Day 4, October 21st, morning: Aberlour
I woke from a fitful and jet-lagged sleep greatly looking forward to the day ahead – at last it was time for my first distillery visit! The Dowans Hotel is just a couple of minutes walk to Aberlour so it was the obvious choice to begin my Speyside tour. I was already impressed with the Aberlour staff; when setting up the tour via email they’d been really helpful and friendly, and happily they proved to be even more so in person.
On walking up to the distillery at 10am on a rainy Friday morning, first impressions were very good. The buildings and distillery grounds look well cared-for and are surrounded by trees, with a narrow stream running along the eastern side of the property. The gift shop where you begin your tour is made from stone and looks like a castle gatehouse with its small round tower and gabled roof. Inside I met the delightful Mabel and manager Jonathan who would be my guide. Rather than the Scotsman I expected Jonathan turned out to be from Yorkshire, an area I know well and we chatted about places we both knew while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive.
First we had a short talk from Jonathan on the history of the distillery and the basics of the distilling process, complete with malt and grist samples. Then we headed into the milling room. Milling was actually in process so after a somewhat noisy explanation of what was happening we moved onto the mash tun, then the washbacks where we got to sample the wash itself – like a very rough wheat beer. Then it was onto the stillroom with its two pairs of gleaming stills looking stunning. I loved seeing the clean new-make spirit pouring through the spirit safe; I never got tired of seeing that at all the distilleries I visited.
Then it was a quick walk around the corner to Warehouse No. 1. This turned out to be a tasting room with a dunnage warehouse visible through a glass wall. I was disappointed not to actually go into the warehouse itself, but the generous set of samples provided quickly cheered me up! First we tried the new make spirit, my first occasion to do so; once you get past the huge impact of the massive alcohol strength, it’s interesting to taste the inherent citrus and grass and compare with the eventual cask-matured results.
Next up were two 16-year-old single-cask whiskies only available at the distillery, one matured in a bourbon barrel and one in a sherry cask. The sherry finish was very good and normally I’d say I prefer sherried whiskies, but the single-cask bourbon was outstanding at 52% ABV and I had to buy one. It wasn’t particularly cheap at £65 (around $100) but the taste was so unique and delicious with massive vanilla and toffee that it was worth every penny. Filling a bottle yourself right from the cask and handwriting the label isn’t something you do every day either!
We finished the tasting and the tour itself with the 10-year, 16-year and A’bunadh expressions, and after saying goodbye to Jonathan we were able to wander around and take photos (taking care to stay off the access road of course). I had a nice long chat with Mabel in the shop as I paid for the whisky, and then it was off to the hotel to drop off my goodies, and out again for more adventures!
Since visiting Aberlour I’ve seen many people online say that it’s their favourite distillery tour. I had a great time at all the distilleries I visited, but I will say that the warmth and passion for their trade from the people I met at Aberlour were second to none. I believe they offer a longer tour which includes a warehouse visit, which is about the only thing I felt was missing from my experience. Don’t pass up a visit if you’re in the area!
Next: A walk alongside the Spey, and I visit the iconic Macallan!