The Spirit of Speyside event registration opened right after our return from Malaysia. A few days before that we went through the events available for Saturday and Sunday and made a prioritized list; some events are quite exclusive and sell out within minutes, so we knew we needed a plan. When the registration opened at 7a EST were able to reserve each item we wanted (several were sold out within the hour!).
Given that background, we were quite excited to start the festival at Cardhu Distillery for the Stillman’s Tour with Willie ‘Buzz’ Hutcheson. This distillery, owned by Johnnie Walker, is quite an operation.
Buzz was a hoot, providing lots of interesting anecdotes along our tour. We were amazed at how automated the plant is – they can run the whole production with a single Stillman!
Beautiful stills!; enjoying a 31 year old whisky
Our tour took us into the storage room where we got to try samples of a very dark 31 year malt (1986) straight out of the barrel. The second dram from a reused barrel (1987) was much lighter, so the 31 was my fave.
We ended the tour with a small tasting in the Johnnie Walker house, which features a beautiful wood-covered sitting room. Even better, they had tubes so that Leandra could take her samples to try later!
This tour was definitely a worthwhile experience and a great way to start the festival.
Knockando Woolmill is just around the corner so we stopped in to explore. This old wool mill has been renovated to once again run on water power! It wasn’t in operation on this Saturday, but it was fascinating to see how they process raw wool into yarn.
Our next stop was Dowans Hotel on the outskirts of Aberlour for lunch. Unique in our experience, we sat in the lounge area to peruse the menu and order our drinks, then seated in the restaurant when our food was ready. The decor and our sandwiches were both memorably good.
We made a quick stop in downtown Aberlour to check out a gallery, then the The Spey Larder for their whisky flavored foods event before driving on to Craigellachie. We had just enough time for a quick check-in before our second event, a blind whisky taste-off between the towns of Rothes and Dufftown. This event was amazing, filled with laughter as each town one-upped the other with stories and good-natured ribbing.
Over the course of two hours we tasted 10 whiskies.
Round 1: Glenrothes Vintage Reserve vs. Glenfiddich Project XX
Round 2: Glendullan ‘The Singleton’ 12 year vs. Speyburn 10 year
Round 3: Glen Grant 18 year ‘Rare Edition’ vs. Mortlach 18 year
Round 4: Glen Spey 21 year vs. Balvenie Portwood 21 year
Round 5: Cadenhead’s Cask Ends Caperdonich 1992 vs. Wm Grant and Sons Kininvie 1990
In the end Dufftown prevailed 4-1 and we both choose the winners in 4/5 rounds!
Following the blind tasting, the Craigellachie distillery hosted a free tasting under the bridge in town. Each person was allowed one dram, so Leandra choose the 31 year old and I went for the 21. Unsurprisingly, quite a few people turned out for this event! The crowd was quite fun too, as we bumped into several people that we’d met at the earlier events.
Leandra had made a 7pm reservation for dinner at the Copper Dog several weeks earlier, which was a really good idea given how busy they were on this festival evening. I went for the fish and chips which were perfectly done and tasty. Leandra couldn’t resist the oysters and, wow, were they intimidatingly large! For her main she went with the venison.
And of course, we ended the evening in the Quaich bar. It was busy, but we snagged chairs in the far corner so were tucked away a bit. These were the whiskies we sampled:
- Dalmore 15 – not as good as 12, brown sugar nose but more of a burn.
- Benriach 20 – light coconut, tropical notes, cocoa, sharp alcohol. Very nice.
Edradour 12 Caledonia – bit of a burn, brown sugar and citrus on nose, vanilla and honey. Good dram.
Ancnoc Rascan – nice smokiness, intense. Burnt marshmallows, very nice
Inchgower 14 – sea salt smell, pear and lime, bit of a burn, but Leandra’s fave of the night.
Kilchoman Sanaig – ashy! Dry, med finish with some iodine on finish. Really strong.
Another long day, but one that was quite memorable.