Scotland - Day 5: From Pitlochry to Oban
We knew today was going to be packed, so David and I both got up early, went for a run through beautiful Pitlochry, had a hearty breakfast, and pulled up to Edradour early - just as they were putting the final touches on a new pagoda roof for the malting house.
Dez met us out front as he tried to help navigate the forklift. We were ready to get started. No need to tour the distillery, no need to taste through the newest expressions - we'd been here before. Signatory used to be one of our biggest independent brands, but we haven't carried anything new for almost eight months. The warehouse at Edradour is like a giant candy store. They have thousands of casks tucked away and David and I were ready to run like two little kids up and down every aisle.
As always, Dez was a great sport. He's incredibly patient and I think he secretly gets a kick out of watching us jump up and down and scream. I don't think the other retailers who pass through are nearly as fun (or as loud and obnoxious). We went through a ton of amazing casks. Of course, as soon as I start writing about how value is now leaving the single cask market, we find a few gems at what should be an affordable price. Barrels of younger Longmorn, Braeval, Benrinnes, and Glentauchers showed impressively. All were under fifteen years of age and all were quite lovely.
The crazy thing about Signatory is that they seem to have casks from the absolute rarest of the rare. I've never even seen a bottle of Glenlochy before, let alone a cask. Part of the 83 Diageo shutdown that wiped out Port Ellen, Brora, and Banff, among others, Glenlochy was a neighbor to Ben Nevis on the isolated northern west coast. This barrel of 1980 was probably one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted. David and I were practically crying. Can we pry it loose from the warehouse? We also went through a few North Ports and some other Diageo sacrifices before heading to more practical selections. There are so many casks to think about it almost makes my head spin. Can't wait to get the pricing!
After leaving Edradour, we began our three hour drive west towards the coast and the town of Oban. While we knew we were going to be late for our appointment at the distillery, the sheer beauty of the drive helped relieve the stress quite a bit. This picture above doesn't do the scenery justice.
One minute we were driving next to a giant mountain and it was snowing, the next minute it's sunny and we're coasting along a glorious Scottish loch. What a crazy place.
Oban distillery is tucked right into the town center, blending in seamlessly with the local businesses. It's an integral part of the downtown area and it's quite small. Because there's absolutely no room to expand, the distillery produces less than 800,000 liters of whisky per year. We were excited to get inside.
The distillery manager Ronnie took us around the facility, beginning with the four wooden washbacks. He explained that the soft fruitiness of Oban is primarily due to a very slow fermentation that takes up to ninety hours. Compare that with the fifty hours at Glenfarclas and you're looking at a whisky that takes twice as long to make. A more rapid fermentation results in a spicier character in the malt.
Oban distillery is really tiny on the inside. Taking pictures was quite difficult because you can never get far enough away from anything to capture it in the frame.
I had to hike up a steep staircase to take a photo of the two stills. One spirit still and one wash still that, like the fermentation, run at a snail's pace. Oban makes little whisky compared to other Diageo distilleries, which is why it is the only malt in their portfolio of over thirty distilleries that does not go into Johnnie Walker or any other blend. Diageo's head was recently quoted as saying that the company does not make single malts for the single malt drinker, but rather for their blending team to make their Johnnie Walker selections. Oban is the exception to this rule. It is not featured in any Diageo blend. It is the only distillery entirely devoted to single malt, hence why you'll never see an independent cask of Oban. They have no reason to trade or sell it and precious little of it for themselves.
Even though Oban is roughly a rogue within the Diageo system, there's always a friendly reminder from the empire nearby.
We had a fantastic time with Ronnie and got to actually sample some young 2003 Oban straight from the cask (our first time since there's absolutely nothing at the independent warehouses). Our hotel over looks the waterfront and the bay leading up to the town center. It's time to walk into town, grab a bite to eat, and take a load off. It's been a long day.