Craft Beer and Malt Whisky in Aberdeenshire visiting Brewdog's DogTap and DogWalk Brewery Tour in Ellon plus a VIP Whisky Tasting at Old Meldrum's Glen Garioch Distillery.
For three days last weekend I was a tourist in my own back yard. I must admit that when I received an invitation to a press trip in Aberdeen, initially I wasn't exactly jumping up and down with enthusiasm. However once I saw the full itinerary my attention was grabbed by what was on offer in terms of food (LOTS), drink (Craft Beer & Malt Whisky), accommodation (luxury) and entertainment (the suave and sophisticated Curtis Stigers). The trip took place during the Aberdeen Jazz Festival and profiled the city and shire's food, drink and cultural/music scene. Whilst I was familiar with all of the eateries we were visiting - all establishments that showcase the area particularly well - I'd never visited either Brewdog or Glen Garioch. Why is it that you never seem to get around to visiting places on your own home turf? Our base for the weekend was the Skene House Apartment Hotel on Rosemount Viaduct. I lived in Rosemount for almost 10 years before moving from the City to the Shire and it's location was a fantastic base. An abundance of food was consumed at Eat On The Green, Foodstory, Meldrum House, Musa and Rye and Soda but for this post I'll concentrate on the booze. The eats deserve their own 15 minutes of fame. But what about the Jazz I hear you cry? For that I refer you to my blogging colleague Elizabeth who flew down from Shetland for the trip and has written a fantastic Aberdeen Jazz Festival 2017 roundup piece on her blog. (I hereby confess to being the person who was shushed by serious Jazz fans at the Lampie and likewise also wish I'd asked for a selfie with Curtis)
I am absolutely by no means an expert in either Craft Beer or Whisky so this post is very much a tourist eye view of both operations rather than a connoisseurs and I apologise now for anything I've got factually incorrect! By the fifth nip of whisky I was struggling to remember my own name let alone what we were drinking!
First stop BrewDog DogTap and Brewery Tour. Located on the outskirts of Ellon, BrewDog is undoubtedly Scotland's most infamous beer. As well known for its stunts, provocative marketing and general controversy as its brews. Whatever your opinion of them, at the end of the day there's no denying they are a huge success story. I'm not quite sure what exactly I was expecting but suffice to say the whole operation was bigger, bolder and brasher than I could ever have imagined. Founded in Fraserburgh in 2007 by 2 men and one dog it has grown to a multinational company with 55,000 Equity Punks worldwide - and I'm one of them!
There are 250 people (plus 50 office dogs) employed at the Ellon site which operates 24/7. Our tour was led by the affable Sydney Paulsen who was as informative as she was passionate. You don't have to be a hipster to work at Brewdog but it helps. There's almost a cult like indoctrination going on amongst the staff. If you cut them I expect they would bleed IPA. The proudly displayed brewdog charter is taken as read rather than taken as ironic. Their most recent press has on one hand been about their planned expansion to include a BrewDog Hotel being thwarted by a deluded council and on the other about the introduction of Puppy Parental Leave. When quizzed about the Paw-ternity leave Sydney couldn't confirm if a litter of eight pups would get 1 week off on full pay or 8. Either way my 12 year old now wants to go and work for BrewDog if it means I will buy her a puppy.
One we had signed a disclaimer and donned safety glasses and hi-vis vests the DogWalk could begin. First stop on the tour once you pass a rather impressive giant lego model of BrewDog HQ is the epic Site 3 Brewhouse. This is craft brewing on a truly industrial scale. Can it still actually be craft beer? Sydney assures us that it is. Moving on we see the malt room, fermentation, dry hop infuser and the quality labs full of scientific beer geeks. Time to stop for a taster in the staff canteen and learn more about the perks of working at Brewdog. In addition to puppy dog leave, staff get a case of beer a month, profit share, a gym and a subsidised canteen with rather delicious sounding food, a fridge stocked with other breweries beer and an enormous table shuffleboard on which I was desperate to have a game. Alas before you could say shuffleboard cheese we moved on past more funky artwork and four legged friends to the most recent addition to the BrewDog empire.
It was pretty much inevitable that BrewDog would at some point expand into spirits. Step forward Lone Wolf Distilling. The somewhat surreal copper still setup looks like a cross between a chemistry set and a brass band. A section of the brewhouse roof had to be removed to allow the installation of a colossal 19m high rectification column - to get the purest, cleanest spirit possible. The ESP of BrewDog distilling is that it's the only craft distillery in Scotland to also make its base spirit grain under the same roof (others buy in neutral spirit in bulk). Lone Wolf Gin is currently on V3 release (which is actually the 181st prototype) Time will tell if the final version merits a place on my Gin Shelf.
