Thirst for knowledge
’m sitting in the control room at Mortlach distillery on Speyside, getting to charge its ‘Wee Witchie’ still and watching a little cartoon witch fly on her broomstick across the screen in front of me. Okay, the distillery’s senior operator Matthew Desmond is at my side, making sure I don’t press the wrong button or do anything disastrous. But as a result of my visit, I’ll never think of Mortlach in the same way again – every time I try a dram from that particular distillery I’ll be reminded of my visit, and my small part in the production process.
It’s amazing how a distillery experience can increase your connection, passion and understanding of whisky. I was fortunate to undergo the ‘Art of Whisky Making’ course at Ballindalloch, a relatively new distillery but with a traditional manual approach to production. If you want to get in depth with whisky it doesn’t get any more impressive than touching the raw materials with your own hands and having a seasoned pro giving you the benefit of their years of experience.
Distillery experiences come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s part of their appeal – like the variety of whisky they produce each one has its own character. I visited the space-age new Macallan distillery for a hi-tech tour with the Unfiltered team, ahead of the feature in this month’s magazine. As you can see from our story, it’s unlike anywhere else in Scotland, and as likely to attract fans of architecture and design as whisky – but will be on the bucket list for admirers of distillery 24.
It will be a while before we taste the results of the distillery’s new stills, but this Outturn we have a treat with Cask No. 24.132: Engaging warmth. The bottling is 16-years-old and instead of the sherry casks the distillery is known for, it was matured in super high-quality first-fill bourbon wood. As a result, you can see the distillery’s identity in a different light – but it’s definitely there, and it’s outstanding.
It’s not only distillery visits that have contributed to my understanding and connection with our whiskies.Going back to the origin of the cask and then sampling the matured whisky from the latest Outturn makes you realise why we do what we do, and why it’s worth waiting all this time for the whisky to come of age. Gaining your own insights into every step of the process can only add to your appreciation of whisky and help you to enjoy it even more. As well as seeking out exceptional whiskies, we hope to be able to provide some enlightenment along the way.
Euan Campbell, SMWS Spirits Manager