Friday, 17 December 2010

Speyside Life - Too Much White Gold

As you may have heard, the winter of 2009-2010 has been one of the harshest in living memory in Scotland. Over the last twenty five years we have become used to mild winters. We get snow at the distillery, but after a couple of days it is followed by a thaw. Not this year. The snow started to fall in mid December, and it kept falling, and unlike other years it was not followed by a thaw. There was snow on the roof of my house from the 15th of December to the 13th of March. Even now, as I write in June, there is snow on the tops of the Cairngorm Mountains, to the south of Glenfarclas.

Now distilleries need snow. Water is one of only three ingredients in Malt Whisky, and we need a lot of water. A good snowfall ensures we have a good supply of water into the summer. A couple of years ago, following a mild winter and a dry spring, which led to a water shortage, we had to cut back production in May, not something we like to do.  The distillery also runs more smoothly if the water is colder, and it stands to reason, that if the water initially fell as snow, it will be colder. So important is snow that the late George Grant, the fourth generation of the family to manage Glenfarclas, described snow as ‘White Gold’.

This year however there was rather a lot of white gold, so much most distillery managers were not referring to the white gold in such an affectionate manner. Most distillery workers had trouble getting to and from work. Some were late in, other left early, but most at Glenfarclas did not miss a day, so we were able to keep the stills running.

The snow also caused quite a lot of damage. At Glenfarclas we lost gutters, and had leaking window frames, but compared to others this was a minor inconvenience. The weight of 60cm to 90cm of snowfall on some distillery warehouse roofs caused them to collapse. One distillery went to the extent of hiring a helicopter to spray antifreeze on their warehouse roofs, so as to melt the snow, and save their warehouse roofs.

Thankfully we did not loose any warehouse roofs at Glenfarclas, probably because they have all been built in the traditional dunnage style, a style which dates from the 1880s. The roofs of the traditional warehouses have much shorter spans than the more modern racked warehouses. Our approach of preserving traditions that have stood the test of time, has paid off, but in the most unlikely manner.

Robert Ransom
June 2010

Speyside Life – Celebrating the Spirit of Speyside

With more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries located in Speyside, the region is the home of malt whisky.  Our guests are often surprised by how many distilleries there are in such a small, remote, and rural corner in the north of Scotland. If you drive from Elgin to Glenfarclas, a journey which takes about half an hour, you will pass twenty distilleries. With so many distilleries, whisky is very much engrained in the local way of life. Normally we quietly enjoy the local spirit, but each year in May things are different, we celebrate with the annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.  

At Glenfarclas, as one of the few locally owned distilleries, we are proud to play our part in the festival. This year our two flagship tastings, hosted by my colleague George Grant, included a chance to be amongst the first to taste our new Glenfarclas Forty Years old, and the opportunity to help us select a cask from 1995 to be bottled as part of The Family Casks collection later this year. Along with the authors of The Whisky Kitchen recipe book; Graeme Harvey and Sheila McConachie, I hosted a Glenfarclas dinner. A wonderful feast which started with a Velouté of Haggis, Graeme’s creation, a soup made from haggis with Glenfarclas 15 Years Old.  To build up an appetite for the dinner I led a group of intrepid Glenfarclas fans across the heather to our watersource on Ben Rinnes. Where could be better to enjoy a dram of Glenfarclas 105?

Of course with more than 230 events across Speyside, the festival offers far more than what we host at Glenfarclas. The other events ranged from the Spirit of Speyside Whisky School; three days of undiluted education in the production of single malt, to the infamous Dregs Party; in the Dufftown Whisky Shop, to empty any remaining open bottles on the final night of the festival.

The festival has been going for eleven years, and it brings the distilleries and the Speyside community together. Last year a flag relay across the region was introduced to highlight the best Speyside has to offer. This year the relay ran from Benromach to Glenfarclas incorporating legs by vintage car, on horseback, by mountain bike across the wilds of Dava Moor, and a leg by canoe down the river Spey. Now I don’t own a vintage car, have only ridden once, and am not the fastest on a mountain bike, so it was left to me to venture onto the Spey with some other volunteers to take the flag downstream from Grantown to Advie. Naturally before setting of on our voyage down the river, which is one of the longest and fastest flowing in Scotland, we needed a little something to help us on our way. So after proposing a toast to the river, we shared a dram of Glenfarclas 10 Years Old from a Quaich, Scotland’s cup of friendship.  The river was kind to us, and we enjoyed the Speyside landscape from a different angle, arriving exactly on schedule at Advie Bridge to hand the flag on to the next party of flag bearers.

Plans are already well under way for the festival at the start of May next year. At Glenfarclas we will be hosting a tasting of 1996 cask samples, with a view to bottling one of them for The Family Casks collection. Once again I will host a dinner with The Whisky Kitchen team. I am already looking forward to it.

Robert Ransom
May 2010