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Royal Deeside : A Dram of Whisky

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No visit to Scotland would be complete without the taste of a whisky or a visit to a whisky distillery. The North - East of Scotland is the base for many of the finest distilleries in Scotland. Indeed just north of Royal Deeside the Spey Valley is the home of the Scotch Whisky trail where some of the greatest Scotch Whiskies are produced, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, The Macallan, Chivas Regal to name just a few. Many are open to the public providing tours and the opportunity to taste the product. Though some distilleries are large modern complexes many are small and reflect the traditional nature of Scotch Whisky making. Indeed, the Dallas Dhu distillery at Forres is one of the visitor attractions offered by Historic Scotland.

But the great thing about visiting the distilleries is that they provide an excuse for a leisurely drive through beautiful highland scenery. Thus the drive between Crieff and Montrose stopping at Balmoral and the Royal Lochnagar Distillery, though not part of the 'Whisky Trail', combines exceptional countryside with some special distilleries.(See A Dram of Whisky 2)

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Whisky or whiskey ?: normally whisky comes from Scotland, whiskey comes from elsewhere.

A dram is a measure of whisky

Royal Lochnagar Distillery Royal Lochnagar Distillery, Crathie lies a short distance from Balmoral Castle

Whisky Production

Scotch Whisky is (predominantly) produced by converting barley grain into alcohol. There are four main stages in the process : malting, fermentation, distillation and maturation. Few distilleries perform all these stages and malting in particular is usually performed elsewhere. In the malting process the barley grains are allowed to germinate causing the production of special sugars. The grain are then crushed and the malt extract or ' wort ' passes through to the fermentation stage. In this stage yeast is added and the resulting liquid or ' wash' contains about 10% alcohol. The wash is then distilled to produce more concentrated alcohol and to remove by-products. The whisky is stored for several years (typically 10) in oak casks that, in many cases, have previously been used for transporting sherry. Occasionally also caramelised sugar is added. During the storage the oak casks allow the whisky to 'breath' and it steadily adopts subtle flavours from the cask as well as the desired colouring. Subsequently the whisky is diluted to the desired strength.

The barley, water (and peat extracts), casks and production vary between distilleries so each distillery produces its own special malt whisky. An expert whisky taster can tell from which distillery a malt whisky comes. Even the novice can identify some malts from the Isle of Islay by their distinctive smoky taste. But there are even differences between malts produced by the same distillery. Casks that are found to have 'something special' are often stored for longer periods and bottled as specials. Such whiskies may cost many times more than the standard malt.

On visiting a whisky distillery : Because of restrictions on 'drinking and driving' most distilleries now present visitors with miniatures of their product to drink at another time.

Another fine way to sample whisky is to join one of the hill-top safaris occasionally run from Braemar or Ballater. The dram can then be enjoyed along with the splendid views.

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Introduction Journey through Deeside A Dram of Whisky 1 A Dram of Whisky 2 Forests and Woodlands Lochnagar
The River Dee Red Squirrels Craigendarroch Hill, Ballater Clachnaben by Banchory Braemar Weather  




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