‘I don’t suppose you usually have people more interested in photographing a dram than tasting it’, I joked with Michelle Myron of Speyside Tours. It was an evening in mid-October and I was on the Dufftown Distilleries Walk, trying to juggle a whisky tasting glass, a camera and a notebook without looking totally out of place. The three hour walking tour around Dufftown’s nine distillery sites was the ideal way to learn more about the town I call home, whilst experiencing a local tourist activity – and one that literally took me off the beaten track. (If you’re a regular reader of the EmbraceScotland blog, you’ll know that we like to give you tips from our holiday home owners and interview locals for their suggestions on ‘off the track’ type activities. Stepping out with a local is, of course, even better).
With six working distilleries and two annual whisky festivals, whisky is an integral part of Dufftown’s past and present. Yet until I set off with Michelle, my knowledge of the distilleries that formed the backdrop to my life here was fairly limited.
After leaving a rather envious husband at home with our son, I joined Michelle and two whisky-lovers at the Clock Tower and we headed off down Church Street. As well as being keen to learn more about whisky and the distilleries, I was also looking forward to exploring Dufftown on foot. Even if you are not a whisky drinker, it is a wonderful way to see the town and fill up on local history.
We started with an eye-watering taste of clearic – the clear liquid that is the first stage in the production process and which apparently in the past was drunk by workers during their shifts. We then wove through some woodland towards the site where Pittyvaich once stood. The distillery only produced whisky for only 20 years, closing in 1993, and Pittyvaich now sells for £105 a bottle. The horror on the other men’s faces told me that this was not the dram to decide I couldn’t finish (in my defence, I am a newbie to whisky tasting and I wanted to retain enough feeling in my legs to walk home). We then looped back down to Dufftown Distillery (a former mill beside the Dullan Water, started in the 1890s) to sample some Singleton.
From here, we followed a pretty riverside walk along to Mortlach – Dufftown’s oldest distillery (and also my favourite of all the whiskies I tried that evening). With its old-fashioned way of making whisky, it is often regarded as one of Speyside’s best. We continued onto Glendullan, which rather confusingly is perched on the River Fiddich (the more obvious name of Glenfiddich having already been taken). The whisky here is mainly used for blends but it has now become available as a single malt (we tasted a limited edition Gordon & MacPhail 13 year old Glendullan – at 55% cask strength it was another eye-widening moment for me).
Crossing the River Fiddich, we stopped on a hill opposite to look back at Parkmore in the last dregs of sunlight. This distillery was built in 1894 but closed in 1931, and as there is no Parkmore left to taste (the owner destroyed all the old casks to prevent another company creating their own blend) we sampled a Macallan. I loved these anecdotes that Michelle scattered throughout the tour. With her wealth of knowledge about the whisky industry and Dufftown, she has some great stories to share.
On we went, heading uphill towards Glenfiddich, started in 1887 and family-run to the present day. We peeked in at the gloriously statuesque stills, both ‘witches hat’ and ‘pot-bellied’ shaped, and walked through the distillery site on route to nearby Balvenie. Balvenie is hidden from sight from the main road into Dufftown, and the farmland that surrounds the distillery provides some of the barley for its whisky. (You can only see Balvenie by joining a tour). As we enjoyed more whisky tasting including Glenfiddich Rich Oak, Balvenie Signature (another favourite of mine) and Monkey Shoulder (a blend of three single malts), Michelle told us about Balvenie and its neighbour, Kininvie (built in 1990 to produce a different malt for Grant’s to use in their blends). I admit, at this point my notes become slightly more difficult to read – because of the increasing darkness, you understand… We walked further to hear about Convalmore Distillery, another that is now used for warehousing having closed in 1986, before turning back to walk home.
I was hugely impressed by the variety of drams we were given to try, and even though I didn’t quite manage to finish all of the 10+ samples, I did thoroughly enjoy learning more about whisky and getting to know the different tastes. We were also offered oat cakes to accompany some of the whisky and pieces of dark chocolate – my kind of whisky tasting!
I managed to return home, on slightly unsteady legs, feeling like I’d become much better acquainted with the town. If you want to really get to know the ‘Malt Whisky Capital of the World’, Michelle is the perfect person to introduce you.
To find out more about going on the Dufftown Distilleries Walk or getting involved with the locals during your trip to Speyside, visit www.speysidetours.co.uk.
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