Montag, 30. Mai 2016

Distillery Review 13: Madness, Malt and Macallan

The Malt Mariners distillery reviews are the adventures of one malty soul and memory. My perspective is subjective so please do take it as that! Enjoy maltmates! 

Distillery Review 13: Madness, Malt and Macallan 

Ahoy maltheads and malt maidens!
I continue my efforts to reach the english speaking malt mariners as well and since I am sure most of you german maltsters are good english speakers I´m keeping it that way till I find a way or the time to write articles in both languages. I´m sitting comfortably on the bench outside Beechwood watching the rain soaking the malt country, supplying us with more fresh water that will some day maybe become our beloved whisky. By now I am living in Scotland, Aberdeenshire for about 8 weeks. Jesus, how time flies by. And for those among you who haven´t heard much of me, here´s a little update on my off-work activities that are about... well surprisingly... whisky! I´ll tell you a little bit about a great day on a charity (neo'natal unit Aberdeen) speyside bus trip and will review Macallan Distillery on my way... So hop on the malt mobile and join me on a mad journey through "malt whisky country" Morayshire, better know as "Speyside".

It all started with a text from my colleague Karen at GlenDronach Distillery. There would be a free place available on a bus tour through Speyside for 120 £ containing two distilleries, breakfast, lunch and dinner... Let me think for a moment... Just kidding, I´m so in! The trip started with breakfast at 8:30, luckily I could sleep at a colleagues place in Keith where the tour started. I managed to get me a coffee and a egg toast before the first dram was poured in front of me.
If you have never been to Scotland on a whisky journey, let me tell you one single thing about distilleries... They don´t like to be open late! And most don`t like to be open really early as well, but thats another story ;). So if you want to see more then one distillery in one day, be prepared to start drinking early. And with early I mean 10 am plus. Before this breakfast dram I´ve seen a few distilleries, some visits at 10 and 11 so I would have not considered myself a light weight. But having your first whisky of the day at 8:30 in the morning... That was new to me. Anyway it went down shockingly smoothly! We had a little quiz going to guess the casks out of the 5 "driver drams" of the day (being chauffeured in a bus makes the word "drivers dram" much more appealing). This first one, I was quite sure, was a sauterne finish and I was quite convinced it must have been and Arran since it know and love that malt quite a lot (spoiler: It was in fact the Glendronach 12 Sauternes Finish, a Dram I should have known... thats why I love blind tastings so much!).

After breakfast off we went in the bus... Let the games begin. I am pretty sure in the bus we had the second dram of the day, although I can´t really recall every detail... Anyway the first stop of the tour was Macallan Distillery. Lucky for me since I´ve never been on a tour at Macallan and wanted to review it anyway. Macallan sits in the middle of Speyside near Aberlour (although its not really walking distance if you´re a lazy bastard like me) so the drive was very nice, specially because I could actually look at the landscape this time and did´t had to concentrate not to crash into a couple of suicidal sheep or pheasants or -feel free to add the animal of your choice!-. Entering the distillery site we passed the massive wracked warehouses of Macallan, a site that gives you a glimpse of the big picture of mass production of malt whisky. To let everybody know we where there, the bus driver set a mark when trying to turn the bus around in front of the visitor center. So if you ever see a second "natural" step next to the cement steps... that was us!

Before hop on the Macallan tour let me say a few words about Macallan and why I have a not-quite-neutral perspective on this distillery. The Macallan Distillery has some funny (or embarrassing) history such as lying about their cask policy. The other two things that go together is that Macallan has become a very "collectable" whisky, meaning the prices of many bottlings (specially old ones) has gone crazy. And Macallan is very much aware of this releasing loads of high-end bottlings for the luxury market such as the "lalique" (round about 460.000 $). Like everywhere in the world if there is a lot of money involved there will always be dark corners and souls following trying to make a profit out of it by selling fake products. Thats bad enough but Macallan actually tried to buy some old bottles back from an italian retailer to relable them, overlooking the fact that they where fake. Epic fail. So yeah having that in mind, I didn´t arrive at the distillery quite open minded, I admit it. 

At the time we actually arrived at Macallan I would have considered myselfe as sober-ish. We (about 25 people) entered the visitor center and there where already about 10 people inside. With the lot of us the place was packed. I was slightly surprised that a distillery by the magnitude of Macallan had such a small VC including a small bar as the tasting area. There seemed to be no separate room for tastings so the first of the 6 drams of the "6 pillars tour" where handed to us on trays. Since the tasting bar was occupied already by other guests we stood there with our drams happy chatting and drinking away. Of we went on the tour then with a sympathetic tour guide with tattooed arms who´s father had already worked as a cooper. All thumbs up for "street credibility"!
The tour was stuffed with little stylish whisky gimmicks such as a huge drop of water from the well (you can drink from it... well... its water! No pun intended) a miniature open pot still (pretty damn cool!) and a transparent pipe-system. They even show a rock of the ground the distillery is built on... "And thats a rock". Yeah. You really CAN take things too far I guess.

