Day 4 in Speyside! Aberlour and a VERY Special Tour of Gordon & MacPhail's warehouse!
It's Thursday now and our 4th day exploring Speyside and it's a very special day! Today we get to visit Gordon & MacPhail after our visit to Aberlour.
Now Aberlour is a distillery that produces one of my favorite cask strength whiskies: Aberlour Abunadh. Stupidly affordable at roughly $100 it's one of those bang for buck whiskies, consistently excellent and reasonably priced. Also Aberlour 10 year old was one of my first single malts, again a very reasonable priced whisky. Roy had also told me that he felt that the Aberlour Founders tour was a very good tour that was excellent value for money and on top of everything else friends of mine who'd visited Aberlour and really enjoyed the tour.
However I was pretty darn sure that the highlight of the day was going to be our private tour of Gordon and MacPhail's private warehouse, something that has had Roy excited our entire trip, and something that's very special as the warehouse isn't open to the public for any sort of visiting at all. My personal goal today was to find a cask of Port Ellen, Brora, or Rosebank!
Roy picks us up at the normal time and we head straight off for the village of Aberlour where the Aberlour distillery is located. We're running a little early so Roy shows us the sights, talking about the schools, nursing homes, hospitals, the people who live there and work there, the history of the village, EVERYTHING. It is very cool and drives home once again that pretty much everybody in Speyside knows everybody else. It's interesting talking to Roy because he paints a picture of a different world, a world that I've never seen.
A world where you never lock your doors, there is no road rage, everyone knows everyone else and is always willing to extend an helping hand when you need it. It's a beautiful picture.
As the time to our arrival at Aberlour draws near we start heading that way and as we pull up I'm struck by how quaint the Aberlour distillery looks. The visitor center is this small little building with a main entry area that carries bottles of whisky from Aberlour and other distilleries owned by Chivas. There's some offices off to the side.
Inside the entry room we meet Peter who is our guide and the two other groups of people joining us on our tour. A Canadian couple and a couple of guys from the Netherlands. Roy bids his adieu informing us that he'll see us after our tour as usual.
We head outside and towards this building with big windows, and once we head in we see the tasting area!
We're actually going to start the tour off with a dram of Aberlour 10 year old. As everyone sits down in this living room style sitting area Peter tells us the history of the distillery, showing us bottles from the 20's, 30's, 40's, and on up.
At this time the gentleman from Canada asks how much it would cost to buy one of those bottles and looks a little deflated when he's informed that they're not for sale, they're part of the history of the distillery.
We sit and listen to Peter for about 20 to 30 minutes by which time if you were going to drink your dram (My wife and myself didnt) you had and if you hadn't it was obvious that you weren't. We then get ready to explore the distillery!
We start a little tour inside this building where they have malt and other examples of whisky from Aberlour, as the rain crashes down on the roof, rocking the windows at times. My wife and I explore a wee bit on our own as Peter talks to everyone, going into more detail about Aberlour and how whisky is made. We're not ignoring him because he's boring or anything, but we've done so many distillery tours lately, going into so much depth that we just don't see the need to it. However he's definitely worth listening to as he tells some entertaining stories, as we strive to hear over the pounding rain.
Eventually the rain abates a bit and we head out into the elements in order to move to the next building, where we actually see the equipment used in distilling and producing whisky. We see the malt mill first as is standard, the tun room is next with a quick nip of the wort, chatting with Peter as we explore. The still room is last as is usual, but stifling hot, so very hot. I actually start struggling here as it's so hot and I'm wearing a sweater. Off comes the sweater, but the panting stays. I'm grabbing photos for the albums, but also to help and try and distract me from the heat. Finally we're outside where all of us except my darling wife take a nice big breath of fresh air.
It's drizzling now as we head back to the tasting room building, where a series of whiskies to taste awaits us.
First though Peter has 3 different samples for us to nose, but as we approach these glasses he stresses again and again to PLEASE don't grab them and take a sip as it can cause blindness or possibly even death.
These are samples of spirit taken from the distillation run: the foreshots, the heart or middle cut and the feints. The foreshots and feints are not meant for drinking, in fact drinking the foreshots can cause blindness or death. The heart or middle cut is what's used in making whisky. The foreshots and feints are actually used in the next distillation to produce more whisky.
