Over the hills to Glenlivet: a narrow track up and up, through the heather.
Plates of ice covered the boggy hollows. I smashed them with my boot: “Spring is here, haven’t you heard?” (the joys of solo walking – you can say anything you want out loud anytime without being carried off)
White mountains in the distance. Tracks led off enticingly – up and over and beyond and beyond.
The Glenlivet distillery huddled in a valley against a snowy backdrop of hills. My feet led the way.
I was the only one on the free tour to show me how the world’s second best-selling whisky is made and it felt special and private (twenty jolly Dutchmen half an hour before – phew!).
There was a tantalising fruity malty toffee smell in the air – was all that coming from just malted barley, yeast and water? In giant vats – the mash tuns – all the soluble sugar goodness is extracted from a porridgy mess, then yeast is added as it’s pumped into more giant vats made of pine – the washbacks – and left to ferment; result – alcohol.
The still house was stiflingly hot, and two lines of giant copper stills stood like a mad doctor’s invention in a sci-fi film. After a few hours, the condensed vapours come out as a clear liquid – whisky.
But the magic doesn’t quite begin till it’s put in the cask, and they’ve got to be second-hand casks.
Old sherry or bourbon barrels seem to be tops for giving flavour, and the whisky is left to ‘sleep’ in them for years.
In the warehouse, the air was thrillingly cold, intoxicatingly fruity, like Christmas cake, and dangerously alcoholic (2% drifting out of each cask) – one spark and boom!
There were three glasses on the table in the dram room, filled with a 12 year old Glenlivet (U.S. best seller), a Nadurra and an 18 year old, and I really didn’t want to try any of them. But the tour guide looked dejected when I said I didn’t actually like whisky, so I braced my gullet and took a sip.
And here’s how you drink whisky (if you have to): first, preferably in a glass narrower at the top than the bottom so the aroma is funnelled near your expectant nose and when you swirl it around you don’t slosh it over the person next to you. Then, if you don’t want it neat, you add a ‘tear’ of water a drop at a time till you get the taste that’s right for you. And NEVER with ice!
There’s four parts: the appearance; the smell – the nose; the flavours on the palate – the body; the lingering taste – the finish. The finish can be short or long (and a whisky flavoured burp two hours later doesn’t count)
What an expert I sound….