A great start to the New Year is to take a tasting tour at Glengoyne Distillery.
Glengoyne is the closest distillery to Appletree Cottage, being only fifteen minutes drive down the A81 towards Strathblane and Milngavie.
It was shortly after Hogmanay that we took up our invitation to a guided tasting tour at the nearby Glengoyne Distillery. On a lovely sunny day, we made our way along the fifteen minute drive to the distillery. Parking was easy in the car park adjacent to the site and we walked into the reception area to be greeted by the friendly staff.
Whilst we waited for the allotted start time, we studied the interesting display in the visitors’ waiting room.
Soon it was time for the tour and Marcos, our guide, gave us some basic safety instructions before we set off to explore the site and the whisky making process.
Glengoyne is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, with whisky being distilled on the site since at least 1820, when George Connell, farmer at Burnfoot Farm diversified into whisky production. His activities may or may not have been illicit, depending on whether or not he paid the relevant tax on his produce. However, with the passing of the Excise Act of 1823, George decided to go fully legal and register his distillery and obtain a distilling licence. He called his whisky Glenguin at Burnfoot, and this is how the spirit was known until the name was changed to Glengoyne in 1907.
Much of the layout of the original site remains, and some of the machinery we were shown dates back to over one hundred years old.
After being shown a sample of the barley, from which whisk is made we were taken past the old milling room up to the mash tun where the partially germinated barley is warmed in a huge mash tub. A foam can collect on the top of the mash tub and to prevent it overflowing a huge inverted helicopter motorised blade can be activated to suppress the foam expansion.
The next room was the fermentation room where yeast is added to the product of the mash tun. This generates heat as the yeast turns the sugars of the wort into alcohol. At the end of this process is what is sometimes known as distiller beer, and has an alcoholic content of about 7 to 10%ABV.
This beer is then piped into a pot still where it is heated in the first distillation. The beginning and end of this initial distillation are put aside and the heart, or the middle section of the distillation is directed into a second still where it is refined into the spirit.
The beginning and end of the first distillation which were put aside are re-distilled in another first distillation.
Distillation is achieved by heating the liquid in large copper stills. The distillate rises and passes through what is sometimes called the swan neck, until it arrives at the condenser. The condenser at Glengoyne is cooled by water from the burn which runs through the site.
So Glengoyne is distilled twice before being run off to the Spirit Safe. This is a large locked glass box where the distilled liquid can be viewed (but not touched) and inspected for visual quality.
From the spirit safe the whisky is then poured into wooden barrels. Since 1870 these barrels have largely come from Spain where they have been specially soaked in sherry. Up until 1980, the barrels used were those which had been used to transport sherry to the UK. However, with the protected designation of origin status of Sherry being strictly enforced by the Spanish Government, bottling of Sherry moved from the UK to Spain. This meant that the transport barrels were no longer in demand. The solution to this was to soak barrels in sherry for two years, especially for the Scottish Whisky industry.
After two years, the sherry is then used to soak other barrels or sold as sherry vinegar.
According to our guide Marcos, only 20% of the flavour of Glengoyne whisky comes from the distilling process. The remaining 80% comes from the sherry (or sometimes bourbon) barrels in which the spirit is laid down, and matured for a number of years. In Scotland whisky has to be laid down for three years and one day, but Glengoyne’s expressions are laid down for far longer, between ten and fifty years!
As the whisky matures in the oak barrels over the years, some evaporation takes place. When a barrel is opened after say twelve years, there will be less liquid present than that which it was initially charged. The liquid which has disappeared over time through evaporation is known as the Angel’s Share.
After viewing the barrels in store at Warehouse No. 1, some dating back to the 1970s, we were taken to the hospitality room at the back of the site for some whisky tasting.
The tasting consisted of three Glengoyne expressions: a ten year old, a fifteen year old and an eighteen year old. Along with each whisky was an accompanying chocolate manufactured by world award winning Highland Chocolatier Iain Burnett in Perth.
Starting with the youngest, we sampled, smelled and viewed each whisky, discussing the aroma, notes, and legs for each. One chocolate had been paired with each whisky, to compliment its age.
At the end of the tasting, jars with lids were supplied to those participants who were driving, so that they could pour each whisky sample into the jar and take it home with them for further consumption. The session had been well thought out.
After the tasting session we were shown the distillery shop, which is open to the public. Within was a staggering selection of Glengoyne products.
The whole experience was excellent. It was most informative, enjoyable and well worth a visit.
More can be found out about Glengoyne Distillery, as well as making bookings at this address: