Dramming in Scotland 2011 #5 – Glenfiddich

by Oliver Klimek on May 13, 2011

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Glenfiddich is one of the biggest Scottish distilleries and it deserves the merit of having been the first one that actively marketed single malt whisky on a global basis. I had not booked a festival event there, but as I had a little time between two events in Dufftown I decided it would be foolish not to pop in and have a look around.

Conveniently located at the road leading into Dufftown from Craigellachie, Glenfiddich cannot be missed. Because of its global reputation a lot of effort has gone into making the distillery look as pretty as possible to visitors. If whisky novices or ordinary tourists decide to visit only a single distillery, chances are that it will be Glenfiddich. To be honest, I had expected a car park of a medium sized amusement park with half a dozen coaches waiting for the tourits to return from their tours. But luckily it turned out far less drastic, and actually there were surprisingly few people around on the afteroon I chose for my visit.

I have to point out the fact that the regular visitor tour at Glenfiddich is free. Yes, you read right: Zero point zilch Pounds Sterling. This is pretty amazing as some other popular distilleries charge quite some prices for their tours.

A very professional (well, what do you expect…) and actually quite captivating video started the tour focussing on the vision William Grant had of his distillery that he founded in 1886 after having learned the art of whisky making at nearby Mortlach distillery.

A few things regarding the tour are worth pointing out. After mashing the wort does not seem to be cooled in a heat exchanger like in most other distilleries but in special “Hot Liquor” tanks. And we actually got to see the yeast tanks which is rather unusual for a distillery tour. Because Glenfiddich is such a big distillery (roughly 10 million litres of alcohol per year), the liquid “cream yeast” has to be delivered in big tankers.

And because of the high output, of course everything is bigger and more plentiful at Glenfiddich. Two very big mash tuns, 24 traditional wooden washbacks and then the stills. I counted 5 wash stills and 9 spirit stills in two different shapes. Well, actually the spirit stills are not very big. And because they are smaller, obviously more of them are needed.

Unfortuately we couldn’t get a glimpse into Warehouse No. 1 as supposedly some other work was going on in there at the time of the visit. So we were treated to our three (!) drams a little earlier. The 12 yo, the 15 yo Solera Reserve and the 18 yo were appropriataly served in Glencairn glasses (! again). So in summary I was very happy with the quality of the tour, especially when you keep in mind that it is free.

As can be expected, there is also a rather big distillery shop that offers the complete range of available Glenfiddich bottlings as well as Grant’s blends and single malts of neighbouring Balvenie distillery.

I must not forget to mention the spacious Café that is also serving lunch. It is quite a nice place to have a bite or a coffee and/or a dram. As lunchtime food of decent quality is far too hard to find in Dufftown, the Glenfiddich café is a very good alternative.

Of course the entire site is set up to cater for a large number of visitors. But you still don’t get the “Malt Disney” feeling that I somehow feared to encounter at Glenfiddich. Despite all the cute flower beds and the exceptional tidiness of the premises it is always obviuos that it is a working distillery.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jan Beckers May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm

Hi Oliver,

Nice write up on Glenfiddich.

As a former Glenfiddich guide, I seem to remember that the tanks you are showing are there to preheat the water of the Mashing process and to stock the 3rd water of the Mash (which will be used as a first water). The wort is cooled down with heat exchangers (you pass them when you go up the stairs after you visit the mash tun), which allows the spring water for the mash to be pre-heated. So unless the process has changed (and there are small changes no doubt) I think the guide might not have picked up on that correctly.

I also wonder where you saw the yeast tanks, as far as I can remember, that is not something they show on tour (then again, you had a special visit and in my days Glenfiddich still used pressed yeast instead of creamed yeast).

The still house you see on tour is still house number 2. In the past we only showed still house number 1, and it is situated next to the mash tuns before you walk into the Tun room. This is now all walled up and not visible any more, which actually makes it easier as a guide because now you have a chronological overview of the process.

Good to see you at Knock…and we probably run into each other on some Whisky event.

Jan

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Oliver Klimek May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm

You may be right about the tanks, Jan. I specifically asked the guide about their purpose, but maybe she had confused it a little. I was a little surprised myself. It was a regular tourist tour, and we were indeed shown the yeast tanks, and I was lucky enough to spot the yeast tanker that you can see on the picture when I approached the distillery from Balvenie Castle.

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Bruce Crichton May 17, 2011 at 6:10 pm

For lunchtime food in Dufftown, look no further than the Coffee Pot in Balvenie Street. It’s kept me alive for years.

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Oliver Klimek May 17, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I have been there. Quite OK but I was not overly impressed.

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Jamie Milne May 25, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Hi Oliver,

Sorry to miss you at both Glasgow’s Whisky Club and in Speyside – I was on my travels elsewhere. You certainly seem to have enjoyed your trip, as I have enjoyed reading the write-ups! I see you visited Knockdhu, which has a special place in my heart as it’s my Dad’s favourite distillery from his days in HM Customs & Excise. I can still remember playing in the distillery grounds during school holidays as a boy. Sadly, some of the warehouses I remember so well were lost in the snows of 2010, but I know Gordon and the team are well on the way to rebuilding some nice replacement traditional dunnage warehouses.

Thanks for the above piece on Glenfiddich. As Jan has already pointed out, we do use heat exchangers which are at the bottom of the stairs between the mash tuns and the Hot Liquour tanks. As Jan also points out, there are two stillhouses at Glenfiddich. 28 stills in total, with all spirit stills being direct fired. With so much going on, it’s not surprising that guides occasionally make mistakes – but they do, as you say, give a very professional tour, welcoming over 70,000 visitors each year!

There’s no denying that Glenfiddich is bigger, but it’s not all about volume. Having two Porteous mills, two mash tuns, 24 washbacks and 28 stills allows us the luxury of time to help ensure we produce good spirit and, ultimately, good whisky. It’s one of the reasons we also still marry our whisky for around 6 months before bottling. Very few producers still do this.

Glad you enjoyed the impromptu “standard” tour and the three drams at the end (and they say Scots are mean!?). I’m sure we can arrange a “special” tour for you next time you’re in Speyside.

Slainte,
Jamie.

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Oliver Klimek May 26, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Hi Jamie,

thanks for your comment. Indeed I was not aware of the fact that there are two stillhouses beause the number of stills seemed in line with the output. But the size of course does matter ;-)

I will certainly return to Speyside, probably next year, so I’ll happily accept your offer.

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