Visit: September 2016
If you’re visiting Aberdeen, Scotland’s third largest city, and you fancy a distillery tour, I’d recommend a trip to Glen Garioch. The distillery is situated in the town of Oldmeldrum, which is about 18 miles from Aberdeen. If you’re driving then the distillery has a strict policy that you can’t drink a dram at the end of a tour but you get to take away samples. Thankfully there’s a bus service from Aberdeen to Oldmeldrum and Glen Garioch is a short walk from the town centre. The No.35 bus takes about an hour, which is a lot longer than by car but gives you time to take in the scenery and drink without fear of prosecution.
At the time of writing, tours are available all year from Monday to Saturday, with Sunday tours from June to September. They do a Founders Tour (£7.50, which includes a dram), Wee Tasting Tour (£15, which includes two drams) and for £50 there’s either a VIP Tour or a Whisky & Cheese tasting. My brother and I opted for a Wee Tasting Tour, which lasted for 90 minutes. Details can be found on the Glen Garioch website here: http://www.glengarioch.com/visitor-centre
The tour kicks off with a short video in the Visitors Centre about the history of the distillery. Glen Garioch is currently owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers Ltd (MBD) who also own Auchentoshan and Bowmore. MBD became part of Beam Suntory in 2014, the third largest spirits company in the world. Not that any of this was apparent at Glen Garioch, which felt very grounded in its Aberdeenshire community. When I initially booked the tour online I spoke to a lady called Fiona but a different Fiona took us on the tour. Apparently there are four different Fionas working at the distillery in a very ‘family’ atmosphere, which was clearly evident from the staff we met.
Glen Garioch had its own maltings in use until 1993. The distillery fell silent in 1995 with production starting again in 1997. It was because of this historic rebirth for the distillery that I bought a bottle at the end of the tour distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2012. The website mentioned a ‘bottle your own’ for £80 but during the tour the only options available were £135 and £190 per bottle. The lesson learnt here was not to trust their website with regards to the ‘bottle your own’. Email them beforehand if that’s something you’re interested in.
Fiona our tour guide was very knowledgeable and the tour itself was thorough and enjoyable. We went into the old maltings and walked through all the buildings step-by-step, following the creation process of whisky. At the end my chosen drams for tasting were the standard 12yo and 15yo, both of which were excellent, with honey, spice and hints of heather. I’d also recommend the entry-level Founder’s Reserve, which is delicious, affordable and a generous 48%.
Since my visit it has been discovered that the distillery is actually older than originally thought. Instead of 1797 an article from the Aberdeen Journal published in 1785 refers to the sale of spirits from the Oldmeldrum distillery, which is Glen Garioch. It’s still not the oldest distillery in Scotland but not far off.
Overall I’d thoroughly recommend visiting Glen Garioch. If you’re considering moving to Oldmeldrum and looking for work, change your name to Fiona and apply to the distillery. It’s bound to work!