When I knew I wanted to write about Whisky in Scotland, I thought what better way than by taking a tour of where it is made, and what better distillery to visit than where the number one whisky in Scotland is made – Famous Grouse. Whisky is definitely Scotland’s national drink, Scotch Whisky to be precise. In order to be called Scotch Whisky it has to be wholly distilled and matured for at least three years in Scotland, and every bottle made at Glenturret is true Scotch Whisky. Not only is it number one in Scotland, it is now sold in over 100 countries worldwide.
Situated in the hills and glens of Highland Scotland, The Glenturret Distillery is Scotland’s oldest working distillery , and still uses traditional methods and traditional equipment to give their whisky it’s distinctive taste. In fact it has been proven that whisky has been made on this site as far back as 1717, nearly 300 years!
The Famous Grouse Whisky is a blended whisky containing a mix of at least 80 different kinds of whisky, each chosen because of their individual taste in order to create the perfect balance, including the whisky they produce on site – The Glenturret Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky.
The Glenturret Distillery got it’s official licence to make Whisky in 1775 and continued to make it until strict American laws banned their exports and the Distillery was forced to close in 1921, that was at least until a gentleman named James Fairlie visited and decided to buy and renovate the Distillery which was then sold onto Highland Distillers in 1990.
But that is the Glenturret Distillery, so where does Famous Grouse come in? The family business of Matthew Gloag and sons was founded in 1800 and the business thrived, so much so that when Queen Victoria visited Perth in 1842 on a state visit the business was asked to cater for it, and when she tasted the Whisky it swiftly became her favourite. When Matthew Gloag’s grandson took over in 1869 he decided to make a blended Whisky to tap into this already booming industry. The Famous Grouse itself, the red grouse which stands pride of place on all of the Whisky bottles, was chosen and his daughter drew the first ever grouse for the labels. It became so “famous” amongst the Victorian sportsmen who were visiting Scotland that the name stuck.
After the business was taken over by his son, in 1970 “The Famous Grouse” was also bought by Highland Distilleries. So the Glenturret Single Malt Scotch Whisky that is produced at Glenturret Distillery is now one of the essential ingredients that make Famous Grouse! Scotland’s favourite Whisky at Scotland’s oldest working distillery!
The Distillery is a gorgeous old traditional collection of white washed buildings, and the tour begins in the first of these, the Malting and Milling room where malted barley from nearby fields is steeped in water, for 2-3 days, then spread out to germinate , this process converts the starch into sugar and the malted barley is then crushed to make grist.
The grist is then carried to the next room into a huge tub called a mash tun containing water from the nearby Loch Turret, here it is mixed in three lots of increasingly hot water, the water drains away with the sugar and the good stuff, the hot sweet liquid known as the Wort, is passed to the next room for fermentation. This is where it really starts to smell good.
The next room is filled with 8 huge wash backs made with Douglas Fir and the liquid stays in these for 48 hours. Most distilleries now use stainless steel for these tubs but here, they have continued to use the traditional wood. Our guide, Peter, told us a funny story. In Scotland we use the word “Barmy” as a slang word for someone who might be a bit mad, apparently it comes from when they added the yeast to the sugar in the water. When the temperature is risen, a frothy head called a Barm forms and when the workers put there head down to the brim of the tub to check it they got light headed, and because they had to do it a lot, they say it went straight to their heads! Or barmy!
After fermentation the alcoholic liquid called the “wash” is then pumped to the next area, into a large hand beaten copper pot, which is unique to Glen Turret, called a Wash Still. It is heated to 95 degrees by five oil fired steam heaters so the alcoholic vapours rise up and out to a condenser where they are cooled so it turns back to liquid. Each of these processes build up the alcohol content and this process means it is now at 25%.
It then moves to the spirit sample safe where it is tested, then runs through a second distillation which brings the alcohol to about 70%, it is then tested again, and this time it will be at the right quality for making Whisky.
The Spirit Sample Case is fascinating, it’s actually kept under lock and key and is controlled by Customs and Excise because as of now, duty is due! This machine tests the quality of the liquid, the not so good stuff will go back be distilled again and the “Heart of the Run” will go on to the filling store where it is put into casks, made from wood which gives it it’s colour. During the maturing stage, which takes three or more years, the liquid becomes smoother and mellower helped along by Scotland’s damp climate.
After this the Whisky is taken to Glasgow to be blended into Famous Grouse, and the testing of the blending is done by one man, One Man! This bit was fascinating too. This man is called Gordon Motion, he is the only person in the world to know exactly what goes in. His job as master blender involves him smelling hundreds of samples each day, checking for the right aroma, clarity and colour to make sure the Famous Grouse Whisky is exactly how it should be. What a job!
The tour includes a film of the story where the “Grouse” takes you on a flying visit around the glens and rivers of Scotland and we see the adverts too, which I think are brilliant.
After all this exploring it must be time for a taste and believe me when I say your mouth is watering by the time you get to this part. To help you choose which one you want to try there are interactive boards where you can press the buttons and guess what the smell is, which was fun! Although I have a shocking sense of smell!
I tasted the original Famous Grouse and the Naked Grouse, while my friend tasted the Black Grouse. My favourite was the Naked Grouse, it was so smooth and gave you that warm feeling in your throat, I also got a hint of chocolate which can’t be bad! You can then go up to the shop where you can taste the GlenTurret single malt too. This was delicious, and I was very tempted to buy a bottle and I should have because this shop was the only place it’s sold. Another visit I think
Whisky has been drunk for centuries in Scotland, always available at any kind of celebration, be it weddings, New Year, or Christmas, and if you are visiting Scotland, or are Scottish and love your Whisky I recommend a trip to Crieff to this Distillery. The experience tour costs only £9 and there is also a chocolate connoisseur tour and a seasonal special tour, each costing £19. You can book tickets on their website here