We're allowed to actually take a nose and to smell the difference between these three different variations in the spirit. After which we sit down for our tasting, which is comprised of 4 different whiskies and the new make Aberlour. Aberlour 12 year old, Aberlour 18 year old and the two self fill casks that Aberlour does, a bourbon barrel aged whisky and a sherry barrel aged whisky (If I recall correctly they're roughly 15 years old or so)
Along with the whiskies there is a chocolate pairing to go with each whisky. We work our way through the tasting with Peter explaining the different pairings, answering questions, chatting whisky. He actually comments at one point about the way I drink whisky, pointing out the different way people will consume it (I chew mine) and we start chatting the different styles of whisky, Canadian, American, Taiwanese, etc and how they differ from one another. He then remarks to everyone how this is why he enjoys doing tours, you meet all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds.
Once we've finished the tasting we head upstairs in order to bottle your own whisky, and as I'm taking pictures of everything left, right and center, the unthinkable happens. The camera deletes the memory card, losing roughly 4000 pictures from the last 2 and a half weeks. My wife and I strive desperately to save the pictures, but it looks like it's lost.
Time to bring out the second memory card.
We chat whisky with the Canadian couple and then once everyone has their bottle filled we head into the warehouse (not allowed to take photos in this one!) where Peter grabs a glass for each of us and then pours us straight from the cask a 6 year old whisky.
I am SUPER excited about this, very awesome! Nothing cooler then cracking a cask open and drinking from it.
The wife in the Canadian couple asks why this is so cool at which point I explain that this is so awesome because you'll never taste a whisky QUITE like this one, it's a one in a billion, you can never put your foot into the same river twice, kind of whisky. And we're getting it straight from the cask!
HOW COOL IS THAT?!
She's not quite convinced, but that's ok! Once everyone has their dram we head on out and back to the office, this is the end of the tour, we head back to the very first building where we get our keepsake glasses wrapped in bubblewrap and I grab a photo with both the Canadian's who decide they need a picture with their new whisky friend, and Peter.
It's back to Elgin for us for a quick lunch and then the special tour at Gordon & MacPhail!
Now I knew it was pretty special being invited to visit Gordon & MacPhail's warehouse, but it wasn't until the week in Speyside where it REALLY sunk in HOW special it was. Roy had been informing all the tour guides of my love for whisky and let them know I'd been invited to visit the G & M warehouse. It was THEIR reactions that let me know I was really in for a treat.
Roy had informed me that pretty much the only people admitted to the warehouse were people who were purchasing casks from G & M, that it was very special and every time another guide heard about the upcoming visit they'd do a visible start and say "you've gotta know somebody in the business then!"
By the time the day for the visit came I was panting and quivering in excitement. My wife and I decided to call it an early day once we hit Elgin as the G & M warehouse is only a 10 minute walk from our bed and breakfast.
We grab a quick bite to eat and then we head on over. God I'm so excited!! What are we going to see?! What's it going to be like!? What's going to happen!?
When we arrive at Gordon & MacPhail we head up into this little waiting room and we let them know that we're here for the tour. Out comes a lovely lady named Julliette to do our tour. She informs us that we won't be able to take photos (not a problem!) and we'll need to stick close as this is a working environment.
We enter into the building next door where the warehouse is located and you immediately know that it's a working environment, there's a little assembly line with bottling and packaging going on, cables snaking along the floor, it's noisy, people left and right are doing things that I recognize, things I can only guess at and the odor of whisky is in the air.
In short it is Very Cool!!
We head towards this opening, this black cavernous opening as our Julliette talks to us about G & M and out of the blackness comes a couple of guys wearing hardhats. We're allowed to go in. We each grab a hard hat and into the darkness we go.
There are rows upon rows of casks, going 16 casks deep we're informed, and high up in the ceiling are a few lights. It is VERY dark. We move further into the warehouse, staying on the main path and as we do so we're passing casks from all sorts of distilleries and all sorts of years. Glenlivet's from the 1940's, Glen Grants from the 1940's and 1950's, BenRomachs (not too surprising since G & M own the distillery), Caol Ila from 2002, more and more casks. I ask if we'll see any Port Ellens, Broras, Rosebanks, etc.
