A quick trip away to Scotland recently gave us the opportunity to visit two more whisky distilleries on the Scotch Whisky Trail: Tullibardine and Fettercairn. I have written about visiting whisky distilleries before . Visiting distilleries and wineries has become a bit of a theme in our travels! I’ll include links to these other posts at the end of this one.
Why visit whisky distilleries?
Some people visit whisky distilleries simply because they like the amber nectar (!) but even if one is not a whisky drinker, the whisky making process is really interesting. Whilst the ingredients and method are essentially the same everywhere, there are differences and quirks which make each experience different. The whisky distilleries themselves often have a history, they are usually very picturesque and they are always situated in beautiful landscapes. What’s not to like?!
Tullibardine Whisky Distillery
The Tullibardine Whisky Distillery is located in the pretty village of Blackford in Perthshire. This distillery is very easy to access in that it is just off the A9 between Perth and Stirling. Tullibardine has only operated as a whisky distillery since 1947 so in the grand scheme of whisky distilleries, it is not very old. However, alcohol has been made on this site since 1488. It operated as a brewery before it became a whisky distillery and can trace its roots back through historical documents to 1488. That is old!
The Visitor Centre is well laid out and is managed by the very knowledgeable Sabine. It is possible to have a tasting in the Visitor Centre and find out more about the various whiskies produced there from Sabine. Alternatively, various tours are available – and we love whisky tours!
Our experience at Tullibardine was one of the best. We took the “Connoisseurs’ Tour” and at £80 per couple, it was not cheap. However, this was an access all areas tour and we saw parts of the process we had not seen before in all our many visits to whisky distilleries. We were the only two on the tour so we had the guide, Ian, all to ourselves for a full two hours and we were introduced to Craig the Mashman and Stuart the Stillman. It was all much more personal than we have experienced in other whisky distilleries. The tour also included a tasting of 4 different whiskies and we both received a “goody bag” with more samples to take home. I would definitely recommend this tour.
We met Ian, our tour guide, in the Visitor Centre.
The Tullibardine Tour
The whisky producing process at Tullibardine is very traditional and computers have not made many inroads here ( – compare the highly computerised process used in the new Macallan Whisky Distillery. (You can read about this in On the Whisky Trail).
Our tour began just as the malted barley was being delivered so we were able to see (and touch) the barley as it was tipped out of the lorry and through a trapdoor.
The barley is ferried along to the mashhouse beneath the ground on a screw mechanism. Once inside it is transported upwards and fed into the mill, which grinds the barley into grist. When the mill and the de-stoner are in action, the noise and the vibrations are incredible. It was the first time we had ever seen how the barley was taken into the mill and the first time we had seen a mill in action.
After the rubbish has been weeded out and the grist made, the barley is fed into the giant mash tun. Water is added and the whole is heated up to release the sugars from the grain and produce “wort”. This process is repeated 3 times at increasing temperatures to ensure no sugars are wasted. The exhausted mash is typically sent for cattle feed, but more recently Tullibardine and other whisky distilleries are sending the leftovers for use as bio-fuel.
For the first time we saw the mash tun being filled up.
In the next stage, the wort is fed into into the wash back where yeast is added and fermentation commences. It bubbles away as it ferments and there is a powerful aroma if you still your nose in!
Tullibardine uses stainless steel wash backs as opposed to the Oregon pine more often used in Scotland. Fermentation has to be monitored quite carefully – or it can escape!
After fermentation, the newly formed “beer” (about 8 or 9% alcohol at this stage) goes into the copper stills. I think the huge copper stills used in the making of Scotch Whisky are just beautiful.
Again, we had always taken this part of the process a little on trust; on this occasion, however, we arrived at just the right time to see Stuart actually filling one of the stills with a “charge” of “beer” prior to starting the first distillation. In Tullibardine the whisky goes through two distillations. We asked Stuart how high he filled the pot still: “to the top” was the simple answer!
We had seen the “new spirit” being separated out in the spirit safe before, but Ian explained this process very well. The different parts of the spirit (often referred to as “the head, the heart and the tails”) are piped away for the next stage of the process; I had not seen, or at least had not noticed before, the actual pipes beneath the safe going in different directions, the heads and tails going back for re-distillation in the next batch, the heart going on to maturation.
The Tullibardine Warehouse
One of the most interesting parts on any tour of a whisky distillery is going into the warehouse where the whisky is matured in barrels. The warehouse at Tullibardine is one of the best.
