On the Road in Scotland: part 3
After a very pleasant evening in sleepy Pitlochry we got up and were ready to move on. This was my day: the day we went to the hallowed land that is the Macallan Distillery. Let me say first of all, I know that Macallan is a wildly popular whisky and that for that reason you might think I am taking a soft option proclaiming it my favourite. As I have always maintained, whisk(e)y is about experience, memory and anecdote every bit as much as it is about smell, taste and finish. If you can find a dram that you find exceptional in its own right and can marry that to a fond memory, you are on to a winner. If you will permit me a paragraph before moving on to day 2 of the trip, I will tell you how my love of Macallan was born. If not, please feel free to skip the next paragraph. I won't be mad, just disappointed.
About five years ago for a brief period I worked as a journalist in London. In that capacity I went to see a concert in a small, unassuming but legendary venue called the 100 Club on Oxford Street. The Artist? Hugh Laurie. A man with all round too much talent to fit in one human being who was on a tour for his album. This was no ordinary show however: limited to a couple of hundred tickets with guests including Julie Walters and Rowan Atkinson I was lucky enough to get a ticket. Long story short (because I could fanboy about this for a very long time) just before the encore Hugh told a story that while working on the album, he and the band had developed a particular liking for the Macallan 21. As he poured each of the Copper Bottom Band a dram, the 100 Club staff appeared with trays of whisky for everyone. Not the 21, you understand, but Macallan none-the-less! To top it off, the people sitting beside me didn't drink whisky so gave me theirs. I had never tried the Macallan before this but safe to say a fan was born.
So, back to the story at hand. The drive from Pitlochry is stunning, up through the Cairngorms. It was a nice change of scenery from the motorway drive of the previous day. We decided to take the Whisky Trail route, as it was more scenic and I would strongly suggest that anyone doing this journey does the same. On our trusty map it looked like we were in for hell. I know that at home 'C Roads' (or back roads) are pot-holed messes best avoided if you value your spine. Not so in Scotland. They are narrow but have passing places every couple of hundred meters and are smoother than many main roads! This made the drive an absolute pleasure: even more so because the weather was unseasonably nice and we were able to get the roof down on the car.
We stumbled upon a visually stunning area at Lecht Summit in the Cairngorms National Park. The picture does the area no justice, and attempts to make a liar out of me about the weather being good. 1) It really was a mostly sunny day and (2) In the UK our standards are not that high for what qualifies as nice weather. This is the Standing Stone with an inscription that runs on all four sides:
Take a moment to behold
As still skies or storms unfold
In sun, rain, sleet or snow
Warm your soul before you go
I can't put my finger on why, but this was a very nice spot. I am ashamed to admit that on my first visit, I was unaware that the final 2 lines existed despite the fact that we stopped for quite a while. This is an example of the little gems that would most likely be missed if sat nav were to be followed. I find it highly unlikely that anything other than a map would have put together this route!
We arrived at The Highlander Inn, in Craigellachie which was our second stop. This place is an absolute delight with unrivalled character. It is also known as the Whisky Inn, boasting a ridiculous complement of bottles and tasting flights. It has more awards than space will permit me to recount but Whisky Magazine has consistently ranked it among the best whisky bars in the world. Enough said.
It was time. We set off to the distillery in a mini bus that happened to be going that way and offered to drop us off - just another example of the hospitable nature that is rife in rural Scotland. The distillery did not disappoint, having as it did an extensive tour of a purpose built visitors area. Our guide explained the six pillars that make the Macallan special: The spiritual home of Easter Elchies House; the 'curiously small stills'; using only the finest cut of the run; exceptional oak casks; only natural colour from the wood; the peerless spirit. I would love to go into detail on each of these, but this article would never end if I don't curtail myself somewhere. I intend on doing a comparison tasting in the near future which will give me more space. In the meantime, see the below link if you want to know more.
The tour finished with a tasting, as all good tours do. Unlike all other tastings, this one allowed a taste of the new make spirit which was surprisingly drinkable! When you hear of under aged whisky, it is always about its roughness. This entirely unaged spirit was surprisingly smooth. Not something that I would want to drink for the evening, but it was much smoother and fruity than anyone expected. We were at the distillery at the time the 1824 non-age-statemented range was coming out and the tasting featured the Amber and Sienna against the 12 and 18 year olds. The 18 is a particular favourite of mine but I have to say the Sienna was the surprise of the day. If you are someone who dismisses the new non-age-statemented expressions on that basis alone I entreat you to try them. You will not be disappointed.
This was an amazing day that was ended with a long evening in the Whisky Inn's bar. Their tasting flights are exceptionally well put together and, as we found, a great way to stimulate conversation. With Jim Murry at our left hand we tentatively offered each other our notes before checking with his bible. Sadly the day had to end, but I knew it wouldn't be my last trip to Craigellachie.
For more on the Six Pillars see: https://www.themacallan.com/the-story#item_1