. In the last decade, owners of Springbank restored and reopened Glengyle Distillery, raising the count to three.
There is a reason why the Scotch Whisky Association reinstated Campbeltown as a separate whisky region. Scotch whiskies from this region have a peculiar style, you could picture a hybridised version of Highland and Lowland style Scotch whiskies, a dry pungent smoke with the briny maritime burst. These scotches are individuals in their own right, however some of them have acquired more of a temperament and disposition thanks to the spirit of innovative production lent by the respective distilleries.
So what is it that made brands like Longrow Red 11 Year old, a delight at the latest World Whisky Awards and a winner in its own category or Springbank 19 Year Old (Master of Malt series), which got the Liquid Gold Award 2014 by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]
100% On Site production
A visit to Springbank distillery makes you realise that it’s perhaps the only unit in Scotland with a production process 100% on site. So in this quaint town of Campbeltown, the distillery happens to be quite busy, with a human touch at each stage. Absolute floor malting, on site bottling plant and even a whisky school. The most fabulous aspect of this distillery is its flirtatious nature with these processes to yield not one but a triplet of single malts, all with a fanfare of distinctive characteristics. So whisky lovers can expect a mix of varied tastes, finishes and body.
There is a lot to choose from, a two and a half times distilled, medium peated, Springbank Scotch Whisky, Double distilled, generously peated Longrow, triple distilled and non-peated Hazelburn. You can now put at rest the popular belief and myth that only Irish whiskies are triple distilled, Hazelburn is one of the few peculiarities to the rule.
While the malt from Glengyle distillery, Kilkerran is rather new in its release, most of them even being termed as WIP Sherry or WIP Bourbon, the other two in the region, Glenscotia and Springbank distillery releases can be described as complete antitheses to one another. Springbank, with its marked smoke, brawny character in contrast to Glenscotia’s archetype light and grassy nature. Given these differences you cannot negate the aura of the proximity to the sea and hence its wee bit of similarities that come along.
Aside of the whiskies, Campbeltown makes you feel like a lonely traveller at times. The flybe flight I took from Glasgow to Campbeltown had 3 of us in it, giving us the feeling of a private little jet of ours. The landing was smooth except that I realised there is nothing like cabs there !
You maybe a lonely traveller, however, the town makes you feel rather special. One of the fellow travellers was gracious enough to drop me to my destination. He and his wife kept cracking jokes on the way, most of which they seemed to be enjoying amongst themselves, I’ve always wondered, how do people of Campbeltown laugh so much, is it the air, life or something else their smokin’ up.
It’s not every day that you walk into your office and find a football on your desk, and not just any football, but a Man U ball, with the Man U logo on one side, and on the other the logo of Amrut whisky. As an offer of association it was perhaps a little too much for Amrut to afford, but as a sign that Amrut had truly arrived on the world stage, it was priceless. And not something that Rakshit Jagdale probably envisaged, when as an MBA student at Newcastle on Tyne in the early 1990s, he gave a sample of malt spirit produced by Amrut to the owner of a famous whisky bar in Glasgow called The Pot Still.
When Rakshit returned after a few days to check if the owner had tried it, the owner instead asked him to come back in the evening, which was when they would run an experiment with the regulars. Back that evening at the Pot Still, they introduced the Amrut as a mystery dram, and asked regular scotch drinkers to guess where it was from. “Highland” said one, “Speyside”, another, naming two of the most famous regions for Single Malt production in Scotland, and indeed in the world. Talk about a vote of confidence in your product! It took a while after that, but then in 2004, they introduced Amrut Single Malt for the first time in Glasgow.
Visiting Amrut’s distillery on the outskirts of Bangalore, takes about 90 minutes or so from their original location, on Bangalore’s Sampangi Tank Road (opposite where now the ITC Gardenia hotel stands). The founder of Amrut was a chemist making bulk drugs, and N R Jagdale took up his mantle. The Jagdale group makes a range of IMFL spirits, mostly in what you’d classify as entry-level products in the categories they are present in like, whisky and brandy. So Amrut represents a giant step into the big leagues for the brand.
When we arrive at Amrut, our first sight on entering the distillery is a big stack of barrels, which have recently arrived from the Jack Daniel’s distillery in America. The bulk of the barrels used to age Amrut are once used Bourbon / Tennessee whiskey barrels, and these are increasingly hard to come by. But as the demand for Amrut’s whisky grows exponentially, so does their need to expand the number of warehouses, which are carefully ageing the whisky. At last count, when we visited a few months ago, 5000 + barrels of whisky are carefully being aged across 6 warehouses.
It’s only recently that Amrut has begun to become increasingly available in India, with its whiskies now available in markets like Chandigarh and Mumbai. I understand from conversation at the plant, that due to Indian climate, it’s difficult to age whiskies beyond 4 to 5 years, with a simple rule of thumb equating one year in India to 3 in Scotland. And after this time period, they move the whisky from oak barrels to stainless steel barrels to stop the ageing.
Every brand needs a break out moment, and this came for Amrut in 2010, when Jim Murray, publisher of an eponymous annual Whisky Bible, announced that Amrut Fusion was the 3rd best whisky in the world. This piece of news possibly catalyzed and certainly tremendously helped it’s launch in the domestic market, a good 6 years after it’s launch in Glasgow. As the name indicates, the Fusion is a mix of two types of malted barley (the main ingredient from which whisky is made), peated malt from the UK and Indian barley malt from North India.
Fusion is not the only example Amrut has of a brand made across borders, they also have a whisky called Amrut 2 Continents, which is partly matured in Bangalore, with the spirit then transferred to the island of Heligoland (a small German archipelago in the North Sea), where it is again matured and then bottled.
