Recently, I was lucky enough to have a couple of days in Scotland at the end of a family visit to the UK. Based in Edinburgh, we had a day to explore the city and a day for a trip beyond. Initially I really wanted to return to Speyside, or else head up to Balblair north of Inverness; but both of those are just too far to be comfortable for a day trip, especially if you have a 7pm table booked at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society HQ!
Luckily you have a few closer options for distillery visits when staying in Edinburgh. Just south of the city is Glenkinchie; you could hop over to Glasgow and visit Auchentoshan; or you could do what we did and head up to Pitlochry at the entrance to the Highlands, where you’ll find not one but two distilleries within a mile of each other – Blair Atholl and Edradour. Knowing Blair Atholl is a Diageo-owned distillery, I was more interested in the tour at Edradour.
The train journey to Pitlochry is scenic and direct, taking less than two hours. Once you arrive, it’s worth finding Robertson’s on the main street. Despite being a tiny shop, no bigger than what Americans would call a convenience store, you’ll find a great whisky selection including their own special bottlings!
When you’re ready to head out, there are two routes to the Edradour distillery. The first is the way that Google maps will direct you and it involves taking Moulin Road north out of the town along the A924, a distance of about 2.5 miles. This way is certainly doable, but if you’re walking, be aware that the path is a bit ad hoc and disappears entirely as you get closer to the distillery, leaving you to share the narrow road with traffic including farm equipment and some rather aggressive tour buses. I didn’t feel very safe at that point so use your own discretion before choosing this route as a pedestrian.
The other way is to head east out of Pitlochry along the main road (confusingly this is also the A924). You’ll pass Blair Atholl and then you can make you way up the hill through the woods to Edradour. The total distance on this route is only about 1.5 miles and it’s more pedestrian-friendly too, but you’ll miss out on some of the expansive views that the high road provides.
Anyway, we arrived safely at the distillery without getting flattened by a tractor or a tour bus. It was around noon and the day was getting hot; as I write this the UK is experiencing its warmest summer weather in 10 years (and some people will tell you it’s the hottest since the famous heatwave of 1976). The first thing you notice about the distillery is just how tiny it is in comparison to just about any other distillery you can name. Indeed this is Scotland’s smallest distillery, stretching out in a linear fashion along a small burn (a stream, not a fire!). It’s extremely picturesque with brilliantly-whitewashed buildings sporting bright red trim.
Within a few minutes of our arrival we were in a tour group and heading off to explore. The tour was interesting for a number of reasons, the first being that it was in the reverse order of other distillery tours I’ve been on. Most will follow the process along from beginning to end; you see the barley, the milling, the mash tun, the washbacks, the stills, through to the warehouse, and finally a tasting. Edradour does things almost exactly in the opposite order. First, we had a tasting of the 10-year-old and a port-matured expression (not port-finished, entirely matured in port butts). The tasting took place in a nicely-converted malt barn, nice that is apart from a rather lurid fiber-optic light installation that seemed out-of-place amongst the traditional surroundings.
The whisky was enjoyable; I was pleased to try the port-matured sample and quite liked it, though not enough to pick up a bottle. The 10-year-old is a very good standard expression which I’ve always thought quite highly of; it has a light but interesting smoky undertone that defines what I think of as the Edradour house style.
Next in our reverse tour was the warehouse just up the hill.
It was great to see that the warehouse you visit on the tour is clearly where their whisky is actually matured as opposed to just being an obvious mockup for tourists (I’m looking at you Glenfiddich). Here, not only Edradour whisky but also the peated Ballechin and some Signatory malts (Signatory being Edradour’s current owner) are resting in their casks from many different sources. Apparently for Edradour whisky they only use first-or-second-fill casks, selling them on afterwards.
Next, we headed back down the hill to the stillhouse. This was the part of the tour that really surprised me – the scale of everything is so much smaller than any other distillery I’ve seen.
In the picture below you can see more or less the entire place. Behind me and so not pictured are the two somewhat decrepit-looking washbacks, but everything else is on display – the gorgeous, brightly-coloured open mash tun is to the left of the picture, steaming away. The stills are to the right; most distilleries hide away the less-photogenic lower parts but they’re visible here. The spirit safe, where the distilled spirit is examined and the heart of the run captured manually, is in the center of the photo.
Our guide was fond of saying that what Edradour produces in a year, a larger distillery will produce in a week, but the size of the stillhouse really brought that home to me. The beating heart of the distillery is contained in one room not much bigger than a double garage. I found it really quite uplifting to see whisky made this way.
And with a trip back to the gift shop, the tour came to a close. Or not quite; I took a trip back to the tasting bar and tried out a couple of their rarer expressions, and picked up a very nice sherried cask-strength bottling to bring home.
If you’re in the area I highly recommend visiting Edradour; it’s a very unique distillery in a beautiful setting. I mean, how can you say no to anywhere that has their own custom Trabant in front of the warehouse. Until next time, Edradour!