The Speyside Way Day Seven: Big Butts

“Never mind the whisky at the Glenfiddich,” said the owner of the B&B. “Just go make sure you use the ladies’ room. The one near the reception.”

Sure! I quite appreciate a good loo. Don’t you?
So I went into the Glenfiddich distillery for a wee wee (that must be a Scottish term–it’s what comes after drinking a wee dram, right?) and entered what might have been Narnia.
The door opens to soft lighting and wooden floors. The first thing you notice are lounge chairs and coffee table, with magazines. The false fireplace imparts symbolic warmth. So this would be the area to have a wee dram before your wee wee?
Dangling above you is a staghorn chandelier. Glenfiddich means “Valley of the Deer.” How appropriate.
There’s a row of individual makeup mirrors lining the right wall, feeling like a backstage dressing room.
After touring more than a dozen distilleries and doing 2 tours at 3 distilleries in the past 48 hours alone, I could use those mirrors now to prettify and then lead you, in a group of other tourists, by the mashtun, washback, and still rooms, to the spirit safe and warehouse, and back to the dramming room where I can coach you to seek out floral, nutty, fruity, and smoky flavors in your whisky sample.
Glenfiddich tours are free, but neither of us wanted to devote 90 minutes of our day to a distillery we are not even that fond of in the first place. When the receptionist said the next tour was in 30 minutes, we opted to channel our good morning momentum into walking the five miles to Craigellachie, tonight’s destination.
In spite of our decision, Glenfiddich has one of the most attractive campus-like settings of any distillery in Scotland, filled with flowers and stone buildings. They actually do house a small group of art students in a unique study program at the distillery. Their list of sponsored events indicates the Glen Grant Company, parent of Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and more, support the arts. I would certainly visit them and their more elite sister distiller Balvenie on our next trip to Speyside.

 

 

We only had five miles to walk today–but we had a cooperage to visit too. Our first. On the way there, we found a wee zip line in a playground and took turns going “”Wheeeeeeee!”
The Speyside Cooperage is one of few in the world, and the only one in the UK, to be open to the public. They’ve done a good job welcoming visitors, with their special picnic huts.

After watching a film about the production process, you go upstairs to the viewing platform. This is the overhead monitoring area used in the old days when the Big Boss Overseer watched the workers and decided who to fire. Only it’s just you and a bunch of German tourists up there peering through the glass at the coopers, taking photos to the background noises of clinking and clanking cooper tools.

 

It is old school, this place.
“Don’t call them barrels,” one guide warned us. “They’re called casks. Barrels are only one size of cask.” Others include butts for sherry and hog’s heads.
There are hardly any machines. Each man gets paid by the barrel and works on one barrel at a time. No assembly line.
Average earnings for a master cooper in the £70K. You can buy a lot of whisky without drinking away the kids’college fund!

 

No female coopers work here. The big butts and hogs heads are reportedly too heavy for even the toughest girls. They had one female apprentice five years ago. She was a former oil rig worker, and she didn’t make it.

 

Armed with new knowledge of how an acorn becomes a cask, we wrapped up the day with a dram at the Craigellachie Hotel, from where a lady fetched us to go to our self-catering cottage on her farm. It was not the most convenient thing, but it was the only room in town. Everything was booked solid. August is a terrible time to tour Scotland–everyone else is doing it and it’s still chilly and damp out there. My advice to ye–come in the shoulder season. The weather won’t be much different.
Tasting notes:
Glen Goyne standard 12 year old is gorgeous. If you find it, give it a shot. It’s light, golden in color. It’s smoother and sexier than it looks. The aroma is evocative of white pepper, but the body is fruity vanilla yet dry at the same time. Lovely interplay there. Finish is smokey, mellow, and moreish.  Although it’s probably unpeated, this is smokier and drier in character than most Speyside single malts.
Today’s mushroom:

 

Two more walking days to go on the Speyside Way.

 

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