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Micro whisky distilleries are growing on Speyside

Despite there being 89 distilleries on Speyside, the interest in micro-distilling is growing. Jennifer talks to a new micro-distiller, Guy Macpherson-Grant, who is about to start his whisky journey

Jennifer Kelly Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival

Picture it. A girl walks into a marble-topped bar, browses over the sumptuously sweet cocktail menu, and pushing it aside, she settles on a dram of The Glenlivet 12 year old, accompanied with a single cube of ice.

Whisky fanatics across the globe have noticed a shift in attitude towards the famous amber nectar. Contrary to popular belief, whisky is no longer a drink for old men, suctioned to their Chesterfield by the fire.

It’s a chic nip, oozing with style and over the past decade has grown in popularity, leading to a surge in production. In the time it has taken to read this, 800 bottles of Scotch whisky have made their way across the world as 40 bottles are shipped each second.

Speyside, also known as malt whisky country, is home to more than half of Scotland’s whisky distilleries. Many of the number one selling whiskies in the world are produced in the area, including The Glenlivet in the US, Aberlour in France, Cardhu in Spain and Glen Grant in Italy.

But the demand doesn’t stop there. There are several new distilleries in production, and others that have been brought back to life. Tamdhu Distillery was recently reopened after lying mothballed for a number of years, while Diageo invested £40 million in the launch of the new Roseisle Distillery - the largest of its kind in Scotland - to keep up with international demand for Scotch whisky brands such as Johnny Walker and Buchannan’s. Chivas Brothers re-opened Glen Keith, which had been silent since 1999, last year and has ambitious plans to build a new distillery on the site of the Imperial Distillery at Carron; while Macallan, part of the Edrington Group, also has plans to build a new production site.

And now, among the giants of the industry, comes a new breed: the micro-distillery. It may only be produced in thimble measures compared to the likes of globally-renowned malts, but the amber nectar produced in micro-distilleries is hand crafted and highly intriguing.

One entrepreneur taking the plunge into the world of micro-distilling is Guy Macpherson-Grant. Nearing completion, the distillery is being built in the grounds of his family home, Ballindalloch Castle, which sits alongside some world-famous distilleries.

He says: “Living in malt whisky country, I wanted to create a whisky that will remain in the family for generations to come, much like our family home. Using the water than runs through the Estate, we want to keep the classic infusions of honey, vanilla and fresh fruits that are typical of whisky produced in this area.

“The final flavours will be determined through rigorous experimentation, the casks we decide to mature our whisky in, and for how long. As an example, by aging the whisky in sherry casks, the young flavours tend to evolve to include dried fruits and sweet spice flavours.

“Given all the variables, one thing is for certain: the mature whisky will only be bottled once given final approval by my family.”

The stills in which this robust, classic Speyside malt whisky is to be produced will be installed in May this year, with production planned to commence in July. Once completed, the micro-distillery will be able to produce at least 75,000 litres of single malt whisky.

It will be a true Single Estate Distillery, which means that everything is grown, produced, bottled and sold on site. Visitors to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which runs from May 1 to 5, will be able to get an exclusive behind-the-scenes preview of the distillery site.

Ballindalloch Distillery will be welcoming visitors by appointment during the popular annual Festival, which attracts thousands of visitors to the area to gather and celebrate all that is great about Scotland’s national drink in its spiritual home.

This event – Ballindalloch Distillery: A Hard Hat Preview Experience – has been one of the most popular attractions at the Festival, with only a limited number of tickets remaining. Visitors will be able to enjoy a dram of Macpherson-Grant private cask Cragganmore, aged for more than 20 years, before being shown around the building site of the new distillery and discovering the elements that will go in to producing the malt.

Guy explains: “A couple of years ago, when the family were looking at strategies for the future, we came to the conclusion that there was nowhere else in the world more suited to whisky distillation than Speyside.
“As the world’s leading production area, Speyside is steeped in whisky heritage, skills and experience. Using these fundamental elements, we plan to produce a product that lives up to the excellent reputation of Speyside globally.

“This, together with the natural resources available to us on the Estate, means we are able to make whisky using the traditional values of a small, family distillery, so common in the past but rarely seen today.”

The Macpherson-Grant family is not unfamiliar with the workings of a distillery and the whisky business as they owned a minority stake in Cragganmore for much of the 20th century, before it was bought out by Diageo.

“It is a family decision to return to distilling and to bring together the best elements of what we have around us on Speyside to develop a Single Estate Malt,” adds Guy.

“As soon as it’s finished, matured and bottled, the whisky will be available for purchase at the Castle. There’s nothing more satisfying than creating your own product. Just like growing your own food, I can metaphorically sow the seeds, settle down, and watch it grow.”

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival taking place from May 1 to 5 has a packed programme of over 370 events for whisky enthusiasts. Alongside traditional whisky tastings and distillery tours, the festival will also explore some of the region’s best food.

Pictured: Guy Macpherson-Grant's distillery is being built in the grounds of his family home, Ballindalloch Castle

14 April 2014