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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Dalwhinnie, Inverness-shire, Scotland

OK whisky lovers, your starter for 10 points, name the distillery on the River Spey that is not considered a Speyside?  If you said Dalwhinnie then congratulations.  The photo and title of this entry may have been a clue huh?  Dalwhinnie is actually classified as a Highland distillery due to its location (much further upstream than the traditional speyside region).   Many distilleries use their tours to promote their USP (unique selling point, apologies for corporate marketing jargon) for example the tall stills of Glenmorangie, the 1608 distilling license in Bushmills, Towser the Cat at Glenturret and Dalwhinnie is no exception.  The USP at Dalwhinnie are their traditional worm tub condensers.  They claim they removed them once for more modern condensers but had to revert back to the traditional ones because the new make spirit changed.  I have expressed my skepticism around these types of statements before so I will leave it at that.  Interestingly, like other distilleries now, most of the Dalwhinnie stock is actually aged offsite.  All this aside, I like Dalwhinnie and enjoyed the tour and the tasting and left with a bottle of their excellent 15 year old Distiller's Edition.  If I had a complaint, it is a long way from anywhere so a coffee shop or something similar to pass the time while you wait to go on the tour wouldn't hurt.

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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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