Every year we organise a group trip to the University of Edinburgh Outdoors Centre at Firbush Point on Loch Tay. Here we generally engage in various activities including hill-walking, canoeing, mountain biking, etc. A couple of years ago a couple of colleagues and I had been discussing whisky a few weeks prior to our trip and decided to drop by the Aberfeldy Distillery [or officially – Dewar’s World of Whisky] on our way. So off we set from Edinburgh up the by now familiar A9 into the heart of the Scottish Highlands. There wasn’t much of a detour involved as the distillery lies just off the A827, the road towards Kenmore at the outlet of Loch Tay.
While its impressive name makes it sound like some kind of theme park – in actual fact what you find is a rather nice distillery somewhat overshadowed by its blending past. Being single malt fans ourselves we opted for the first half of the tour which included the usual dram [optional between Aberfeldy single malt and Dewar’s blend, both at 12 years old] and a trip around the usual mash tuns, and copper pot stills before a trip across to the warehouse. There was an impressive array of casks labelled with all sorts of Distilleries on display indicating those that had been used in the Dewar’s blends. Sadly many of those named were unfamiliar as they were no longer in existence and many more were rarely heard as most of their malt output was blended. We also learned some interesting facts about the storage and trading of casks between distilleries and blenders, mostly aimed at preserving stock in case of the loss of a warehouse. In the end it was John Dewar’s concern over the prime malt in his blend that led him to establish the Aberfeldy distillery.
The distillery itself draws its water from the Pitilie burn and is under constant environmental pressure during the drier summer months as it is easily capable of draining the burn dry – however a minimal flow has to be let run, often leaving the distillery without. Needless to say they make most of their whisky not in summer – which luckily for Scotland is about 51 weeks of the year on average. Inside the distillery it was obvious that there was a lot of heritage and honour from the workers and their ancestors who had also worked here through several generations. Perhaps it was the boyhood model-maker in me that was particularly impressed with the complete scale model of the distillery buildings and surroundings halfway through the tour – you felt if you looked closely enough through the little windows you would see your miniature self peering into an even smaller version…
At the time of the visit Aberfeldy single malt was only on the market via travel retail outlets and specialist whisky shops. In the end we didn’t have time to carry on the tour into the blending process due to time constraints, perhaps if I get the chance to return I will complete the Dewar’s story. Since our visit it seems that the variety of tours has greatly increased and I am glad to say the Aberfeldy single malt is now on supermarket shelves and widely available. This is good news as the 12 year old revealed itself to be a very drinkable highland single malt well worthy of a little remaining unblended.
The distillery symbol is the super-cute red squirrel!
We have since re-visited Aberfeldy to take part in their Whisky Geeks tour – learning a lot about the science and practice of whisky making – the rebrnding of the Distillery under Dewar’s has finally removed any reference to the Red Squirrel (which used to adorn the Flora and Fauna bottling of Aberfeldy when it was under DCL’s stewardship)