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Dalwhinnie Distillery, Scotland

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Brand: Dalwhinnie

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      14.03.2014 09:05
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      booze, chocolate and learning! oh my!

      ===Highlands aren't Dry lands===

      In October 2013 I had decided to take my other half away for his 30th birthday. I soon discovered that it was rather expensive so we ended up staying in Scotland instead of going abroad, but it turned out rather fabulous indeed. We were to take a wee jaunt up to Loch Ness and explore the area. I had also done a bit of research prior to leaving and discovered that there is a "whisky trail". Scotland is the homeland of real, proper, whisky (so there) and as such there are a good few distilleries dotted about the highlands. They are in a rough circle from just past Perth, up one side of Loch Ness and looping down the other side after hitting Inverness. Allan had mentioned in passing that he'd like to try more whiskies so I thought this might be a good way to get him started on the long road to cirrhosis. Out of the distilleries on the trail, only one of them happened to be on the very road we were travelling so we decided to hit that one just before we got home.

      ===Getting there===

      The Dalwhinnie distillery is quite noticeable even from a distance as long as you are travelling on the right road. Situated about an hour past Perth, it was the first distillery we saw on the way north from Dundee. It sits just off the A9 and you'll be able to see its strange oriental shaped roofs from a fair distance. Dalwhinnie is a tiny little village with almost nothing in it, but this building dominates the view with its shining white brickwork and a very stylish, black "Dalwhinnie" sign scrawled on the side of the building. It is surrounded by hills and not much else. You will either need to drive or book a tour through someone to get here as there are no train or bus stations nearby. If you are driving, there's a huge car park so you should be able to get a space, assuming you haven't decided to go on the busiest weekend of the year whenever that is. If you want to use your Sat-Nav to get there, the address is as follows:

      Dalwhinnie,
      Inverness-shire
      PH19 1AB

      If you need to give them a ring to ask any questions, the phone number is 01540 672219.

      ===Get your Passport===

      You can get a little information on them on the Discovering Distilleries website and I'd recommend doing this before you go.

      The web address is www.discovering-distilleries.com/dalwhinnie

      The reason I say this is a good idea is that you can sign up to become a "friend of whisky" and get yourself a Whisky Trail Passport all for free. What does this get you? Free entry to the distilleries on this particular trail for a start! We hadn't been made aware of this before hand so we ended up having to pay £7.50 each for the tour which includes one shot of Whisky and a bit of chocolate. In theory, you'd be getting free whisky out of this passport. Dangerous or what?!

      ===Inside===

      When you go in, you'll enter what looks like a very posh bar. There's a counter up the right hand side and all around there are big wooden shelves full of whisky. The place is gorgeously kitted out from the floor to the ceiling, Stone flooring and giant wooden rafters are lit with warm, almost whisky coloured lights making the place feel very welcoming indeed. There are even a few displays with information about the distillery! The room is full of big wooden tables with chairs so you can sit and enjoy a few whiskies or, like us, simply wait on the next tour. The tours are fairly regular and (obviously) it'll depend on when you go. We went on a Thursday afternoon so it was a fairly quiet time and the tours were every half hour or so. Despite it being a Thursday afternoon, the tours still had about 15 people each in them so I can imagine this place gets quite busy on the weekends. They do suggest that you call in advance to book a tour to avoid disappointment.

      To buy your tickets for the next tour you simply tell the person on the desk what kind of tour you want. The difference in the tours and prices is simply how many kinds of whisky you want to taste. The more whisky you want, the more expensive the tour. Though, I refer you back to the passport that will get you in free, so in theory the tasters would either be free or heavily discounted. Your ticket will also give you a few coupons to get money off of the bigger bottles of whisky that the place sell, though I can't really say they are worth it, as it was only £3 and the bottles that qualified started at about £30!

      ===Starting the tour===

      The tour begins in this room and the guide will go over a few safety precautions. The one thing that made me a bit sad was that you aren't allowed to take any photographs when you're inside the main factory as the whisky fumes are at risk of igniting if anything sparks. I love taking photos so that disappointed me a little, but I definitely prefer not blowing up distilleries so I let it slide. You'll also get to see who in your tour group is a rude mofo when the tour guide asks everyone to hand over their tickets. A lovely group of people were on our tour who physically pushed people out of the way to give their tickets over and managed to talk all the way through the tour. We chose to stand away from them in each area!

      ===Sweets for my Sweet===

      Once you've been over the rules, the guide will take you to the main building which is out through the car park. Established in the 1820's the distillery has been going strong ever since. Inside the guide showed us some of the grains used in making the whisky and explained why being the highest distillery in Scotland (1164 feet above sea level) is important to the whisky making process. We got to feel and smell different oats and he explained how each one is made and the difference it makes to the whisky.

