The snow is back today. Despite snowfall in April (in Morayshire) being far from unusual it nevertheless felt a bit of a backward step after the last week or so of nice warm Spring sunshine. The agreed response to the retrograde weather was to have lunch then head off to our nearest distillery for the afternoon. This isn’t a usual course of events I hasten to add, merely one prompted by the imminent Spirit of Speyside festival. Normally it would just be another log on the stove and yet more tea.
GlenDronach (not Glen<space>Dronach) nestles in the hills on the back road from Huntly to Turriff, what the roads department calls the B9001. It’s perhaps not one of the more famous distilleries as evidenced by the relatively tiny car park outside the Visitor Centre (there’s more space around the corner to be fair). This afternoon there were just six of us in total for the last tour which made for a much better experience in my view; we could actually hear what was being said over the hum of the machinery for a start.
But I’m rushing ahead. When we arrived the freezing cold Arctic (Met Office said so) wind was more than offset by the warmth of the reception inside. There were more staff than visitors but no sense that somehow we were an irritation or inconvenience; strangely I do notice that at some visitor attractions. Not here though – welcomed in and a tasting tour swiftly paid for.
The distillery is small – four stills – so don’t expect the tour to be long. However it is informative and we benefited both from having a tour guide who is a genuine well-read whisky enthusiast plus also good questions from the other customers on the tour. So for example I learned today that the black discolouration common to pretty much all the distilleries around here is due to a fungus which feeds upon the alcohol lost to the atmosphere, the so-called ‘angel’s share’. Well there you go, free-loading fungus. Did you know that? I’d put it down to historical soot from the days of coal-fired stills.
I also gleaned a detail about warehouse temperatures and barrel stacking height in relation to evaporation loss (i.e. depriving those angels) plus some nuances about the importance of the yeast and barley relative to the water chemistry and still design. You’ll need to take the tour yourself to find out.
And of course, there were all the scents familiar to anyone who has toured a distillery before. Fragrant toffee and sweet malt and the myriad of variants depending upon where in the process the batch is at the time of visiting. If only those scents and flavours could be bottled. Oh, hang on…
So to the tasting.
There is a very good range of different tours available for a small distillery; in truth in most cases the actual tour is the same with the difference coming at the end in terms of the whiskies available to taste. The highest-end tours do however have more detail or offer a different experience so best to refer to the website and check for yourself. I had taken the £15 Tasting Tour which entitled me to taste the 8, 12 and 18 year old products which I considered the product spread that best represented my pocket. It turned out to be a good choice.
Every palate is different of course but for once the official tasting notes weren’t entirely fanciful, mostly in terms of spice and fruit. For me, the 8yr old had a wonderful nose very similar to the Balvenie Signature and Doublewood. It was good enough in the mouth to begin with but the promise from the nose wasn’t quite delivered. The finish was too young for me, too much of a rough edge.
The 12yr old has for me a fruitier nose but without the richness suggested by the 8yr old; it is far more lively in the mouth however and very fruity. It has a nice smooth finish however as a 12yr old should – no jagged edges here. The 18yr old is predictably the smoothest of all at the finish and is even spicier in the mouth; it brought back memories of licking out the Christmas cake mixing bowl – mixed spice, candied peel and dried fruit.
All in all if you’ve never tried GlenDronach but enjoy a Balvenie or the Glenlivet 15yr old French Oak Reserve (or the 16yr old Glen Grant if you can find it) then you’re on safe ground here.
Well worth a visit.
One of the common traits of human behaviour I seem to encounter regularly is that of not visiting tourist attractions if they happen to be on our own doorstep. From time to time I visit friends around the UK and ask them questions about local cathedrals, museums, galleries or monuments near their home. Very often the response is along the lines of “Oh, well……we’ve never actually been there ourselves, but we’d be delighted to go with you!”.
The area where I live – Aberdeenshire in Scotland – contains quite a diverse landscape. There is a huge variety of flora and fauna, geology and agricultural activity. There are also quite a few castles.
Having been introduced to Scottish castles as a small boy on summer holidays up from England they have never lost their magic for me. Being made to study Shakespeare’s Macbeth at school didn’t hurt either. The darkness of that story brought back so many memories of clambering about on desolate ramparts under stormy summer skies, the musty smell of the damp walls and earth floors in the gloomiest recesses that small boys always seek out.
So this year I’m going to try to make a real effort to see some of these ancient monuments. This isn’t a travel blog, but that’s fine. The ancient castles and buildings have been part of the landscape for hundreds of years and in many cases have had a major impact upon the rural economy and surrounding countryside. That, and those moody battlements and damp dungeons, is what interests me.
Winter here is behaving like a distant relative who comes to stay but then won’t leave. We expect the usual April showers (which in this part of Scotland means endless curtains of rain), but the return to sleet and snow is a little depressing.
I do love to see snow as much as the next person, and being a skier I welcome it more than many people. However, there is a limit. Some nice warm sunshine about now would be nice.
So in the meantime I will just have to accept the passing snow showers and embrace the re-wintered landscape.
I’ve passed this ruin quite a few times and it’s on my list of targets for a winter dawn patrol with the big camera. Despite that I’d never actually stopped for it before. It could easily pass for a ruined mill in Northern England but in fact it is the remnants of Bognie Castle, otherwise known as Conzie Castle. Once the seat of Clan Morrison, the four-storey building probably dates from the late 1600s.
The light wasn’t ideal (it was only an opportunistic grab shot after all) but I liked the clouds and the passing bursts of sunlight so decided the BlackBerry’s camera would have to do. I’ll come back and try to make a better job of it another day.
I thought I’d tie together two separate images in this post; one found today and one found over the Easter weekend. The one today was a pheasant egg, lying all alone in the grass at the edge of the little copse of trees by my house. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there yesterday or certainly not the day before.
The crows and jackdaws will soon spot it and make use of it. In fact I’m surprised I saw it before they did.
The second set of eggs were of the aquatic variety. This not brilliant photograph is of three clutches of frog eggs. Looking like bunches of submerged grapes these were coated in a dusting of silt, the after-effects of the recent rain.
I’m always amazed that any of these can actually hatch given the silting that is prevalent in these drainage ditches. No doubt many die from lack of oxygen or some other problem but, yet, many do hatch into tadpoles.
The water here is rich in iron (hence the brown colour) and in dry periods this can lead to some quite toxic conditions for the tadpoles and young froglets. Yet survive some of them do and each year there are new eggs waiting to take their turn in facing the significant trials of life.
Well what are the chances of this? One of the last, tiny remaining patches of snow left in the garden and it bears the almost perfect print of a pheasant. There were one or two other last vestiges lying under the shade of the trees but this one really stood out. It certainly made me smile for a few minutes.