Have we reached peak whisky enthusiasm yet? In my opinion, quite possibly not. There must surely be an ever-expanding army of whisky fans out there in the wide world, to consume and enjoy the increasing volumes and varieties of releases. Every distillery or brand has its staunch supporters, some more vociferous than others.
The willingness of whisky fans to travel significant distances for worthwhile experiences – be they tastings, festivals or any other gatherings – got me reflecting on my whisky travels, limited as they may be. As a relative newbie, of limited means, I have toured a few distilleries with my intrepid partner Dora the Whisky Explorer but until recently we’ve done no more than the standard tours offered. These have brought a mixed bag, perhaps as should be expected. Different aspects of different tours have been memorable for me: the incredible vaulted ceilings of the warehousing at Deanston, the tastefully presented history exhibits at Lindores or Clydeside, or the stunning scenic backdrop to Kavalan. These experiences also highlight the mediocrity of other tours which rattle through the usual beats and leave you hardly any better informed than at the beginning…
With an apparently ever-growing group of enthusiasts across the globe, it’s no surprise that the number and variety of whisky experiences offered by distilleries are on the rise. From warehouse tastings to playing at master blender, to getting involved in the mechanics of whisky-making itself there is an ever-increasing array of options. They do, of course, come with price tags to match but subscription rates strongly suggest that the prices are fair given the experiences offered.
On my own personal whisky adventures thus far, I would consider my visit to Glencadam as the best value for money distillery experience by a mile. Ok, fine, it’s hardly a fair contest given they don’t currently charge anything to visit (they instead suggest a donation to one of their charitable causes at the tour’s end in the tasting room) but I stick by it! Current options for tours are fairly restrictive with a choice of either Tuesdays or Thursdays and it is essential to arrange it with the distillery well in advance. We visited on a cool sunny September afternoon, during a weeklong visit with my parents in Angus. There is no carefully curated gift shop and not a tea room insight. If there are any hot drinks on-site, I assume they are taken in a well-used mug. On the plus side, however, if you can work out your logistics you will most likely be treated to a personal tour with distillery manager Douglas Fitchett. Doug was incredibly generous and we ended up spending almost 3 hours in his company.
We were free to set our own pace and ask whatever questions popped into our heads as we went. We followed the distilling process from beginning to end, twisting and turning through what is a pretty compact distillery: surprisingly so given its respectable annual output which approaches 1.5 million litres of pure alcohol, produced via one pair of stills. This is achieved by running the process efficiently, and Doug was entirely open that they use a fairly short fermentation time at Glencadam of about 48 hours. The washbacks are stainless steel and tightly packed together. The pair of stills comes down on the ‘industrial’ side; the wash still is kettle heated while the spirit still has internal steam pipework. Following the time and space efficiency theme here, both use shell and tube condensers. In addition to the basic mechanisms of whisky-making there was ample opportunity to chat; about the history of the distillery, Doug’s CV and the attitude of the owners to name a few topics. We also had time for curiosities, such as peering through an unassuming hatch to see the space where the axle of the old water wheel would have rested.
Following the production side, we were granted access to a couple of warehouses, both racked and traditional earthen floored dunnage. The on-site storage has capacity for about 24,000 casks, almost all of which was in use. Additional storage is located in Coatbridge where Angus Dundee Distillers (who own Tomintoul in addition to Glencadam) also operates a bottling plant. After a quick introduction to Doug’s dugs – two gigantic mountain dogs who were just about contained by a 9-foot-high fence – it was back to the wonderfully dated lounge for a few drams before home time. Well, it would have been if I wasn’t designated driver but at least one of our party of two got to enjoy a few sips. Fortunately, we were prepared with sample bottles so the majority of the pours came home to be enjoyed later.
As Mark and Jason have both noted in previous reviews, Glencadam offers a wide array of official bottlings at various ages from 10 to 21 years old, all of which was generously offered to us at the tour’s conclusion. We skipped the NAS Origin 1825 version at Doug’s instruction: diplomatically we might say that this bottling represents a difference of opinions between the people making the whisky and those who market it. The majority of Glencadam’s single malt releases have been matured in ex-bourbon casks but other cask types are utilised in small-batch releases. One of these is the 17-year-old Port wood Finish ‘Triple Cask’. A somewhat confusing name, this whisky is not matured in three types of wood but rather was double matured; first in ex-bourbon casks before a second maturation period in a trio of ex-port pipes. It is un-chill filtered, natural colour and is currently available via Master of Malt for £97.76, or The Whisky Exchange at £97.95, or Amazon for £97.99.
Glencadam 17yo Portwood finish triple cask 46% – review
Colour: rose gold
On the nose: Initial impressions a nice balance between sweetness and woodiness. Red fruit jam, such as strawberry and plum, jumps out along with fondant icing. There is a note of stale spices like cinnamon that runs throughout. I get a little raw dough/yeasty note, not at all unpleasant as well as a herbal edge; it recalls sitka spruce needles. I also find a fleeting note of candle wax.
In the mouth: Sweet from the off and it continues that way! Luckily, though, there is a lovely white pepper spiciness that accompanies it. As on the nose there is some slightly stale dry spice, and some vanilla comes through too. Plenty of stewed red fruit and some stewed black tea. The tannins are pretty light and it never feels drying on the palate. The mouthfeel is light-ish but doesn’t feel underpowered. A fairly short to medium finish with soft spice sugary jam.
Glencadam is a distillery that is set up and operated to produce significant quantities of whisky. But, just as small-scale craft production doesn’t guarantee an end result of great whisky, neither does production at large scale preclude it. From my visit, it truly seemed that the team at Glencadam care about producing high quality single malt whisky, whilst simultaneously supporting blends. This particular expression was very enjoyable; it is easy drinking and would perhaps make a good dessert whisky with the sweetness levels turned up as they are.
As for the tour experience, it was utterly enthralling and exceeded my expectations. As noted above it’s not the easiest to coordinate, even if you’re fortunate enough to live in Scotland, but is worth the effort if you can. It is also worth knowing that the tour experience is likely to change as approval has been granted for a Glencadam visitor centre with shop and tea room.
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