      Next we were taken up the stairs into a room where we could see into a Mash Tun which is where the grain was mixed with water and stirred to help get all of the sugar out. The guide explained that the leftover grain from this process is used as cattle feed which was particularly interesting for us as we'd just visited the Deer Centre the weekend prior, where they were using similar pellets to feed the animals!

      ===Fireworks and Sulphur===

      At each stage there was a large poster on the wall telling you what flavours each stage in the process was adding to the whisky. To be honest, I don't have the most sophisticated pallet so some of the flavours I couldn't really imagine being in a whisky (see the header of this section!) but the guide was so enthusiastic about each flavour I just went with it.

      The next room we moved into was where the fermentation took place and the place had a strong smell of beer about it. In fact, that's basically what the whisky was at this stage as it hasn't yet got a very high percentage of alcohol. Again we were given some of the mix in a cup at this stage to have a smell of. I don't really like beer much, but I have to admit, it smelled like it might have tasted great!

      ===Heating it up===

      From there we moved to the stills which is where the fermented wash was heated and filtered through a million and ten pipes until it had a kick to it. This room was quite warm as there were two giant copper containers being heated to boiling point filling the room. On the cold autumn day we went, this was a great room to be in as it really warmed me up! The guide will explain the process and you'll even see the product streaming through the Customs safe where the HMRC basically counts how much product the place is making.

      ===Out to the wilderness===

      From there it's back outside and across the car park to a bit of the building behind the place where the tour began. We were lucky enough to get a look at the workers on their break (if I remember correctly there are about 12 of them) and oh my word. All the lifting barrels has certainly done those guys arms the world of good. After Allan and I picked ourselves off the ground, we entered the storehouse where the whiskies are stored in their barrels for however many years they fancy. The guide took the opportunity to explain about the different types of woods that can be used, why and what they'd do to the whisky. At this section, the store room is behind two big glass windows and outside the windows you'll be allowed to get a couple of pictures as the fumes won't be all up in your air space. It also explained a lot as to why older whisky is more expensive. I had assumed it was due to having to store it for so many years. Mostly, however, it's due to evaporation. The older it gets, the less of it there is to bottle! Why I'd never realised that before I do not know!

      ===Tasting treat===

      The tour ends here but not before you are given a whisky to taste and walked through how to best experience it. They even pair your whisky up with a chocolate that is supposed to complement the whisky nicely for a unique tasting experience. I admit I tasted nothing but a burn from the whisky. Not my drink at all. The chocolate, however, was delicious. You'll end the tour by being given a little gift too, though I won't spoil it for you. Once you are done, you go through a door and end up back in the main room with the bar like feel to it.

      ===Chocolate factory===

      They have a selection of chocolates on sale made by a company called the highland chocolatier and after the delicious chocolate at the end of the tour, I decided to grab some. They were very small chunks and the signage wasn't incredibly clear so I had assumed a bag containing one of each of the seven flavours was just over a pound. Alas, the price was per chocolate so I ended up with a hefty bill nearing £9. The chocolates were nice, but they weren't worth £9 for 7 bits! Checking the website for the manufacturer tells me that this company charge through the nose for their chocolates so that's not really the distillery's fault.

      ===The Staff===

      One thing I noticed was that the staff were all more than happy to help. In fact when I arrived they happily gave me a jug so I could put some water into my windscreen wipers (I'd ran out just before I got there). The tour guide was knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions or explain something again if someone didn't catch it. The group of talky people had to ask him to repeat himself a few times as they weren't listening and he managed to keep his cool while the rest of the group scowled at them!

      ===The Toilets===

      As with anywhere the toilets need to be up to scratch and they are certainly well maintained here! Everything was clean and tidy with nothing broken and plenty hot water to wash your hands (though a gentleman that was in at the same time as me just walked out without even pretending to care). Full marks there.

      ===Anything else?===

      Yes! Kids are welcome on the tour, though they won't get a taster at the end. There were a couple of older kids on our tour and they seemed to enjoy it. It's something a bit different and interesting but it really is up to you to decide if your child will enjoy it! The only other thing I would say is that there are stairs to climb up and down within the tour so it may not be suitable for people in wheelchairs (though the staff would probably be happy to help if need be).

      ===The Verdict===

      The tour really was interesting. Being that I'm the driver, I couldn't really taste more than one so if you are considering going on a tour of the distilleries, you're going to need to plan in advance OR make sure you have someone who doesn't mind carting your drunken behind about the highlands! I don't imagine I'd want to go and visit all the different distilleries having been to one, but if we are ever close, we might pop in since it'll be free! Definitely something different to do as a one off. Five stars from both me and Allan!

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