Julliette says that she knows that there are casks of all of those in the warehouse, but she's not sure where in the warehouse they are.
We reach another main path that will allow us to move away from the outer wall into the inner warehouse. About halfway down this lane there is a forklift and you're able to see better as a light shines directly down onto the lane.
Julliette and us chat a bit more about G & M and she then asks what do we think as we stand there?
I look around and then work up my nerve to ask
"Can I go into the rows?"
She replies back "sure, but there's no light you won't be able to see anything"
Before she can even finish her sentence I'm off like a bolt into the row closest to us.
It's tight, with just a few inches to either side and immediately the light fades to almost nothing, I'm squinting, head close to the casks in order to make out what cask I'm looking at in the oh so thin watery light. My wife stays back with Julliette and I hear them say that they can no longer see me.
I quickly settle on a moment of brilliance! I can't take photos but I can use my phone as a light source!
I turn it on, set the light source at maximum and now I've got a mini flashlight!
I'm quickly moving down the row, phone light held aloft as I scan all the casks around me, calling out distilleries and years to my wife!
Mortlach, Balblair, Glenglassaugh, Benromach, BenRiach, Caol Ila, more and more whiskies pass by my eyes, whiskies from the 60's, 70''s, 80's, 90's, 2000's, I see them all, as the aroma of the Angel's Share fills the room and my nostrils.
I'm almost running up and down the rows now as Julliette and my wife stand there patiently, waiting for me to run out of steam. I hear them talking to one another in muted voices and I was later informed by my wife that Julliette commented that she'd never seen anyone get so excited about whisky, it was like a little boy in a toy store.
Oh sweet Jesus!? I found one! I FOUND ONE!!!!!!!
A Rosebank from 1979!!! I found a cask of Rosebank from 1979!??!
I stop for a moment, running my hands reverently along the cask's sides, so beautiful, so serene. A silent distillery, a distillery who will never produce whisky again, a cask that once emptied can never be replaced.
It's worth a quiet moment or two.
I eventually move on, I don't know how long we'll have to wander so I want to make the most of this visit while I can!
More rows, more casks, Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Caol Ila, more and more casks and then on my last row before I arrive at the forklift, the very last cask in the row I see it.
Port Ellen 1979. A peace comes over me as I lay my hands on this cask, this very special cask. This is a cask of whisky from a distillery which caused the following to be uttered at one point.
"When Port Ellen closed, that day grown men cried"
I understand that feeling, that statement, as a tear slowly slides down my cheek. It's beautiful, this Port Ellen as the smell of it's Angel's Share mingles with the other aromas, the cask splintery and yet smooth beneath my fingers. I kneel down and lay my head along it's side as I just stop and suck in this moment, this tiny sliver in time when my life has changed in a small, yet irrevocable way.
Finally both Julliette and my wife call out that it's time to go so I come back out of the rows, and we head out back towards that cavernous entrance. Julliette asks my thoughts on what I saw and I'm close to speechless, such a tiny moment in time, but such a profound impact.
But our tour isn't done yet.
When we go back to the bottling area Julliette walks us over to a machine where a gentleman is removing all the char from a whisky that's due to be bottled soon.
We take a wee nip of the whisky (Caol Ila Yum!) and we chat a few minutes with him, joking how often they need to change the filters as you can see how much char is in the casks. The char is pretty cool, sweet and smokey and I suggest using it for a BBQ as it would be delicious! He asks if I want it all at which point I have to lament the fact that Australia probably wouldn't let me import it.
We move further on after saying good bye to my filtering friend, and move down the bottling line a little bit as our Julliette explains more of the process to us. We're only there for a couple minutes before we leave G & M where Julliette asks what we thought. I can not express in adequete words what that visit meant. We chat for a few more minutes, talking about Silent Distilleries and the prices of the bottles, but the tour is over.
We thank her for her time and the visit(!) and then head back to our bed and breakfast in order to prepare for the next day: Macallan!
A quick aside: A MASSIVE THANK YOU to Ian and Derek, Julliette (and the entire team!) at Gordon & MacPhail for that tour! Such a massive impact on me! THANK YOU SO MUCH!! It was VERY MUCH appreciated!!