September 23, 2008

Independent Distilleries

Two of Scotland's few remaining independent distilleries are well worth a visit - Lochranza Distillery on the Isle of Arran and Edradour, near Aberfeldy. My August travels took me to Scotland and I popped in to visit both places.
The Island of Arran is spectacular - beautiful scenery, rolling hills, great mountains, fabulous coastline. As long as we don't talk about the midgies, it's one of my favourite places on earth. In addition to
checking out distilleries, I panted my way up Goatfell with a few other hardy family members. Goatfell is just short of a Munro in height, but challenging enough after a late evening, lots of singing and more than a few fine Scotches.
Lochranza distillery is located in the north of the Island. It opened in 1995 and in 2007 was voted Scotland's best distillery by its peers. The visitor centre is terrific, the staff friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and the Arran Malt 10 year old is a nice dram. Aged mainly in ex-bourbon casks, unchill-filtered, 46% ABV, with no caramel added and no peat used in the barley malting process, this is a fairly smooth whisky, with indisputable vanilla and cinnamon on the nose. Their first 12 year old, finished in sherry casks, will be out in November. The distillery also produces some cask strength offerings and experiments with interesting cask finishes like Sassicaia, Madeira, Moscatel and Tokaji. My group tasted quite a few! In time for the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns next January, there will be a special edition of their Robert Burns Single Malt. James McTaggart, previously of Bowmore Distillery on Islay, is the stillman and maltmaster at Arran. From time to time, the LCBO carries varies products from Lochranza Distillery.
Arran is an hour from the mainland. Catch the ferry from Ardrossan on the west coast of Scotland to Brodick on Arran. The Auchrannie Spa and Resort in Brodick is a terrific place to stay. The lodges are well laid out and comfortable, there are three restaurants, lots of indoor sports and activities and it's a great base for cycling, hiking, visiting Lochranza and, if you're up for it, climbing Goatfell. There's also a tiny brewery on the island, Brodick Castle, a wonderful cheese factory and the famous Arran Aromatics.

Lochranza Distillery photos courtesy of

Back on the mainland and hidden away near Pitlochry in the beautiful Perthshire countryside, Edradour was established in 1825 and is the smallest distillery in Scotland.The still dates back to 1888 and the Morton's refrigerator is claimed to be the oldest in the world. It is now privately owned by Andrew Symington, shown in the photo, and is a delightful and quite beautiful place to visit. Everything is tiny. A mere 15 casks a week are filled, all of it going towards Single Malt, non for blended whisky. The Edradour 10 year old Single Malt has a rich colour, a heather honey nose with a creamy, smooth palate with a smoky sweetness and a slightly minty aftertaste. I also tasted a 10 year old unchill-filtered single cask bottling - a wonderful smooth, rich, well-balanced whisky that is very tasty with a nice slice of homemade dark fruitcake and, coming soon in Ottawa, a roaring log fire. Additionally, the distillery produces a 13 year old cask strength whisky, a favourite of most of the distillery staff. Some of the cask strength bottlings are hand filled into smaller bottles - a rare activity these days. They also have a range of Scotches finished in an odd range of experimental finishes - ex Sauternes, ex Super Tuscan, ex Chateau d'Yquem, and the like. Apparently the casks for these finishes are hand selected. I sampled a few and couldn't find one I liked. I'll probably have to go back and try again.
As a complete contrast to the unpeated Edradour Single Malt, the Ballechin range of single malts is, they claim, the most peated in Scotland. Peat is measured in parts per million (ppm) of phenols in the mix and the Ballechin range has 62ppm. Laphroaig, by comparison has 35 to 40ppm. Whew!
The distillery tour is great. Ask for Frank. He knows his whisky.

Lochranza Distillery

Edradour Distillery