Amrut’s success has encouraged other Indian companies like Paul John and Tilaknagar to also introduce their own brands of Single Malt. The team at Amrut welcomes more players, and hopes that the other companies pursue their dreams with the same passion that Amrut has.
With ageing being the challenge it is in India, Amrut is trying to break new boundaries in this area, with the first attempts in the form of a whisky called Greedy Angels, which is a 8 ½ year old single malt whisky, the most they’ve ever done. It’s named for Angels Share, the term given in Scotland, to the whisky, which evaporates each year from the barrels. Perhaps given the scarcity of Amrut in India, we should call this Amrut’s loss!
If you’re a distillery architecture romanticist and a lover of the signature pagoda roof top, then you will be alarmed to see what is ahead of you! The Oban distillery is quite an antithesis to anyone’s idea of a typical distillery. Ask me… I love the imperial look and the possible unintentional quirk.
Its been on my list of distilleries to visit and i finally made it after a few hours of train journey from Glasgow.
A black and grey big block of stone building with a cave like entrance, it’s possible to stand within half a block and not be able to locate it. The fuss to this however is when you watch the distillery from a distance, the McCaig’s Tower, a colosseum look alike seems like a tiara adorning the distillery. Phew! finally the misty romance we were looking for.
The Stevenson brothers created the Oban distillery in 1794. It was the time of flourishing trade, end of the clan era and a climate of opportunities. A town which was once just a fishing port soon became a popular destination, especially with the Victorians travelling on their steam ships from Glasgow. It is said that at one time a trip from Oban to Staffa was priced at 15 shillings and 2 bottles of whisky. I am sure there were a bunch of happy & spirited sailors! Well, what this did was that the town grew up around the distillery. Now Oban is the capital of the west highlands & the distillery is at the heart of this town. Today you can reach Oban by coach courtesy ScotRail, in just 2-3 hours from Edinburgh or Glasgow, or by Air, or better still take a ferry from any of the Islands around.
Many close friends often tell me that they quite like Oban, however hardly get to lay their hands on the bottle. A distillery which is mid sized in its production capacity and yet produces a distinctive malt, you’ve got to be real lucky to get your hands on this one.
Our production tour was short and honey sweet. Oban is very popular for its small pair of stills and one of the longest fermentation processes running into 4 days. Now you may wonder, what’s in the prolongation, well it’s here that the malt acquires its signature aroma of oranges. The high contact of copper given the stills creates a rich spirit with a lot of character.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]
On with the Oban tasting
With so much said during the tour, I was like an eager soul ready to taste this one. Mr. Oban 14YO – Signature Malt, don’t break the fantasy world of perfectionism I am on.
Oban Nose – Nicely aromatic, malty, vanilla notes, hailing from the American oak maturation. Oranges, salt, smoke – I am struck by this freaky combination and can’t wait to take the next step.
Oban Taste Review – What impressions the nose leaves you with, your taste buds accentuate it further. Rich, medium bodied, citrus, honeyed sweetness, spiced a bit fruity.
My overall opinion on this one and the reason for its differentiation is that, Oban is like a meeting place between the land & the sea. You have the honey, citrus and fruits on one side and peat, salt & spice on the other. !
I really recommend adding water to this one, since it enhances the touch of peat and intensifies the smoke & salt !
In addition to the standard 14 year old there is one other edition which comes from Oban, a Distillers Edition finished in a montilla fino sherry cask. The distillery exclusive bottle, released in 2010, was exasperatingly sold out.
Is this in the list of distilleries to visit before you die, well I’m not sure, however if you lay your hands on the dram, you must give it a try.
Recommended serve, try with some crystallised ginger – a taste sensation, as they say.
Rahul Singh started of an unbeliever, and in his own words, “had never found whisky to be a great product and stuck with beer”. This lasted until a business trip to the USA, where his collaborator asked him to join him in a glass of whisky. “I don’t like whisky”, replied Rahul. “But this isn’t whisky, it’s Single Malt” said his associate triumphantly. And so began Rahul’s whisky voyage, funnily enough with an Irish whisky, a Bushmills 10 yo, triple distilled and light on the palate. On his next visit, he tried a Talisker, from the Isle of Skye in Scotland, which had a much “peatier” taste profile.
Rahul was well and truly hooked now, so much so that in 2006-07, he went on a Scotch whisky trail, figured out the four major regions of Scotland (and the differences between them), how to pronounce these difficult Gaelic names, and even went as far afield as the Isle of Jura (located north west of the island of Islay).
Whisky, more particularly Single Malt has become an obsession with Rahul now. He has about 150 whiskies, and his collection keeps growing. He prefers Highland whiskies, which are easier on the palate, with the Macallan 18 a favourite as is the Balvenie Double Wood. The most expensive Malt he probably owns is the Balvenie 30, which was a whisky he really wanted, as was the Glenfiddich 25.
The flip side of collecting whisky is that however,
“no one likes to gift me whisky, as they’re scared I may already have it”!
Once a month, Rahul calls a bunch of Malt loving friends and they open up 7 to 8 whiskies, and do a tasting.
It’s not only Scotch which Rahul collects, he has a few Japanese whiskies, which are all the rage nowadays, a couple of Irish whiskies and a few from the Amrut selection. A particular whisky he had his eye out for was one called Monkey Shoulder, which has an interesting story behind the brand name (A monkey shoulder is the term given to an injury suffered by workers who are carrying sacks of barley!). He finally found that in the USA.
The whisky shop at Terminal 3 in New Delhi has made Rahul’s job much easier now, as it has a wide range of whiskies, and he doesn’t have to bring a lot in now from overseas.
Rahul is primarily self-taught when it comes to whisky, and relies mostly on the Internet for his research. He hasn’t really found anyone in India who can help guide him on his quest, and has relied purely on his passion and curiosity to pursue this unique hobby. So can you!