Scotland Day 4: Dawn in the New Era
My final night in Speyside I met up with some friends who happened to be in the area. The next day was the start of the Speyside Whisky Festival, an annual celebration of this special part of the Highlands. Over ten thousand visitors were expected to attend the various festivities. I’d spent so much of the last few days talking business and examining casks I’d forgotten how fun Scotland really is.
We headed over to the famous Highlander Whisky Bar in Craigellachie. Even early it was packed with people from all over the place. Loads of Scandinavians, Japanese, Germans, Americans all squished into that little bar examining their exotic selection—it was a site to be hold. They traded stories about their favorite distilleries or just shared a few glasses of some ridiculously rare whisky. Even the Japanese whisky selection at the Highlander is unprecedented by California standards.
Equally magnificent is the food at the Copper Dog Restaurant in the Craigellachie Hotel, which was my final stop of the Speyside portion of the trip. The next morning I said goodbye to my friends in the front yard and headed out for my last full day in Scotland. I swung by the new and, might I add, outrageous distillery at the Macallan, a giant middle finger to traditional Scottish architecture, but certainly an impressive feat of engineering.
After gawking at the Speyside Spaceship, the cost supposedly about equal to a mid-tier space program, I zoomed back through the Cairngorms to make my final appointments. Today I was visiting Signatory for the first time in a few years. I was excited to see my old friend Des and check on the progress of their new facility. Edradour #2 is fully functional and nearing the final stages.
They’ve been distilling here for a bit and working to achieve a consistent replica to the spirits down the hill. It’s a near copy of its tiny neighbor but with plenty of room to expand. Des explained that the biggest challenge to regulating the spirit was the use of the naturally cooled work tubs, which affect the speed of distillation. That natural movement in the original distillery’s water source has been difficult to replicate, but they seem to have worked out the kinks.
Next, we dove into the warehouses to see if there was anything new that might be attractive. A lot of the old stock we’d done so well with is so rare and depleted that at this point they’ve become prohibitively expensive, but Des had some new tricks up his sleeve, including some young glorious Highlanders and a few older offerings. Indeed these guys are extremely good at making sure they pull in the best cask and the additional 19K spots in those warehouses bode well for the future.
We’re going to push hard to get the best possible pricing on this new batch of Signatorys. Their new distributors are old friends so hopefully that will help speed the process along. As Driscoll has mentioned here many times before, bottlers are almost dead in the water these days if they’re not already building a distillery at this point. G&M saw the writing on the walls in the 90s. Signatory bought one and they still had to build another! But they can’t all be Bruichladdich, you know?
We’re looking to partner with people who are in it for the long haul. That’s why we’re so excited that our two best suppliers of single malt are each building distilleries, albeit in very different places and styles. Tomorrow we visit the Laing Companies. One family, two companies, and thousands of barrels of great whisky. I’ll have the two Andrews from the NorCal stores along to introduce them to our old friends. From there, they’ll depart on a whirlwind tour of Islay, while I head south to Armagnac to secure new single casks from cult bottler L’Encantada. Expect some exciting commentary from that most mystical isle and, if I can find a WiFi signal, I’ll try to keep you up to date on the brandy hunt.