Exploring North-east Scotland’s single malt whiskies
- 28th September 2015
Whisky lovers in search of some fine drams will be delighted to find award-winning distilleries in North-east Scotland, all easily accessible from Aberdeen.
A tour of Aberdeenshire’s rolling farmland, hills, moors and dramatic coastline will reveal some hidden gems of single malt Scotch whiskies, each with a story to tell and a character of its own.
Here we look at four of the best distilleries in the area and then highlight some of the spots to enjoy a dram in the Granite City at journey’s end.
Glen Garioch Distillery, Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire
One of the oldest operating distilleries in Scotland – and its most easterly – Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery in the ancient Doric dialect still spoken in these parts) has been making its whisky in the historic market town of Oldmeldrum, near Aberdeen, since 1797. Shielded from the world’s prying eyes, deep in the fertile ‘Granary of Aberdeenshire’, and only ever produced in small, precious batches, Glen Garioch is a rare find indeed, but warmly appreciated by those who like a hearty Highland malt, non chill-filtered as nature intended, with a wholesome maltiness, honeyed sweetness and delicious creamy texture to savour. Its whiskies range from its benchmark Founder’s Reserve and 12 year old single malt through a range of single vintage expressions running back to 1978.
The GlenDronach Distillery, near Forgue, Aberdeenshire
From its hillside home, The GlenDronach Distillery has been creating the finest richly sherried single malts for nearly 200 years. In 1826, the exuberant and extroverted James Allardice founded the distillery and produced his ‘Guid GlenDronach’ single malt. Down the years, the distillery he created has thrived under the stewardship of far-sighted investors and in 2008, nothing less than a complete renaissance began when The BenRiach Distillery Company became GlenDronach’s proud new owner. While time can never stand still, the commitment of the team at GlenDronach has ensured that the distinctive practices that have always defined the distillery have lived on in its return to independent ownership.
The GlenDronach Distillery is famous for producing richly sherried single malt whiskies of inimitable and individual character. April 2009 marked the re-launch of the already popular 12 year old Original as well as the return of the iconic older expressions – the GlenDronach 15 and 18 year olds. Since then the distillery has developed its range with superb expressions matured in the highest quality sherry casks, including 20, 21, 24, 31 and 33 year olds.
The Knockdhu Distillery, near Knock, Aberdeenshire
The Knockdhu Distillery is situated in the picturesque village of Knock in Aberdeenshire. As well as being in a rather beautiful part of the world, it’s also the perfect spot for a distillery due to the abundance of natural resources – barley, peat and spring water. In fact, this was what first attracted the attention of the man who originally started the enterprise.
In 1892, an enterprising chap named John Morrison bought the Knock estate. The surrounding land was full of peat and barley. And the Great North Railway line ran nearby. So when springs of pure, clear water were found, John saw a golden opportunity. Samples of the water were sent for analysis and soon negotiations were under way with The Distillers Company of Edinburgh to build a distillery. Knockdhu opened its doors in October 1894. Back then it was regarded as the perfect embodiment of a modern distillery.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that today it still produces a light, intriguing and thoroughly modern whisky. Its anCnoc is a single malt Scotch whisky with a mind of its own. Even the name (pronounced ‘a-nock’), defies convention as it is Gaelic for the nearby Knock Hill (this is unusual, as most whiskies are named after the distillery). anCnoc honours the tradition of malt whisky making, using a traditional process that’s changed little over the years. The result is a modern light, citrus tasting single malt whisky that still offers plenty of complexity. Its whiskies range from 12 to 35 year olds plus a number of vintage expressions.
Glenglassaugh, near Portsoy, Aberdeenshire
Glenglassaugh Distillery, at the east end of the beautiful Sandend Bay on the Moray Firth coast, was founded by Colonel James Moir in 1875. He quickly established a reputation for making a quality whisky and the company prospered. He ran the distillery with his two nephews until 1892, when Highland Distillers purchased Glenglassaugh. After being completely re-built in 1960, the distillery continued to produce whisky until 1986 when it was mothballed.
The distillery sat silent for over 20 years until it was purchased by a group of investors and started production again in December 2008. In 2013, the BenRiach Distillery Company – owner of nearby Glendronach – took over Glenglassaugh distillery with the intention to bring this iconic distillery fully back to life by giving it the investment, commitment and care it deserved.
Glenglassaugh’s unique history has allowed it to introduce a very special range of whiskies, including old vintages and non-aged expressions. These older vintages – including 30, 40 and 51 year olds and rare cask releases – give a glimpse into the history of the distillery and the heart of Glenglassaugh. The expressions released since production re-started in 2008 are fresh, vibrant and exciting.
It’ll come as little surprise that Aberdeen is a good place to enjoy a dram at the end of the day. Many of its cosmopolitan inhabitants, drawn to the city by the oil and gas industry and its two universities, know a thing or two about whisky. Many of its bars, restaurants and hotels stock an impressive array of single malts providing ample opportunity to fend off the autumn chill of an evening with a drop of the water of life. Below we suggest a modern and traditional venue at which to take your ease.
CASC Bar, 7 Stirling Street, Aberdeen
CASC – which specialises in coffee, ales, Scotch and cigars – sports one of the most impressive whisky collections in the city with more than 250 different choices. It also offers a range of regional tasting flights, whisky tasting events and its staff will gladly help you choose the perfect beer and whisky pairings.
The Grill, 213 Union Street, Aberdeen
The Grill is one of Aberdeen’s oldest and most famous pubs. Situated on Union Street, in the heart of Aberdeen, it has remained virtually unchanged since 1926. Of particular note are the long bar counter and gantry, mahogany veneer panelled walls, the moulded plasterwork ceiling and the unique oxidised-bronze frontage. The selection of over 500 whiskies on offer is hard to beat and the knowledgeable bar staff are on hand to guide you to the whisky of your choice. It also has some 40 whisky flight suggestions, which are always popular.