Last Wednesday, my flatmate and I went to Glengoyne Distillery for a Chocolate and Whisky Tour. This wasn’t difficult to do. We caught the B10 bus to Balfron and hopped off at the distillery (…not literally, of course. The bus stopped at the stop right outside the distillery).
We were there early enough to grab a few pictures of the surrounding landscape before getting our tickets for the first tour of the day. The distillery itself had the exact atmosphere you want with whisky: lots of old wood and white paint with architecture that makes you (okay, me) think of sheep.
The tours run every hour on the hour, but I recommend going early in the off season. There were four people in our tour, and it allowed us to do this lovely thing called see everything and get near stuff and not be squished. I wouldn’t want to be in the distillery with a much larger group, and they apparently can get relatively large during peak season.
It’s still worth it, though, if you’re interested in some whisky and some history.
For the tour, I armed myself with a notebook, a pen, and my camera…although I didn’t take pictures of inside. I was too intent on what our tour guide, Janet, was telling me. She was very kind and started to make sure I was able to take accurate notes. She went so far as to spell the questionable words.
That means I have many pages of scribbles, but I’m going to pull out the things that I find the neatest.
- Glengoyne has copper stills instead of stainless steel ones. Stainless steel ones cause the alcohol to come of tasteless, meaning it needs to be blended to make a whisky, but it can also be used for vodka. Using copper means it’s a whisky straight away and mostly just needs to be weakened to an acceptable level of alcohol before bottling.
- The first person to make whisky there was a farmer in 1833, although Janet pointed out that he probably practiced first because his 1833 whisky was really good.
- Most distilleries, including Glengoyne, but their grain prepared instead of going through the malting process themselves. Glengoyne can store 100 tons at any one time.
- A coup is something the grain goes in that tips over when it fills. 95 of those makes 1 mash, and 1 mash is 3.25 tons.
- Glengoyne doesn’t use peat at any point, so their whisky doesn’t have the smokey flavour of some others. I don’t actually know entirely what this means in terms of taste, but I’m assured it does, in fact, matter.
- 22,000 liters of water go through 1 mash over 7 hours to get out the husks of the grain and create the wort, which is then mixed with yeast…60 kilos of yeast with 19,000 liters of wort. The room with the big tubs for this part smells like baking bread and it’s glorious. The tubs are made of Oregon Pine (she thought us Americans would enjoy that), and when the mixture inside stops bubbling, it’s done.
- The fermenting with the yeast sparkles a bit because of all the bubbles. Sparkly, bread-dough-smelling, alcoholic mix.
- After going through the whole distilling process, the liquid is from 75-78% alcohol/volume. They mix in water until it’s weakened to 63.5%, at which point they put it in casks. The whisky comes out in 10-25 years at a lower %, and then they sell at 40% for the 10-year, 43% for the 15-year, 18-year, and 21-year, and then 58% for the 25-year.
- They have two different warehouses. The older one is still stacked like they did originally: three high with the ends of the casks facing. The newer one has more shelves of casks and rolls them in, so if there’s a leak at the back you won’t know for a while.
- They use lots of different wood, including casks once used for bourbon since bourbon only uses casks once. They only use Spanish sherry for the older whiskies, and they don’t use a refill cask for the 21-year.
- Only the casks made from American wood are called barrels.
- The 15-year we had is 30% bourbon.
- The 21-year was 100% a first filled cask.
This little trip was also the debut of Boudicca, my Valentine’s gift to myself and my new companion hedgehog. She had a good time.
Overall, if you like whisky or are curious about distilling, this is a good place to go to. We didn’t have many questions, but our guide looked really interested in answering some. She might have welcomed the chance to get off-script a little bit. My flatmate and I got the chocolate tour, which was amazing and a little strange mixing the sweetness with the whisky, and the other two people with us got the Gold Medal tour, which was slightly older whisky. They seemed to enjoy it.
However, if you don’t really like whisky, stick to one of the shorter tours that only has one tasting. You’ll save some money and still get lots of information.
What do you think? Have you been? Did you enjoy it? Would you go? Let me know!
Your Bonnie Celtophile,