Last week I offered to chauffeur my wife to a business meeting in Inverness, a good excuse I thought to visit another distillery.
We had a lovely run up the unusually quiet A96, with the top-down the whole way, and arrived in time to avoid a torrential downpour which lasted for nearly an hour. As I feared at the time, this proved to be the end of the heat-wave.
We awoke to a very grey overcast morning with the prospect of more rain on the way, so that ruled out a lingering thought to walk up Benrinnes with a quick visit to Aberlour Distillery. Not being a prolific walker I wasn't prepared to take a chance on deteriorating weather, and besides, there was every chance the meeting would be finished by lunchtime and I didn't want to be stuck half-way up a hill, with no phone reception, when the chauffeur's call came through.
My next thought was of course a distillery visit. My first stop was Tomatin, 16 miles south of Inverness on the A9 (I had remembered how close it was from a previous visit to Inverness) - if you carry on south on the A9 and turn off to Carrbridge/Grantown-on-Spey you have several options for returning to Aberdeen, all of them more scenic and quicker than the A96. My favourite is probably via the Lecht, although the Cabrach route brings back memories of trips to visit my Grandparents in Rothes.
The location of Tomatin is spectacular, set against the eastern edge of the Monadh Liath mountains and surrounded pine forests. Close by is the impressive Findhorn Railway Bridge. Since time was short I decided not to wait the 45 minutes until the next tour, and after a quick look round the Visitor Centre Shop, which had some miniature whisky barrel piggy banks for sale, I headed off.
I had decided it would be fun to try to find The Speyside Distillery, which because it doesn't have a visitors centre, can be quite hard to find. The distillery is located on the banks of the River Tromie, near the village of Drumguish, and takes its name from the original Speyside Distillery which was located in nearby Kingussie. The vision for the distillery came from a former whisky broker George Christie, whose family also owned the Strathmore grain distillery in Cambus. It was Alex Fairlie, a dry stane dyker, who single-handedly laid all the stonework over a twenty year period, the results of which are a wee gem of a distillery in the most beautiful of surroundings. The distillery first started producing in 1990 and in some parts is best known for the "black malt" it produces, Cu Dubh, largely for the Scandinavian market. The distillery appeared in the BBC TV series "Monarch of the Glen" as the Lagganmore Distillery.
After ten minutes driving round the area I was forced to ask a local for directions, and then I had to ignore the "Private"sign if I wanted to discover the distillery. The only signs of life were at the adjacent house, a couple of cats and some hens running about. The Mash/Still House door was open but there was no sign of activity there, obviously we were in the quiet season. Then I found a door marked "office" so I tried my luck. I was greeted by the distillery manager, Andrew Shand, who couldn't have been more welcoming, despite no doubt having loads of paperwork to catch up on. The distillery is run by only 4 men, and works a 5-day week starting with the first mash at 10pm on a Sunday evening. The distillery may be unique in having all its equipment, mash tun, washbacks, stills and receivers in the one building. The distinctive building is angled to follow the mill lade which originally powered the old mill that gives the site its name. The old mill is actually still intact and in working order! The water, which comes from the river Tromie, is used for both process and cooling in the distillery and is closer to the source of the Spey than that of any other distillery.
We will be featuring Drumguish Single Malt from the distillery as our Malt of the Week shortly
Timing was perfect - just as I took my final picture, my mobile rang, my wife would be finished her meeting in an hour - time enough to make my way back to Inverness.
We took the scenic route home although the weather was grey with squally showers. The Cabrach was closed due to road works so we went via Aberlour and Keith, on the way passing Tormore, my favourite distillery from a visual aspect.