The whole production area of mashing, fermenting and distilling is quite nice looking at although it all feels kind of fake since Macallan actually has two sets of buildings on site, one "visitor attraction" distillery and one industrialized one for the lions share of production. All of this will soon be outdated anyway since Macallan builds another huge distillery on site at the moment that will replace the two old ones as soon as its finished. The old buildings will be mothballed until the production need a even bigger increase and they can back up the super modern mega distillery they are building right now (like really I´ve seen the mashtun.... its HUGE). Anyway back to the tour. Wooden washbacks, check (although as mentioned stainless steel in the industrial distillery). The stills where surprisingly small and the guide explained, that Macallan is looking for an oily character that should represent the smooth speyside-spirit. Distilling is a science of its own and I´m still working on that, but I was pretty sure short stills will give you a full bodied, spicier and sometimes harsher character. Please comment on that if you know more about it! Very curious!
So out of the still house... warehouse time. NOT. Macallan prouds itself to have a very high quality wood and cask management and they are not afraid to show off... ahm it! Lost in translation, sorry about that! No guys but seriously the we-have-to-get-every-single-sensation-in-the-experience-art-exhibition-museum-thingy is for my personal taste really over the top. I love my fancy pics and my cask displays, but Macallan goes a bit wild on this part of the tour. But finally we entered a warehouse! At last! We didnt really go inside, but one of those cages that hinder the tourist from touching, hugging, kissing casks and other forms of physical contact or abuse. BUT we went in a warehouse! At this point of the tour even the most geeky distillery visitor is thinking "where the hell is my freaking dram!?". Well maybe that is Macallans way of pushing your anticipation to the limit.
Back in the visitor center all our tired feed and eager noses and mouthes are keen on sitting down and enjoying our five remaining drams. Since our absence the visitor center hasn't changed much and the guides have not magically come up with a quiet room with comfy seats, couches or anything to sit on. So standing and drinking it is again! And slowly that seems to become quite exhausting. Hope the mega-malt-macallan-metropolis will have at least loads of comfy seats! The drams (Gold, Amber, 12, Sienna, Fine Oak) all came in small (warm) glasses, obviously straight from the dish washer. The whisky was carefully poured, so carefully that it went warm altogether with the glasses. Not cool (again no pun intended). Nose and taste wise I have to admit that the only one of them I knew was the Sienna and that was still my favorite. Although every single Macallan available in the shop was way to expensive for what it could do to my mouth. So nope. No pleasant surprises. Macallan presented itself as I had pictured it before. So I can say: I´m not a big fan, and I probably never will be. Don´t get me wrong, there is plenty of mindblowing Macallan whisky out there! Only you and me will most certainly never get a mouthfull of it except we all become millionaires and don´t have to give a damn about how much money we spent on our booze. Because yeah.. Then I would gladly take a bath in Macallan 10 cask strength (one of the best whiskys I´ve tried so far). With Macallan I can´t shake the feeling of, that they fool around in the luxury market at lot but kind of forgot about the little malthead on the way. Shame, cause the whisky used to be and can be magnificant! 
From now on the speyside tour gets a bit hazy. But I remember the next stop pretty good, the Highlanders Inn in Craigellachie. I great whisky pub.. well restaurant... well museum? One of those places you want to fall down on your knees and thank your mother you where born (or curse the deity of your choice that you have to drive!). The place is owned by Tatsuya Minagawa, a japanese guy who worked in various whisky related businesses (Suntory to mention one). He gave us a superb compass tasting with the standard malts from each region of Scotland (Auchentoshan Three Wood, Aberlour 10, Dalwhinnie 15, Springbank 10, Bowmore 12, Highland Park 12). The guy is an icon if you ask me. Not only do we share a lot of ideas, attitudes and the passion when it comes to whisky, he is also a great entertainer. He literally tasted the whiskys with us which is quite rare (and sensible if you think about it). If you come near that place its defintely worth a visit!
For the rest of the trip I save some of your and mine time for another visit, I can only say: We visited Glenfiddich Distillery, The Mash Tun in Aberlour and had great whisky dinner in the end (not to mention various "drivers drams"). Even though I cut out a few of the well known drams in the middle of the trip, I had more whisky on one day then ever before in my life. Its a matter of fact: The Scots are all mad! At about 11 pm I fell in my bed exhausted (not even drunk), happy, saturated and tired with only one thought in mind... "I love my life".
Oh and the next morning was surprisingly... Really good! It amazes (or shocks) me every time how good my body seems to process whisky, specially compared to other types of alcoholic drinks.

