Brown-Forman's Scotch distilleries and Speyside Cooperage
The BenRiach distillery is in Scotland’s Speyside region, an area that’s home to many of the country’s distilleries, as well as a great deal of farmland.
BenRiach is more of a working distillery than a tourist destination, and there is no real visitor center, but whisky connoisseurs can book a 90-minute tour of the distillery to see all aspects of production.
The mash tun at BenRiach has a capacity of almost six tons. The water used at the distillery comes from a borehole in a nearby field.
Water and grains fill the mash tun, which operates in six-hour cycles. The water is drained and refilled four times throughout the process.
The washbacks at BenRiach are made of stainless steel. The fermentation process takes about 75 hours, during which yeast converts sugar into alcohol.
There are four stills at BenRiach that run slowly producing a longer middle cut than is typical for the Speyside region, according to global brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan. The whisky is double distilled.
The low wines, feints and spirits all run through the spirit safe. The master distiller can sample the new make spirit and measure the alcohol content from this locked box.
The new make spirit flows into a glass bowl inside the spirit safe. The blue color comes from copper carbonate deposits, the result of a reaction between the spirit and the copper.
A window allows you to see what is going on in the neck of the still. The wash is heated in the pot below, and the alcohol in vapor form rises through the neck to a condenser where it is cooled into a distillate.
At BenRiach, a dunnage warehouse is used to age the whisky. Barrels of all types are stacked two or three high, allowing air to circulate around them. The oldest one is Warehouse 13.
Many types of barrels are used to mature the whisky at BenRiach, including bourbon, sherry, wine and rum.
The malting floor is in operation for just a few weeks a year. The barley is spread out on the floor and allowed to germinate for seven to 10 days, before it is collected and kiln-dried, stopping the process.
Malting floor workers had some fun on this day at BenRiach, writing their names in the barley waiting to be collected and dried.
This tool is used to turn over the barley on the malting floor. As it germinates it produces heat, so it must be spread out and turned over regularly so as not to overheat.
In the kiln room, a stack of peat sits ready for use. The BenRiach produces peated whisky a few weeks out of every year, allowing the distillery to produce a range of expressions.
The 10-year-old is the flagship expression of the BenRiach range. It is fresh and light with just a touch of spice, the result of aging in bourbon barrels, virgin oak casks and a smaller amount of sherry butts.
The BenRiach 21 adds a variety of red wine barrels to the mix, giving it a slight dryness with subtle fruit notes.
The BenRiach 25 will be released this summer in the U.S. for about $550 per bottle. It’s rich, fruity and complex, and very small batch – only four barrels go into each release.
About 5,000 people visit The GlenDronach distillery every year in the Valley of Forgue, which is also home to Scotland’s Castle Trail.
The East Highland hills provide a pastoral backdrop to The GlenDronach. Most of the surrounding land is used for farming, and sometimes it feels like there are more sheep than people.
Warehouses line the road that leads down to the distillery’s visitor center and stillhouse. There are about 35,000 barrels aging in three dunnage and two racking warehouses.
Sherry butts wait to be filled outside a warehouse across the road from the distillery. If you remove the bung from a barrel, you can smell the sweet fortified wine that it recently held.
The GlenDronach imports Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks from Spain that it uses to age its whisky. There are still a few bourbon barrels in the warehouses, but it’s predominantly sherry casks.
The whisky is distilled twice in The GlenDronach stillhouse, which produces about 1.2 million liters per year.
The kiln room ceased operations in 1996, along with the malting floor, but visitors can still catch a glimpse of this part of the distillery’s history.
The signature red paint is everywhere at The GlenDronach. The distillery was founded in 1826 by James Allardice and has gone through various incarnations since.
The Glendronach’s washbacks are made of pine. Fermentation lasts for about 85 to 90 hours, a bit longer than at BenRiach.
The stills here produce a new make spirit that is slightly oily, with a nice grainy flavor. The resulting whisky is non-chill-filtered and no color is added.
