The Glengoyne Afternoon

The Glengoyne distillery outside of Glasgow makes several unique claims: 1) it is the most scenically located distillery; 2) it has the slowest distillation process; 3) it is the southernmost “Highland” distillery; and 4) it is historically responsible for the Scotch Whisky Association “rule” that a spirit cannot be called a “whisky” until it has matured in a wooden cask for three years and one day. The final claim can be attributed to a taxman who worked at the distillery in the middle of the 19th century, and the third claim is verified by the fact that the road that one must cross from the car park to the distillery is the dividing line between the Highland and Lowland whisky regions (interesting aside: most of Glengoyne’s warehouses are on the other side of the road, making it the only whisky distilled in the Highlands and matured in the Lowlands). The second claim rests on the process by which the temperature of the spirit still is raised very slowly, allowing the alcohol vapors to have a longer amount of contact with the copper sides; this is thought to impart a greater variety of fruit notes upon the finished whisky. Perhaps all distilleries could be polled for the length of time the low wines spend in their respective spirit stills in order to verify this claim, but certainly the first claim is entirely subjective. Not having visited every distillery (and still remembering the scenic farmland location of Kilchoman on Islay), the rolling countryside, forest, and mountains surrounding Glengoyne (and it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere) do make for a scenic location –perhaps one of the most scenic, but as they say: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lacking the ability to take aerial photographs, this is the best I could do to capture Glengoyne’s setting.

distillery

Before going on the tour (during which photographs inside the distillery were unfortunately not permitted) I took a walk around the back of the visitor centre to have lunch by a pond and within sight of a little waterfall. This was the original water source for the whisky, and it is still used to condense the alcohol vapors back into liquid form as they exit the stills. (The water source for the waterfall is the same as for the reservoir from which treated water is pumped to the distillery.) Spied on the ground was an odd little stone tablet inscribed with the date of the distillery’s “legal” beginnings.

reception

visitor’s reception building

reception & pond

pond behind the reception building

waterfall

waterfall

memorial slab

memorial slab

The distillery is a fairly large complex, with several buildings that may have at one time served as housing for the whisky-making crew. One warehouse is on the Highland side of the dividing line, while the majority of the maturing does take place on the Lowland side.

distillery house

distillery house

garage & sign

garage?

warehouse

main warehouse

warehouses

warehouses

The only inside photographs I was able to take were of the stills (from just barely outside the building): there are three of them, with the leftmost being the wash still and the other two both being spirit stills that run in parallel to distill the low wines… and apparently very slowly.

stills

stills

One of the more interesting features of the tour was a brief stop in the Highland warehouse where bottles of whisky were on display, showing the change in color as the whisky matures in various types of oak casks (each bottle represents one year of aging, from left to right and top to bottom). Also noteworthy is the decreasing amount of liquid in each bottle as the years progress, indicative of the percentage of liquid that escapes the cask during each year of the maturing process (the “angel share”).

warehouse diagram

Most distilleries (and breweries) make claims that the spent grain after the mashing process has been completed is picked up by farmers to use as feed for their livestock; while I know this to be true firsthand from the brewery where I have been working (let me tell you – shoveling the spent grain out of the mash tun and cleaning the false bottom through which the wort progresses into the next stage of the process is not the most fun job!), this may have been the first time that I saw the “draff” being collected at a distillery.

draff pickup

And yes, the Glengoyne whisky is very good. Normally the usual 40% abv (with some cask strength expressions around 58.2% abv and higher), it is totally unpeated, has a clean, crisp flavor with a variety of stone fruit characteristics and some vanilla-caramel notes, and a long finish with just a bit of bite at the end. I had the pleasure of having a dram of the 12-year-old at the beginning of the tour and a dram of the 18-year-old at the end; well worth investigating if/where it can be found in the US.

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