The world is once again open, and summer has seen global travel fully reopen and tourists flock to destinations that haven’t seen tourism in quite some time, through the pandemic. Scotch whisky travel, which was reaching record highs before the pandemic began, is also coming back dynamically and Diageo, one of the largest drinks and whisky companies in the world, has taken it to the next level with new spaces, luxury partners, and immersive experiences.
Through Diageo Rare & Exceptional one can now fully experience Scotland. Whisky lovers are taken across Scotland to experience the company’s famed distilleries, accommodations and local cuisine by their luxury partners, and gain an in-depth and full look into how the company’s many distilleries operate both independently and also in sync with all the others across Scotland, making Scotch the magical and historical drink we all know it to be.
Our tour begins at Candacraig, one of Diageo’s partners. The castle, previously owned by Billy Conelly, has seen a myriad of celebrities stay over through the years including Sean Connery, Robin Williams, and Steve Martin. Gorgeous grounds and an impressive amount of tartan decor transport us right into the heart of Scotland and prepare us for the whisky adventures to come. We are joined by Diageo’s global brand ambassador, Ewan Gunn. Gunn is somewhat of an encyclopedia of knowledge and the perfect person to be guiding us through this trip.
The first distillery we visit is one steeped in history, the Royal Lochnagar distillery. While it is one of the smallest distilleries held by the group and the site holds a Royal Warrant, that it holds to this day. The distillery has had a long and challenging history, but today continues to grow in popularity as fans seek out the light, grassy, and fruity make that the talented team create. We take a peak in the warehouse, which holds a large number of the rarest casks Diageo has across its broad portfolio. Tod Bradbury, head of rare and collectible whiskies at Justerini & Brooks leads us through a fantastic tasting of some of the rarest and oldest casks Diageo has in their warehouses. We move on to Cardhu.
The Cardhu tour begins with a hugely creative animation showcasing the Johnnie Walker brand history, with a large emphasis on the women in the Walker family that overcame numerous hardships in order to help the brand reach the global success it enjoys today. The creative and modern touches continue throughout the visitors centre of Cardhu where a modern, elegant kitchen and seating area invites guests to enjoy a cocktail, whisky, or soft drink. We are later ushered into the newly created Brand Home of Cardhu with, again, minimalistic, elegant decor and some fantastic whiskies to try, meant for Diageo’s most loyal clients and other visitors.
Unlike the Royal Lochnagar distillery, Cardhu can produce a huge amount of whisky weekly as the site creates one of the key components in the Johnnie Walker whisky range.
The next distillery on the list is the legendary Mortlach distillery. Mortlach rarely accepts any visitors and as such does not boast a traditional visitor’s centre. So, a visit to the site is a real treat. Among other things, what makes Mortlach so special is the incredibly complicated distillation process that results in the rich and complex Mortlach spirit. The Mortlach brand has been quickly growing in popularity in recent years, due to the eye-catching branding and, more so, the complex spirit. Therefore, as the team puts it, even despite the complex methods of production, there is no plan to simplify the process. Apparently, even trained distillers are sent to Mortlach to expand their knowledge.
After an eventful day we arrive at Rothes Glen, one of Scotland’s newest attractions. Founded by the Whisky Magazine founder Damian Riley-Smith, the castle features 14 gorgeous rooms, all equipped with their own bathroom, many of which are as big as the rooms themselves. The decor has been kept as close to what one would expect from a classic castle, while some tasteful additions add to the overall space. The fact the place is owned by a whisky expert also comes through with tasteful whisky vaults and cabinets full of goodies across the entire house. After freshening up, a fantastic dinner using local Scottish ingredients is served, all paired with some fantastic drams. A fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef is paired with the phenomenal Lagavulin 1991 Prima & Ultima 1st Release. And a rich chocolate fondant is then paired with the Talisker 1988 Prima & Ultima 1st Release.
Our tour concludes the next day at the newly renovated Brora distillery with our amazing host, Andrew Flatt, Brora’s Brand Home host and Jackie Robertson, the master distiller tasked with bringing the Brora spirit back to life. More on that here.
The ‘Experience Scotland’ tour was catered to our preferences, and thus, yours will be completely different. Nonetheless, one thing is for certain – Each and every tour introduces some of the most beautiful places in in Scotland and some of the most welcoming and hospitable figures across the entire whisky industry. If there is one trip to take through the heart of Scotch Whisky, this is the one.
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