The first whisky festival I went to was back in 2007; it was the Spirit of Speyside. At the time, my friend and I had wanted to book places on a particular tasting. For the life of me, I can't even remember what it was. However, the event was fully booked and so we found ourselves at a loose end. Flicking through the brochure, we came across a whisky and chocolate tasting which was taking place near our guest house in Dufftown.
"Who's this Alex Bruce guy?" my pal asked. I had no idea. But we concluded that a) the tasting was fairly cheap and b) if the whisky wasn't all that, at least there was chocolate. So, off we went. That was my first real taste of cask strength, single cask whisky and, thankfully, the whisky was actually all that. And Alex's patter wasn't too shabby either. From then on, I signed up to as many Adelphi tastings as I could and made a beeline for the Adelphi stand at every whisky festival I attended. Except for one: Glasgow's Whisky Festival. Only because, on that occasion, I was concerned that a restraining order might have shortly been forthcoming. By the time I arrived at the Adelphi stand, all the whisky had gone. I never made that mistake again, convincing myself (in the words of Bob Hoskins in a 1990's BT ad) "it's good to stalk".
During lockdown (v.2, I think) I had the privilege of interviewing Alex for a piece published in Whisky Magazine: Three Guiding Principles. Fangirl moment aside, that interview made me more eager than ever to visit Ardnamurchan Distillery. So, needless to say, I was totally made up when the Big Playas Group™ decided to include a visit on our 2022 distilleries road trip itinerary.
Taking the ferry from Armadale on Skye over to Mallaig, we drove south to the beautiful Ardnamurchan peninsula. After a brief stop for me to recalibrate - those winding roads aren't great for a lame-o like me who gets car sick - we arrived at the distillery to be met by Jenny (Karlsson), Marketing Communications Manager. Or Spider Jenny as she will now forever be known after demonstrating such athletic prowess amongst the stows.
After dropping off our bags at the distillery's bunkhouse (which isn't anything like the image it conjurs up; there were comfy beds, ensuite bathrooms and each room was essentially about the same size as my flat here on the Costa del Leith), we headed to the warehouse for a tasting before dinner.
To be honest, I can't remember everything we tasted as I didn't write anything down. I can assure you, though, that it wasn't all 13,000 casks which are currently maturing in Ardnamurchan's warehouses. Although I reckon some of the group would have given it their best shot given half the chance. However, I do recollect there was a cracking 4 year old PX cask which once again demonstrated, as with the Isle of Raasay warehouse tasting a couple of days earlier, that young whisky can be excellent whisky indeed.
When you make your living working in the whisky industry (which all of us in the group do), and your 'hobby' has evolved into your job, there is admittedly a very blurred line between work and non-work. Depending on how you look at it, you're either always working or never working. Sometimes, though, you do have to consciously turn off the work switch and circle back to those times when you took whisky at face value and didn't overthink it; this was certainly one of those times. If I look back to just six years ago when I would spend my Sunday evenings watching the inevitable dark cloud of doom descend knowing that I would have to head into work the following morning, rather than tasting whisky in an amazing dunnage warehouse, rest assured that I will never take 'work' moments like this for granted.
The following morning, we enjoyed a wee nosey around the distillery courtesy of Spider Jenny and Scott Stewart, one of the production operators at Ardnamurchan. The distillery, which opened in 2014, is equipped with one wash still (10,000 litres) and one spirit still (6,000 litres). The semi-lauter mash tun is made of stainless steel but has a copper top. I'm not sure if this is for any other reason than to make it look more aesthetically pleasing. But, as mash tuns go, it does actually look quite nice! The distillery also now has its own malting floor which will afford it the opportunity to malt some of its own barley. However, in order to meet its requirements, the distillery will still need to bring in some of the malted barley from elsewhere.
The tour ended in the tasting room where the first item to catch my eye was the oak clock hanging on the wall. Being the whisky history geek that I am, I loved the story behind it: it was made from a sherry butt filled with grain spirit in 1928 from the original Adelphi Distillery. Based in Glasgow, this distillery produced both malt and grain spirit but ceased production in the 1930s. Such a great piece of Scotch whisky history!
This was a fantastic end to a brilliant road trip. Once again, as with Raasay, an overnight stay wasn't long enough to make the most of the area and I'll be aiming to head back in the not too distant future. Especially now that the distillery has a 'bottle your own' release available at the visitor centre.
Huge thanks to Spider Jenny and the Ardnamurchan team for their wonderful hospitality. And apologies on behalf of us all for setting the smoke alarms off in the bunkhouse whilst cooking our roast chicken; it was all Nic's fault really.
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