If David and I know we're going to buy a cask of whisky from a particular distillery, and we're in the vicinity of where that distillery operates, we like to drop by and see if we can visit the site. We're always looking to increase our knowledge of single malt producers and we like to have photographs to show interested customers. However, since many of the distilleries in question are owned by Diageo, one must be quite careful about showing up unannounced. Sneaking up on a Johnnie Walker satellite can be like creeping up on a sleeping tiger -- if you startle them you might anger the beast. Dailuaine distillery, a picturesque stone complex set along the river Spey, is one such example.
We fell in love with a 1997 hogshead of Dailuaine while tasting through the casks at Signatory, so we knew we wanted to drop by the distillery after visiting Glenfarclas. However, because we're never sure about how we'll be received, the plan usually consists of David OG entering the main office, while I hang back and wait for his signal.
"Kakah.....ka-kah!" I yelled from the bushes, doing my best crow impression. Girard shook his head. We were not getting into to Dailuaine. I instantly made a break towards the hill, up the path behind the distillery and into the woods where I could secretly record my reconnaissance. Dailuaine also operates a "black grain" facility next to the distillery buildings, which is essentially a bio plant that converts the spent lees and water from distillation into clean water, while at the same time producing energy for the distillery itself.
After taking the necessary documentation and securing the microfilm into the compartment located in the heel of my boot, I made my way through the trees towards the main road where I found our car waiting for me.
Just down the street from Dailuaine, on the other side of the Benrinnes hill from Glenfarclas, is the eponymously-named distillery known for its light, fruity, and generally drinkable character. We knew we were likely in for a barrel of 1997 Benrinnes from Signatory as well, so we might as well knock that visitation out too.
Approaching the distillery site, we followed the same plan: I hopped out of the car, went by foot around the back of the compound, and waited in the wings for David and Kyle to give me the signal.
Kurani's charm and Girard's wit apparently worked with Paulie, the girl who worked in the main offce, because we were welcomed with open arms at Benrinnes.
"Sure, I'll take you around the distillery," she said. "You guys are so much nicer than most of the people who come through here." What have I always said? It pays to be nice and treat people with kindness and respect!
There are two wash stills and four spirits stills currently operating at Benrinnes, but this is a recent modifcation. Up until a few years ago they were running three and three with a partial triple distillation (a la Mortlach, from what I understand). Now each wash still feeds into two spirits stills.
Fermentation lasts about sixty-five hours in Oregon pine washbacks, which contributes to the fruitiness of the eventual spirit. Due to the recent demands of the global economy, the distillery now operates seven days a week, pumping out 3.5 million liters of booze per year. Overall, it's an efficient and admirable operation.
The best part for those of you who want to understand the basic character of these Diageo distilleries is that we'll have examples to offer you later this year: both from the same vintage, aged in the same type of cask, for the same amount of time in the same warehouse. And both should be about the same price! What a fun comparison.