As I arrived in Speyside, the most populated area in Scotland for whisky distilleries, the only question was where do I start my distillery tour quest? Having to plan around enjoying drams and then needing to drive to my B&B a few miles down the road in Aberlour, I decided to start the day with Glenfiddich (3rd out of 15 distilleries on my Castles and Drams Tour) and then walk around town and also see Balvenie Castle. My day in Dufftown would clear the alcohol out of my system before I got behind the wheel.
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About the Glenfiddich Distillery Tour
You'll find plenty of parking at the Glenfiddich Visitor's Center parking lot, although I chose to park in town and walk the mile down to the distillery since I had other places to visit.
Glenfiddich has several tours, but I decided to take a standard Explorer's Tour. This was the longest standard tour I went on during my whole trip, clocking in at just over 90 minutes. But it makes sense because it is one of the only 2 tours where we got to see a cooperage and the bottling line.
Walk in the front door and you immediately see the history of Glenfiddich, while you wait for your tour. I booked ahead, as it is uncertain with these more popular distilleries if you'll be able to just walk in and grab a tour.
- Location: Dufftown, Keith AB55 4DH, UK
- Region: Speyside
- Impression: The Explorer's Tour itself was a full review and tour of the distillery and an excellent descriptive tasting session. It's one of the few tours where you get to see a bottling line and where the cooper's work.
- Website: Tour Information (Requires Age Verification)
- Cost: £10 for the Explorer's Tour (Standard Tour). There are tours that I didn't take - they cost up to £95 including the ability to mix your own expression from bourbon and sherry casks. Check the website for more details.
- Samples: There are various tours, so you will be able to sample more on an extended tour or tasting. The basic Explorer's Tour gets you a sample of the 12, 15, and 18 year old. But be aware, the Driver's Pack is just a mini-bottle of 12. I have tasted the 12 many times, so this would have been disappointing.
- Perks: None
- Warehouse access: Yes and you get to see the cooperage area where Ian McDonald and his 8 coopers work and you'll also get to stick your nose in a loaded bourbon barrel and sherry cask.
- Note: Oddly cameras were allowed in most places, but smartphone photographs were not allowed. Picture rules are just about as odd distillery to distillery as alcohol purchasing rules are in the United States from state to state.
Look at all of those stills! Next to Macallen, this was the largest number of pot stills I saw in Scotland. Interesting though that they are much smaller than other distilleries stills. The shapes of stills have a baring on the flavor of the whiskies produced.
It was cool seeing the bottling process. It immediately led me to the question of Glenfiddich's uniquely shaped bottle. It as actually commissioned to German-born designer Hans Schleger in 1952. The shape has become more rounded over the years but is still distinctly Glenfiddich.
- William Grant built Glenfiddich by the Robbie Dhu Springs for three reasons: location of the spring, location of the railway line, and the location of the quarry where the stone came from for the buildings.
- When you walk into the cinema, this has been converted from the original warehouse.
- Glenfiddich means, the valley of the dear. Our tour guide said their mascot's name is Glen the Stag, however he may have been putting us on as I can't find reference to that anywhere else.
- There is no malting done on the premises.
- The water comes from the Robbie Dhu (Robert Black was the original owner of the farm) Springs. William Grant bought the land between the spring and the distillery to protect the water source.
- Glenfiddich ferments their whisky for 72 hours.
- Balvenie is a sister distillery to Glenfiddich and is also owned by William Grant.
- They are one of only 3 distilleries that have on-site coopers. Coopers here are reconstructing and firing old barrels and repairing damaged ones.
- American oak barrels come primarily from Maker's Mark - but some from Jim Beam and Wild Turkey. Sherry casks come from Spain and Portugal. They use the barrels until the liquor reaches the "spirit line" or the deepest allowed depth for the whisky to sink to in the wood.
- Glenfiddich is the second largest producer of whisky in Scotland with 9.6 million litres generated per year. However, they are the largest single malt producer as part of Glenlivit's 11.6 million litres is used for blended scotch. Our guide said Glenfiddich should be producing 15 million litres per year in 2020 as their production capacity and storage increases.
- Bourbon is made of predominantly corn along with rye, barley and then water and yeast. Blended scotch is made with additional grains beyond malted barley and may come from different distillery locations. Single malt scotch is made of only malted barley, water, and yeast - and it must all originate from the same Scottish distillery.
- Also, to be considered scotch whisky, the spirit must age 3 years and 1 day. Some laugh at the 1 extra day, but I would imagine this is to confirm you can't just round up from 2 years and 250 days.
- When you add different ages of whisky together, the youngest age becomes the age it can be labeled with. Thus a 10 year old scotch could potentially have a 20 year old as part of it's makeup. This tends to happen when distilleries are shut down for some time as in the case of Bruichladdich whisky.
- A mash tun is a large vessel for mash.
- They use copper for stills as a purifying metal - it takes out sulfates out of the whisky. In addition, it is easily shaped and is a good conductor of heat. As whisky goes through the spirit safe, you'll see a turquoise color, that is copper sulfate.
- When tasting whisky, don't inhale with any force, it will hit you with too much alcohol. If the alcohol smell is too strong, waive the glass back and forth in front of your nose.
- Dunnage warehouse - in this type of warehouse, the barrels are rolled in and a certain amount of space is allowed between for the air to breath around them.