Résumé: Macallan is an ambivalent distillery. Although is has lost many of its followers over the years it still seems to be on the uprise. It can produce amazing malts but the every day bottlings seem to suffer from the expansion of the brand. The tour is great if your a Macallan fan and you will see plenty of cool stuff. But if I would have only one or two days in Speyside, I´d rather visit Glenfarclas down the road. 

Well I hope you enjoyed another journey with the malt mariner and I meet you further on up the road!


Your Leon

Facts (April 2016):
Owner: Edrington Group 
Founded: 1824
Capacity: 8.000.000 lpa
Stills: 9 Wash Stills, 18 Spirit Stills 
Adress: Craigellachie, Banffshire, AB 38 9 RX, Scotland
Region: Speyside 
To reach by: car only  

Freitag, 6. Mai 2016

Distillery Review 10: A new spirit (english version)

Since there is an increasing demand for an english version of my blog I start to translate some of the articles into english. I might switch to a complete english version in the future since most germans are good english speakers anyway.

"The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none live who remember it."The lord of the rings fans among you might recognize this quote. But for us maltheads this quote might be appropriate too. Who didn't mourn all the countless closed and mothballed distilleries on their virtual or real whisky trails? But let the past be the past. And you can definitely say that the world of whisky has changed and still changes. There is a lot of movement it he whisky industry in Scotland as well as in other countries. The 80 depression is long gone and the whisky boom is still on the rise. Therefore many new distilleries are being built and new projects are being announced frequently. Kilchoman (Scotland), Kavalan (Taiwan) and Warenghem (Brittany) have proved that young Single Malt can indeed be successful. About time for the Malt Mariners to do their job as pioneers and explorers and set the sails to unknown territory. I (Leon) traveled Scotland for a while and visited among others three new-born Malt Whisky Distilleries:

Annandale Distillery
Location: Council Dumfries & Galloway (Lowlands)
Founded: 2014
Pot Stills: 1 Wash Still, 2 Spirit Stills
Production capacity: 250.000 Liter per annum
Distillery Manager: Malcolm Rennies
Ownership: Annandale Distillery Company (independent)

Eden Mill
Location: Kingdom of Fife, St Andrews
Founded: 2012 (Brewery), 2014 (Whisky Distillery)
Pot Stills: Mini Wash Still, Mini Spirit Still
Production capacity: hard to say while unstready maybe around 100.000 liter per annum
Distillery Manager: Paul Miller
Ownership: Eden Mill (independent)

Kingsbarns Distillery
Location: Kingdom of Fife, St Andrews
Founded: 2015
Pot Stills: Eine Wash Still, eine Spirit Still
Production capacity : Unknown
Distillery Manager: Peter Holroyd
Ownership: Wemyss

All these three new distilleries are interesting because they are located in the Lowlands and don´t have any self-made whisky to sell yet. So they seem to be perfect for a little challenge. Ill present the distilleries to you and will look on the categories of "location","atmosphere" and last but not least the future single malt.


Annandale Distillery lies near the small town Annan in the Council of Dumfries & Galloway. You can walk to the distillery in 20 minutes from town. Annan itself might not be your ideal place to stay though since there is not much to see. Dumfries might be a better place for a visit, there you have the chance to see several sites of the poet Robert Burns (memorial, mausoleum) and cool stuff like the Camera Obscura which I recommend.

Eden Mill is about 5 miles away from the city center of St Andrews, a gorgeous town right next to the sea with many student and therefore some activities. It is know for its golf course as well if you are into that stuff. Well we´re not but St Andrews is definitely worth a visit thats for sure! You might reach the distillery by Bus in about 15 minutes.

Kingsbarns is about 9 miles away form St Andrews in the opposite direction of Eden Mill. I can´t tell if there are any buses going in this direction but even if, it would take you longer then to Eden Mill. Although you have to say that the view from the car park is more then worth it!
Still the battle for location is won my Eden Mill since its the best to reach.


We are talking here about the whole picture of the distillery including the buildings, the visitor center and CI on the website. Kingsbarns is as we mentioned already a very pretty location. From the VC you have a great view over (in my case) sunny barley fields. From the car park you can even see the coastline. The distillery is dominated by stone and wood with hints and clues to be a modern castle.

