Few established distilleries in Scotland have undergone such radical transformation in the past few years as Tullibardine, at Blackford just off the A9.
Two separate factors have affected air travel in recent years and have also put paid to what was one of the more enjoyable perks of foreign holidays.
Several times in Amber Lights I have urged distilleries without visitor centres to establish one, as it would be a good long-term investment. And I still adhere to that.
The burnished copper stills seen in every malt distillery have become both a symbol of the whisky industry and, to a lesser extent, a sort of Scottish icon. And, as the industry continues to win new converts to the cratur across the world, the demand for stills keeps increasing. Which in turn is good news for the firms that make the stills and related distillery equipment.
Amid the current mushrooming growth of gin distilleries, I have long intended to visit one. That finally came to pass some weeks ago when I saw a gin distillery that, for all it was in the most delightful and historic setting, reminded more of a medieval alchemist’s workshop than a 21st Century distillery.
The beating heart of any distillery is not the stills, or washbacks, or mashtun or the casking store. It is the distillery boiler, without which the distillery grinds to a halt. Hot water and steam are needed throughout the production process and, if the boiler packs up, so does the distillery.
One of the great whisky-linked success stories is Bailey’s – Irish whisky and cream, plus other ingredients, which is a global phenomenon and has spawned countless imitations, none quite up to the original.
It has always struck me that people in these islands – especially Scots and the Irish – have a strange attitude to drink, epitomised by a onetime friend who once said: “If I can remember the end of a party, it wasn’t a good one.” Of all folk in Western Europe, it seems we (especially when young) too often drink only to get tanked rather than enjoy the great taste and inner relaxation drink can bring.
Diageo’s announcement that long-embalmed Port Ellen and Brora distilleries are re-opening is great news. One might ask what took them so long? Both have been shut for decades and, as a result, each new edition of dwindling whisky stocks fetched ever-higher prices.
The German writer and philosopher Goethe once wrote: “Where there is the brightest light, there is also the darkest shadow.”