Monday, July 26
Breakfast at the hotel, we’ve got this all figured out. Geoff has orange juice and a pastry, I have tea and a croissant. Following breakfast we’ll head to city center to catch the bus out to Dumgoyne, to see the Glengoyne Distillery. We go the bus station, and it is very efficiently run. It’s amazing, for such a big bus station that everything runs like clockwork. We end up missing the planned bus, so we wait an hour for the next one. Once it arrives, we’re on our way. A round trip costs us £4.75 each. It’s a lovely bus ride, through the country out to the distillery. On the way out there, we turn a corner, and I see a directional sign letting me know it’s 7 km to Glasgow, and 4 1/2 to Torrance (in the opposite direction). A big smile crosses my face.
The driver kindly lets us off at the front gate to Glengoyne. The first thing you notice is it’s surrounded by farmland and hills. It makes you want to sigh. We walk up to the main house, where the sign says to go for the tour. We pay for the tour (£4.50 each), and are invited upstairs for a complimentary dram before the tour begins. We climb the staircase, and the room is a decent size sitting room, complete with fireplaces. At the top of the stairs is a set of glass doors leading to a balcony that overlooks a small pond and tons of trees. Opposite the balcony is the bar, where a man clad in tartan pants (named Jimmy of course!) offers us our free drink. I politely decline, so he offers my drink to Geoff. He’s thrilled to get two. Now suitably equipped for the tour we sit down on some of the sofas there and watch a short video on the history of whisky making in Scotland and the roots of the Glengoyne distillery. Glengoyne was founded in 1833, which means that the farmer that was making bootleg whisky there for generations finally decided to make a little money out of it and applied for a license. After the video we are escorted outside to the little pond that is the Glengoyne spring. It is pretty stagnant water and we are assured that none of the pond water goes into the whisky. In fact, so much water is required for the process that it is now pumped up from the spring. Also every precaution is made to reuse the water so that none goes to waste. We are off down the little trail now to the distillery. First we go up the stairs to the room where the malted barley is ground up to begin the process. The malting of barley (allowing the barley to germinate to produce sugar in the grain, then halting the process before the sugar is consumed) is explained to us. They no longer malt barley at Glengoyne as it is a very labor intensive process. The germinating barley must be constantly overturned on the malting floor to allow air to get in and moisture to escape. Once the malting is complete, the process is halted by drying the barley with hot air. Glengoyne uses only hot air for this, and no peat smoke as peat is not found in the area. This makes the flavors of the whisky here more delicate than the smoky Islay malts. Once the drying is done, the barley is ground into a fine powder and cooked (called mashing) at three different temperatures with water to remove as much sugar from the barley as possible. The water from this (called wort) is separated from the draff (leftover barley which is sold to dairy farmers for cattle feed), and is left to ferment for two days after yeast is added. The barrels for the fermentation are huge and go down through the floor to the lower level. They look a little like a giant barrel of beer, which is really pretty close to what they are right now. Every once in a while the mixture is stirred to kick down the head of foam that develops. Once the fermentation is complete, the liquid is off to the still for distillation. There are three different stills at Glengoyne, one huge one for the primary distillation, and two smaller ones for the secondary distillation. This allows the most pure spirit to be obtained. The copper that the stills are made out of actually dissolves slightly in each batch of spirit, so every few years new copper is added to the stills to prevent them from eroding away. These new plates are just hammered over top of the old ones. As the shape of the still makes a large difference in the taste of the resulting spirit, great effort is made to preserve these structures. Once the spirit has reached the correct concentration, it is transferred to the spirit safe. Only the best spirit is saved and it is separated from the impure stuff (light wines) in a glass box under lock and key. As soon as the distillation begins, the entire process must be kept completely secure until bottling to avoid unnecessary tariffs. Once the spirit has been separated it is put into used sherry barrels to age. This gives the whisky its characteristic color and flavour. Unfortunately as the whisky ages, some evaporates from the barrels and is lost. This is called the angels share! As the whisky ages the master distiller will sample each barrel to see how it is aging. Most of the resulting whisky is allowed to age for 10 years before it is blended together with whisky from other barrels and water and bottled. Some will be allowed to age for longer before bottling if it is progressing well. Rarely, however, a barrel may be aging particularly well and the distiller will allow it to age until he feels it can give no more. When this happens he will bottle that barrel alone at full strength and provide it as a limited offering. Our tour of the distillery ends up in the gift shop, of course, where Geoff buys a bottle of the 10 year old malt. As we have just missed the bus and have to wait an hour for the next one we decide to walk around the property. We find a small trail up to a beautiful waterfall that feeds the pond. Also we are able to check out the warehouses where the barrels are stored (locked up) and gaze at the surrounding scenery. It is such a picturesque place and we are truly astounded by the beauty of it all. After a short wait for the bus we are off again back to Glasgow where our pub dinner awaits!
We head to the hotel first to drop off the whisky, then back up to Argyll Street where we find the Park Bar. Now “Park Bar” are the only words on the building in English. Everything else is in Gaelic. We walk to the part of the bar that has a row of tables, and look over the menu. We have to order at the bar, so I order a coke, a cheese burger, fries and a side of gravy. Geoff orders a beer, and fish and chips. The beer is local, called Belhaven. He really enjoys it and has two. The food was excellent, but the environment was smoky. I was glad we decided to go early, as I figured there would be fewer smokers there, and it was true. But the time we left, we were surrounded. The décor of the place was a little grittier than Bull & Bush, and Geoff notes that his dad would have loved it. We go back to the hotel and debate ordering dessert, but then decided against it. We stay in and watch cricket, which have figured out now. Exciting game between Lancashire and Warwickshire. Lancashire (who won the game by 2 wickets) has a giraffe for a mascot! We get a good night’s sleep and will decide in the morning what we’ll do with our last day.