The smell (from the Angels’ Share!) is just wonderful and there is something really special about wandering among the barrels stacked up on racks, some of which have been there many years. Tullibardine is no exception. It also stores barrels for privileged clients!
Whilst visiting the warehouse Ian introduced us to a device we had not come across before: “the stealer”! This contraption, which looked very old and rather home-made, turned out to be a tube with a one-way valve. It is used for extracting a sample of the whisky from the barrel to check how it is maturing. Did we use the stealer? ……..Don’t be silly!….. This was a bonded warehouse so duty had not yet been paid!
And then, of course, the barrels have to be filled. That would fall to me then!
The Tullibardine Distillery also has a newly installed cooperage where they will be refurbishing their own barrels. Whisky in Scotland is matured in used barrels. The parent company for Tullibardine is Michel Picard, a French wine maker based in the heart of Burgundy, so there will be a ready supply of well-seasoned barrels! All of the colour and much of the taste of whisky come from the barrel and Tullibardine “finish” the whisky in a variety of different casks. The cooperage is not quite fully functional yet, but the plan will be to open this to tours also. We visited the Speyside Cooperage last year and it was really interesting, so this new addition to Tullibardine should be well worth seeing.
The Tullibardine Tasting
The tour concluded with the tasting in the beautiful tasting room. It was a tutored tasting and we always learn something new from these. To accompany the four whiskies, selected chocolates were also provided. Tullibardine produces some wonderful whiskies, including limited edition specials. We purchased two bottles: one which had been finished in a burgundy cask and one, this year’s special called ‘The Murray’, which had been finished in Marsala casks. Both have been very much enjoyed!
Ian was a knowledgeable guide with a great sense of humour. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour of the Tullibardine Whisky Distillery and if you are following the Whisky Trail in Scotland we would highly recommend a visit.
Fettercairn Whisky Distillery
Fettercairn was the second distillery which we visited on this trip. It is different from Tullibardine in many ways. First of all, Fettercairn is rather more out of the way, up narrow country lanes and way out in the Aberdeenshire countryside. Secondly, there is only one tour available and at only £7.50 per person, including a tasting of one whisky, it represents excellent value. The tour lasted a little under an hour and again we were the only two on this tour (although the next tour an hour later was fully booked with twenty people. Actually, it was fully booked with 20 young women all wearing matching hats and clearly having a wonderful time; we think it might have been a hen party!).
The Fettercairn Whisky Distillery is set in beautiful parkland just on the edge of the picturesque village of Fettercairn. It is worth visiting the village of Fettercairn to see the Fettercairn Royal Arch, a wonderful landmark in the village. The distillery has lovely views and the visitor centre is pretty. I love the logo at Fettercairn: a unicorn! The logo features all around the distillery and on the products. The unicorn, of course, is the national animal for Scotland.
The Fettercairn Tour
We had two tour guides for the two of us: Clive and Claire. Claire was just learning the ropes, but she was already very knowledgeable. The tour included all the stages of the whisky making process: the mash tuns, the washbacks and the beautiful copper stills.
The washbacks at Fettercairn are beautiful and we could see the contents at all the different stages of fermentation.
And we were able to look down on to the beautiful copper stills.
One of the differences in the process here is that they cool the spirit by running water down the outside of the still. I had not seen this before and think it may be unique. It looked at first as if the still had sprung a leak!
We also visited the warehouse. Unfortunately, a new roof had been installed last year and the smell of new wood, whilst pleasant in itself, rather masked the smell of the maturing spirit! I am sure this will right itself in due course.
Fettercairn: The Tasting
At the end of the tour, we had a tasting of one of the Fettercairn signature whiskies. Whisky is a very personal taste and if I am honest, this was not my favourite; I tasted the burn more than the flavour and even a drop of water did not help.
Among the Fettercairn whiskies for sale in the shop they have a bottle of 50 year old, priced at £18,000! Beyond our reach, I am afraid. Also on sale were whiskies from some of the other whisky distilleries owned by White and Mackay, their owners ( – very few whisky distilleries are independent these days; most are owned by large international groups).
The tour was interesting and informative. Claire and Clive were both very good guides and we enjoyed our visit. If you are interested in visiting a small and traditional whisky distillery in a lovely little Scottish village, this would tick those boxes perfectly.
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