The 12-year-old is the core expression of The GlenDronach. It’s aged in PX and Oloroso sherry casks. A 15-year-old expression will eventually join the lineup.
The 18-year-old is named after founded James Allardice. It’s deep and rich, the result of being aged solely in Oloroso sherry casks.
The 21-year-old is called Parliament, for the legendary parliament of rooks that is said to guard the distillery. This whisky is aged in both PX and Oloroso casks.
The GlenDronach Hand-Filled is available only at the distillery. Visitors can fill a bottle of this cask-strength spirit themselves and purchase it at the distillery’s store.
The oldest barrel in The GlenDronach warehouses dates back to 1968. The distillery sells some of its whisky to brands looking for components of a blend, a common practice in Scotland.
Barrels can be as old as 80 years in The GlenDronach warehouses. As global brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan says, you never throw away a good, working barrel.
Glenglassaugh was founded in 1875, but it is relatively unknown in America. This is likely because it was shuttered for more than 20 years, from the mid-‘80s to 2008.
Master blender Rachel Barrie says the flavor profile of Glenglassaugh is linked to the natural elements surrounding this coastal distillery. Glenglassaugh means "valley of the grey-green place."
The copper door was stolen from the mash tun at Glenglassaugh sometime during the years the distillery was inactive. That was replaced, but the rest of the tun is original.
The washbacks date back to the distillery’s opening. A visit to the bottom floor reveals just how massive these fermentation tanks are.
The top floor allows visitors a close-up look at the old wood that the washbacks are made of. During the time that the distillery was closed, they were filled with water to prevent drying out and splitting.
The beer from the washback can be tasted before it’s distilled. It’s a fruity, grainy, slightly sour liquid with an alcohol percentage that is much lower than it will have once it’s distilled into new make spirit.
The two stills completely fill the stillroom at Glenglassaugh. The new make spirit is light with a citrusy tang to it.
The spirit safe at Glenglassaugh overlooks a lawn leading out to the coast, one of the most stunning views you will find at any distillery in Scotland.
Sandend Bay lies just over a ridge outside the Glenglassaugh distillery. You will often find people surfing here, a brave feat considering the rugged and unpredictable Scottish weather.
A variety of casks are used to mature the whisky at Glenglassaugh, including sherry, bourbon and red wine.
Many of the casks in the warehouse at Glenglassaugh were filled in recent years, as the distillery only became active again in 2008. But there are some expensive, old bottles available to purchase at the gift shop.
Barrels age quietly in the dunnage warehouse at Glenglassaugh. The current lineup has no age statements, but a 10-year-old expression will eventually be added to the core lineup.
Revival was the first release from the newly operational distillery. It’s aged in red wine and bourbon casks, then vatted and matured again in sherry casks.
Evolution has been matured in first-fill ex-Tennessee whiskey barrels, a clear benefit of the distillery’s relationship with Brown-Forman.
Torfa is a peated expression from Glenglassaugh, one of the few that is made in this style. The peat level is much lower than an Islay whisky, but it plays nicely with the sweetness.
The Speyside Cooperage is where the Brown-Forman distilleries in Scotland, as well as many others, get their barrels. Scottish distilleries mainly use previously used barrels – bourbon, sherry, red wine, etc. – so this cooperage is responsible for repairing them and making sure they are in good working order.
The workers here are highly skilled. New recruits undergo years of intensive training before they work on their own. Each worker is paid by the barrel, so speed is key when it comes to repairs.
Mountains of barrels stretch into the distance outside of the cooperage, all headed for one of the many distilleries that dot the Scottish countryside.
Bourbon, rum, sherry, red wine, quarter cask, hogshead – every barrel type imaginable will be repaired at this busy cooperage.
Steam softens the staves of the barrel so that it becomes pliable and easier to work with.
In a fiery display, barrels are re-charred to give them new life. This allows the wood to impart the vanilla and caramel flavors into the whisky that define its character.