We weren't meeting with Duncan Taylor until 2 PM, so with five hours to kill, David and I decided to go on a drive in search of some lost distilleries. The town of Banff was only about twenty miles north of Glendronach, right on the northern coast, so we thought we'd investigate the site of the former legend. Having been gutted by a fire in the 80's and then demolished completely back in the early 90's, there wasn't much left to find, but we still wanted to see it. You can understand much about a distillery from its surroundings. Banff is a quaint fishing village right on the sea, so stereotypic that you almost expect a few peg-legged men with bushy white beards to be dominating the scene.
After driving a few times through the town, we stopped at a local grocery store that looked like it could have been built over an old distillery site. No one inside knew anything about Banff as they were all in their early twenties, naive to the fact that their hometown once housed a great single malt producer. I finally asked one older gentleman who did know where the old site stood, but it turns out that Banff distillery wasn't located directly within the town of Banff. We needed to drive two miles out of town, look for a string of caravans, drive over a small bridge, and the old wreckage would be on our left. True to his word, we found what remained. The skeletons of old warehouses and a pile of demolition. Nothing more remains, just that fantastic 1975 barrel that we imported last year. What a pity.
We still had a ton of time before the appointment, so we headed over to Keith and tried to locate Strathisla distillery purely by gut instinct. Claiming to be Scotland's oldest distillery, the site is immaculate and well-groomed. Nothing is really open on Sunday, so it was more about photo opportunities than substantial visitation.
Right behind Strathisla (and connected to the distillery via an underground pipeline) is the now defunct Glen Keith distillery, which since 2001 has provided wash to Strathisla, but has not distilled anything on site. From the front it looks quite stately.
We snuck around back, however, and it's a different story from that side. It appears they're going through a remodel. Word is that rather than continuing with the mothballed state of the distillery, Pernod Ricard is going to revamp Glen Keith and begin production as soon as its finished. How exciting!
Since we had made it to Keith, we had might as well keep going on towards Craigellachie and Dufftown. We drove to Macallan, which looks like a giant factory, passed Craigellachie proper, crossed over the majestic river Spey, and continued on towards Dufftown where we found Balvenie right next door to the mothballed Convalmore facility. We drove around to Glenfiddich, which was open and packed with visitors, and kept on.
We passed the 70's-styled Glendullan plant, maker of the popular-in-Redwood-City Singleton malt, before landing on top of Mortlach, one of the most prized Speyside institutions, albeit without a visitor's center.
Finally, we completed the loop and headed back to Huntly for our appointment with Mark at Duncan Taylor. We helped Mark write a few tasting notes, while jotting down some of our own concerning the available casks (which did not include more Banff, for those of you begging us to find more).
Did we find anything? A few fun possibilities indeed. There was a splendid 1990 Bladnoch, full of fruit and richer than last year's Cheiftain's bottle. We both thoroughly enjoyed a 1998 Linkwood, the fantastic Diageo-owned distillery known for super-drinkable potions. The Octave program presented us with some older Bunnahabhain samples, along side a 1992 Caperdonich (demolished by Pernod Ricard instead of Glen Keith) and a 1996 Longmorn, one of the most respected and beloved distilleries in Scotland. We need to get some pricing before making a decision, but these look like wonderful candidates.
Right now were at the Huntly Hotel, having a few pints and watching the final Man City game of the year. Who will win the Premier League? We'll know in another hour.