I started learning to play the guitar about 6 months ago. I am not saying this to blow my own trumpet, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor; I suspect I shall not be winning any Brits any time soon. I tell you this because it brought with it a new experience; guitar shopping. If you have never been into a guitar shop, I would suggest it’s worth a visit, even for non players as a good shop can be like a museum – full of pretty things. However, steer clear of the more weird dingy shops. Part of my experience was that there are great shops and there are bad shops, and there are great assistants and bad assistants. A great assistant in a great shop is the zenith, a perfect thing, with a variety of instruments and toys to play with, showing you each and every possible combination and delectation. A great assistant even in a bad shop can instruct and inform you, help you make an informed choice, even if their range is limited or difficult to get to. A bad assistant in either shop is the most irksome experience and quickly makes you leave.
It appears to be the same way with whisky tours. I have been on a few (although I still want to do more) and I have experienced the good and the bad – Bushmills was probably the low point, for the tour guide rather than the whisky or the distillery (although it is very industrial). But at both Auchentoshan, which I’ve already mentioned, and Glengoyne, I had a great experience. Auchentoshan was clearly the easier distillery to sell; it had a more level path through the whole place, everything was easily visible and the whole distillery had more feeling of space and openness. By this I mean no discredit to the guide; he was excellent, knowledgable and witty, but it is the equivalent of a good guitar shop – there’s more to show off. Glengoyne was smaller, it felt older. There seemed to be countless staircases and narrow passages to traverse; saddest of all we couldn’t see the warehouses – possibly health and safety due to crossing the road (into the lowlands – apparently they are the only distillery to distill in the highlands and mature in the lowlands – a boundary marked by the road running through the grounds). Despite these seeming criticisms, our guide was superb. He clearly knew his whisky, was informative and helpful. But best of all, and perhaps this is why I’m biased, he was generous with his time, and his tastings.
Sadly I was driving, so I could not partake in the full tasting tour, but at the end, once he had realised I quite enjoy my whisky (unlike our fellow tourists, who appeared to be the tourist hotspot box tickers…), he produced a bottle of something “not on the tour” for me to try. I quite like my Glengoyne – a little oily perhaps, when younger, but full of flavor and not too sweet – I have a bottle of Cask Strength at home that is a very good relaxation dram at the end of a long day, before i start on the smokier stuff. He pulled out the 24 year old single sherry cask. It was one of the darkest whiskies I have every seen; drip coffee. It was also basically Christmas in a glass. This is not a balanced whisky by any measure, the sherry overwhelmingly present, therefore probably not everyone’s ideal dram, but that difference, that outlying nature was also deeply attractive, once tasted it was smoother and more subtle than the nose initially suggested. It wasn’t the most warming whisky I’ve every tried, but this was perfect for a dreich day. However, it was also nearly £200 a bottle and, as lovely as it was, I couldn’t justify that, so I came home with a bottle of their port-finished 14 year old, which has a similarly warming quality; a good whisky to round off the day after some wet winter walking.
Glengoyne 24 Year Old Single Cask
Colour: drip coffee
Nose: vanilla pannacotta, fruit, mossy woodland, sherry, lots of it.
Body: strong and smooth
Palate: sherry, fruit, pears and slight citrus
finish: heat and wood and log fires and Christmas.
Glengoyne 14 Year Old Port Cask Finish
colour: Orange amber
nose: almost yeasty, malty, hot beer and warm bread.
body: bold and spicy
palate: less malt, more pepper than nose would suggest, some dried fruit, apricots?
finish: long and spicy, peppery and drying to lime zest.