A Sipping Tour through Scotland: The Highlands

20-02-2017 By Whisky of the Week

Week 3 of our virtual sipping tour through Scotland. Last time we chatted, we tried the soft gentle Lowland drams. Today, I am sitting on the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. Usually the trip takes a little over 3 hours. As the train rolls over the Highway Line, we enter the region know for their robust smoky drams. The Highlands region is vast – ranging from the coast to the mountains, from glens to windswept moors – and it is difficult to generalize the taste profile.

The Highlands is the largest of the whisky producing regions and generally produces full-bodied whiskies with deeper notes of peat and smoke. Owing to the size of the region, Highland whiskies range from the extreme heathery, spicy character of Northern Highlands to the fruity whiskies of the Southern Highlands: fruitcake and oak flirts with floral and heather and melts into smoke.

Just past Sterling, the train passes the Deanston Distillery. Unseen from the railway line, Deanston is a relatively new distillery, dating from around 1964. But we carry on and stop over at Tullibardine. Tullibardine is situated on a site that was a well-known brewery during the 15th Century. In 1947, William Delmé-Evans began converting this original brewery site into the Tullibardine Distillery. The distillery was mothballed in 1995. In 2003 production resumed when the distillery was sold to Tullibardine Distillery Ltd. The French firm Picard Vins & Spiritueux bought the distillery in 2011.

Tullibardine Distillery

There is a visitor’s center and a Connoisseur tour that takes us through the bonded warehouse where we have the opportunity to nose selected casks and ends in the dramming bar with a tasting. The Tullibarine core range has a variety of cask types and even a 25 Year Old. Let’s try the Tullibardine Sauternes Cask. It was matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon Barrels, and then finished in 225 litre Sauternes Casks. A sunset golden whisky with notes of fruity sweetness, sultana jam and condensed milk, vanilla, the peppery sweetness of the Sauternes mixes with nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon forming a delicious dram. Have a look here for more on Tullibardine 25 Year Old.

After a peaceful afternoon at Tullibardine, we get back on the train and travel past Perth and Dundee and onwards to Aberdeen. We pass Strathearn, Glencadam and Fettercairn distillery at the foothills of the Cairngorm Mountains.

Fettercairn Distillery

But no stopping here, we go onward to Aberdeen. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third most populous city. Situated between the rivers Dee and Don, the Aberdeen region has been inhabited for over 8 000 years. Many buildings in Aberdeen incorporate locally quarried grey granite, which can sparkle like silver because of its high mica content. This earned the city the nickname of “Grey City”. Looking at the greater Aberdeenshire, there are around 300 castles in the area. There are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the British Isles. The most famous of them all, of course, is Balmoral, the Royal Family’s summer home. Aberdeenshire also include the Cairngorms National Park and Slains’ Castle, where Bram Stoker stayed and it is rumored he got the inspiration for Dracula at this dramatic cliff top site.

Slains' Castle

After a relaxing evening we leave Aberdeen behind and the train moves away from the rocky coast and slowly makes its way inland. But before we reach the Speyside region, there is one more stop to make on this Highland part of our virtual sipping tour. We pass Glen Garioch and Ardmore and just before we leave the Highland Region, we climb off and travel to the town of Forgue By Huntly. Here we visit the GlenDronach Distillery. The distillery was founded in 1826 by James Allardes and ownership through the years was held by many of the well known whisky companies such as Teachers and Chivas Brothers. Currently, GlenDronach is owned by Brown Forman. Their core range includes an 8 Year Old, 12 Year Old, 18 Year Old and a 21 Year Old. They also have various cask finishes available. On our distillery tour, we taste the 12 Year Old.

GlenDronach Distillery

The GlenDronach 12 Year Old is a delicious, richly sherried single malt which has matured for at least 12 years in a combination of Spanish Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. The amber golden dram has notes of raisins, creamy vanilla with hints of ginger, mulled wine and pear. The finish is of rich oak, sherry sweetness and spices.

It’s the perfect dram to enjoy before we leave the Scottish Highlands and venture into Speyside. Until next time.