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A tour of GlenKinchie

Glenkinchie is sometimes called "The Edinburgh Malt" for its close proximity to Scotland's Capital but is still a 30 minute drive from the city center. Fortunately, the roads are lovely and meander past farmland and golden fields of barley. The grounds of the distillery are absolutely stunning, surrounding by flower garden, fruit trees, and dotted with beehives.

All of this is fitting for a distillery well known for its fresh and grassy aromas. The mature spirit is even described by Sir Charles McLean as "rural...meadows, hedgerows." The distillery's owner, Diageo, leans heavily into this description, highlighting Glenkinchie as one of its "Four Corners of Scotland" as the Lowland representative. This is also played up at the Johnnie Walker Experience where it is shown to be the crucial floral addition to JW whiskies.

Speaking of Johnnie Walker, 3 of the 6 distilleries I visited on this trip were owned by Diageo (which owns Johnnie). And it's easy to wish for a bit more diversity. Perhaps a few more independently owned whiskies? But, say what you will about Diageo, they know how to put on a tour. Every one of their distilleries I visited was beautiful and well organized with informative tour guides. No one is paying me to say this! Anyway, on to the distillery.

The washbacks are stately and fragrant. Five are Oregon pine and one is Douglas Fir. I imagine you can pick out the fir.

Surprisingly for a distillery that plays such a prominent roll for Johnnie Walker, there is only one wash still and one spirit still. Both are short with lyne arms that turn down sharply meaning there is very little reflux. This leads to a spirit with more sulfur (these compounds are pulled from the spirit through copper contact) which produces a "meatier" and "heavier" whisky.

This meatiness (texture, not flavor) is intensified by the worm tub Glenkinchie utilizes. The vast majority of distilleries have transitioned to shell and tube condensers which consist of small tubes for the spirit inside a larger shell which carries cooling water. This method is more compact, easier to control, and provides more copper contact which means a reduction in sulfur. Worm tubs, by contract, consist of a long copper tube which snakes through a tub of cooling water. The spirit tends to move through this faster which results in less copper contact and therefore a fattier, more sulfur heavy spirit. In Glenkinchie's case, the cooling water of their tub is fed by the Kinchie Burn. Our tour guide said that when they emptied the tub last season for cleaning, they found several river trout which they caught and ate!

This tour guide, by the way, was excellent. John had worked as a stillman years ago and was as passionate as he was knowledgeable about the distillery. It would be hard to overstate just how important this is for the enjoyment of a tour, especially if you're going into the distillery with a bit of knowledge already in hand. Plenty of kind and entertaining guides are not prepared to answer any question off script. But John had decades of production experience and stories to share. This is worth more than all the infographics a marketing team can come up with.

Of course, if you visit, I can't ensure that you'll get John as your guide. But I can still promise you'll find a beautiful distillery producing excellent single malt.


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