I had the privilege of drinking whisky at one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries, Glengoyne Distillery only 30 minutes from Glasgow. Previous to my visit whisky wasn’t something I was particularly fond of. It was something men ordered in saloons after they’ve stumbled in from the frontier. It was something that Frank Sinatra drank in a crystal tumbler with a drizzle of water in classic films. It looked delicious to me, but when it came time to try it I shuddered at the smell. The scent would bring tears to my eyes, send my stomach to a curdle before the brown elixir even reached my lips.
But that was because I wasn’t drinking the right stuff nor was I drinking it the right way.
Whisky shouldn’t be something you shoot back into your gullet. It shouldn’t be something you need to overcome and get on with your evening. As I learned at Glengoyne Distillery, it is something to be savoured by sipping much like wine.
I discovered Glengoyne Distillery on a Heart of Scotland bus tour from Edinburgh. My husband decided on the whisky and castles tour with this company because tour sizes are limited to 16. We wanted to avoid the big crowded buses and hoped for a more tailored and person experience.
We explored the Scottish countryside in a wee red bus stopping along the way to see highland cows, loch Lamond and the awe inspiring Sterling Castle where Mary, Queen of Scots spent her childhood. The day ended sipping whisky at one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, Glengoyne. To make whisky you need to be located where water flourishes which makes a a valley like Glengoyne a perfect spot. This is also why most Scottish whiskies have the word “Glen” in their brand name. Glen is a Scottish term meaning valley and Goyne means goose – so Glengoyne means valley of the goose or geese. The distillery is situated in a gorgeous part of Western Scotland not far from Glasgow. It is not quite in the highlands but rather on the border and thus has lush yet low rolling hills at its feet.
Wind turbines are typical along the landscape, so too are white sheep and random castles or manners nestled amongst the trees.
Arriving inside Glengoyne you are greeted with a dram of whisky and a video showing the family business that began back in 1820 with an illegal distillery hidden within the very hills it is situated. The secret waterfall and the secluded nature of the area made for a perfect distillery hidden from the law of the time. It was very typical to produce whisky illegally back then.
You get a sense of the history and immaculate Scottish countryside Glengoyne calls home from the video below.
It is no doubt that whisky can be an acquired taste but the Glengoyne tour teaches you how to properly taste the whisky and what to look out for. With the dram of whisky in hand we all took a seat and watched the film explaining the complex history of the area. Our spitfire guide, Deidre, then walked us through the tasting process. First you smell the whisky and allow the aromas to fill you glass by swirling the liquid. Much like wine this allows for the bouquet to open up. Then sip a small amount allowing it to journey throughout your tastebuds and all areas of the mouth. This is likely to be a shocking experience if you are unfamiliar with the fiery characteristics of whisky. The first sip of whisky can be the most shocking to your mouth but the second sip, all the way to the tenth, your mouth becomes accustomed to the liquid so that you can then begin to taste more complex flavours beneath the alcohol.
However, if the whisky on its own is too much for you add some droplets of filtered water to allow the oils to release the flavour and the alcohol to be toned down. It’ll amaze you how much it changes the whisky and makes it more pleasant on the tongue. Glengoyne whisky in particular is a great whisky to begin with, although it may be hard to find outside of Scotland. Its flavours are more fruit forward with a delicate richness. It is also unpeated so there isn’t that smokiness that may be challenging for first timers, although I have come to love smoke flavour in whisky the more variety I try.
Frankly, whisky tasting is only about paying attention. You don’t shoot it back but sip it carefully and slowly making it a process of developing the flavours as the fully express their characteristics with each sip making a lasting impression. I’ll certainly be sipping a Scottish whisky during each episode of Outlander this 2017!
After the whisky tasting you are brought to the back of the property where the hidden water source that has kept this distillery going for over 200 years. Fitted with a waterfall and charming walking path you can explore the area if you have the time which contains their own bee hives and wetlands.
Deidre then took us inside to further our understanding of how their whisky is made and why it is so special. Glengoyne follows tradition and uses the slowest distillery process in all of Scotland.
This is one of the reasons I love to travel. It opens your mind to new things.
I never would have thought that I would enjoy whisky even after our tour at Glengoyne. But when you journey to the places that specialize and have deep historical roots in a special craft you gain a deeper appreciation and even learn to love it yourself.