The VC is simple but has a definite style to it. It is separated into a cafe and a shop area. No hanky panky, just whisky. The tour starts in a kind of mini museum. A nice mix of down-to-earth information and multi media stuff. At the end of the tunnel sits a door protecting the "cask number one" like a crown jewel. I bow to the designers of this part since its really an impressive site.

Annandale Distillery was build to be an tourist attraction as well, no doubt. Everything is neat, clean and stylish. For my personal taste a bit over the top. The toilets look like in a very posh hotel (no pics though... I´m a geek but it doesnt go so far!). The design of the visitor center has much carved wood with round shapes and lots of black metal (not the music). There are some whisky gimmicks to find like lampshade made from staves or the cask recycled as a bin. The pagoda roof is sheer cosmetic since it doesn't have a kiln. Well make up your own mind about it but I like it better then the weird fake towers of Kingsbarns. The visitor center is a decent cafe and therefore focused on that aspect. Very cosy with tables, couch and even a modern fireplace. Nice!

Since Eden Mill is a smaller project with less pocket money in the background is has been built in an old industrial building. Therefore it cant compete with the fancy with the new built tourist attractions. The VC lookes like is has been put up in a hurry in the big visitors room. But still this industrial charming atmosphere might be more authentic for the malthead then the staged new distilleries. The tourist guy will not get the whole package here though.

It was hard to pick a winner in this category. Annadale and Kingsbarns are here even but in the end I´m in charge so I get to decide :). My personal taste said Kingsbarns in the end since the tour area is magnificent.

„No Whisky? What to drink?“

Since non of the three distilleries has bottled legal scotch whisky yet, they all have the same problem: What to serve the guests? Not to mention that they need some money for keeping the spirit flowing.

Well, Eden Mill has no problems pooring a glas of something since they started out as a micro brewery. They have a big Gin variety as well to offer. Since I´m an ignorant malthead, I hate Gin so that didnt go on the account of Eden Mill. In fact the opposite is the case. I had a ticket for a VIP tour (present) and had to take a Gin tour instead since the manager wasn´t around as planned. Since I hate Gin that was big down turn on that day since I made quite a way to visit that place. Anyway there is craft beer as well which as a Franconian is like bread and butter to me. Even though we still call it beer. Eden Mill has some very interesting bottlings matured in wine casks. But hey! We´re here for the whisky! Again Eden Mill has a great variety as an answer. They dont have whisky yet but three different types of new spirit. Different maltings made it happen. Therefore we have "St Andrews Day" made from "dark crystal malt", the "Hogmanay" made from "chocolate malt" (yummy) and the "Burns Night" from "pale malt". No peaty ones (for me unfortunately). You can try those and even buy some if you like. If you still want whisky you can buy some bottlings without much information but representing the different regions highlands, Islay and Speyside. Well I still prefer my usual bottlings. I know what I get you know.

Annandale "solves" the problem of the nonexistent malts with a blended Scotch named "Nations of Scots" that is dedicated to the scots in exile. Although the question is if the blend honors the fellow scots outside the county appropriately. The stuff didn´t float my boat if you know what I mean. But then again... we are waiting for a real malt to be born here. The Annandale newmake, called "rascally liquor" comes in a peated and an unpeated version. It carries no less names then "King o' swords" dedicated to Robert The Bruce (peated) and "King o' words" dedicated to Robert Burns (unpeated). While having the great opportunity to have a managers tour with Malcom Rennie I could taste the young malt of Annandale (a few month old) and I have to say it already had a very tasty character :). I´m definitely looking forward to try the first official bottling here.

Kingsbarns sells its newmake in the shop as well. Although the distillery is well ahead in the game cause the Wemyss family has sold Scotch whisky way before the distillery was build. The have a few aged blended malts (I prefere the term vatted malts, since it does not contain any grain whisky) in the range such as the "spice king" (good stuff), "the hive" and "the peat chimney" each representing a "style" of whisky. They also have a selection of single cask bottlings with detailed information about the distillery, age and so on. So no need to hide for Kingsbarns in that area. Additionally the wines of the family are being sold in the shop.

So in the drinks department it was a hard battle between Eden Mill and Kingsbarns. In the end I went with Eden Mill against my wrath against Gin. I am way too curious about their results since they have three different newmakes. The question remains if Germany will see much of their bottlings since they are a small craft enterprise. If we only look at the whisky section Kingsbarns is definitely the winner since people can have a real whisky tasting here already today.

In the end its all about the personal taste, so I dont want to select a winner in total. But we can be certain about one thing: There is a lot of interesting whisky on the way! And we can look ahead to a happy malty future! And until we can enjoy the newcomers... well there is plenty of good malt to kill the time with :).

Culaters and slainte mhath!

Malty greetings!


- My diary, my bad memory, my smartphone