The penultimate part of the tour was the original Site 1 Brewhouse which also houses the packaging plant. Rolling off the production line at a rate of knots were dead ponies on their way to those who love hops and live the dream. Back to the DogTap for some final tasters and a peek at the Pilot Brewery. By this time stomachs were beginning to rumble and although the Pizza on offer looked rather tempting we had a date with Kilted Chef Craig. Only time will tell if my next visit to BrewDog HQ will include a night at a Beer Hotel.
If Brewdog is the irreverent young pup of the Aberdeenshire drinks industry, Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery) Distillery is the auld master. Located in Oldmeldrum only 10 miles from BrewDog, it is one of the oldest (and the most easterly) operating distilleries in Scotland. Official records state that whisky was first made in 1797, but there’s belief in some quarters that it’s even older. Our tour guide was Jane Cattanach who has worked at the distillery for longer than I suspect our Brewdog tour guide has been alive. Her warmth, genuine passion and knowledge really shone through and was enhanced by her doric tongue. Being a Foodie Quine (Quine is doric for a young woman, girl or daughter. A female person from Aberdeen/shire) I loved how doric translations and phrases were used on signage and display boards throughout the tour. My particular favourite was 'Ca canny fin yur crossin e road!'
There have been a lot of twists and turns in the distillery's 200 year history. It has changed hands on numerous occasions, been part of an innovative greenhouse project utilising waste heat to grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and cucumbers in polytunnels and witnessed periods of closure and changes of style. The most recent reopening was in 1997. Prior to mothballing in 1995 the distillery’s own floor maltings were in operation. As part of our VIP tour we got to visit the the spacious malting floors where you really could feel the history surrounding you. Glen Garioch now uses unpeated malt, which is a big contributor to its unique Highland style.
Glen Garioch is a rare find indeed, but warmly appreciated by those who like a hearty Highland malt, non chill-filtered as nature intended, with a wholesome maltiness, honeyed sweetness and delicious creamy texture to savour.
There was no production taking place on the day of our visit but Jane took us through the whole process and answered questions and explained the history throughout our tour. It was a fascinating part museum, part working distillery experience which took us through the mash tun and washback culminating with the gorgeous copper stills in the still house. The final stop was the bonded warehouse viewing gallery. For me the most fascinating part of our tour and something that I haven't experience elsewhere was the opportunity to use a rather wild looking mallet to unbung a cask of whisky. We all got to have an attempt to remove the bung and nose the contents. This forms part of the Glen Garioch Distillery Cask Bottling experience where visitors can hand fill a bottle of Highland Single Malt from one of the specially selected casks and label their own bottle. The experience carries a rather hefty price tag but I can totally see its appeal if Whisky is your thing.
Final stop on the tour was the recently refurbished bothy tasting room. This was formerly the excise hut but is now beautifully decked out complete with a roaring fire. Confession time. I'm really not much of a whisky drinker, which I always feel a wee bitty guilty about. I love the smell of it and the flavour it gives when used in cooking. But a dram of whisky would be far from my first choice of tipple. Could Glen Garioch convert me? Apparently there is a whisky out there for everyone. Was I about to find mine?!
First to be tried was 'The Rare Pair' cheese and whisky matching with water and oatcakes if you wanted them. The cheese was from Aberdeenshire's Devenick Dairy.
15 Year Old The Renaissance 2nd Chapter paired with The Reeds Aricht
15 Year Sherry Cask Matured paired with The Coos R Oot
To follow we tried the three variations that are currently available as the Cask Bottling experience. Glen Garioch 1997, Cask number 8 (Sherry cask matured), Glen Garioch 1991, Cask number 4557 (Bourbon cask matured) and Glen Garioch 1978, Cask 11001 (Bourbon cask matured). My favourite was the final one costing a rather eye watering £495. However this was the fifth whisky I had tasted which may have more to do me choosing it than my refined palate! Despite my reservations I very much enjoyed the whole tasting experience and came to realise that drinking whisky is as much about the people you are with and where you are. Perhaps you can never fully enjoy a dram of Glen Garioch until you have seen how and where it's made.
Tours & Prices (current as of 03/17)
Monday - Friday at 4pm and 6pm.
Saturday & Sunday at 12 pm, 2 pm and 4 pm
£15 per person, book 48hrs in advance
Founders Tour £7.50
Wee Tasting Tour £15
A Rare Pair - Whisky & Cheese Tasting £50
VIP Tour £50
To book call the distillery on +44 (0)1651 873450 or email email@example.com
Disclosure: I stayed, jazzed, ate and drank as a guest of Visit Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen Festivals. All views expressed are my own.
Whilst the Aberdeen Jazz Festival is all over for another year there are still eight further festivals to come in the Granite City's line up for 2017. Next up is Look Again which runs from April 27th - May 1st. Surely the perfect excuse for a visit to Aberdeen for some food, drink and cultural adventures.
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