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Distillery Visit: The brand new Glenkinchie Distillery
Today I was invited to take part in a *PR visit to the newly reopened Glenkinchie Distillery. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience so I couldn’t wait to share it with you! I visited the distillery just over two years ago and it’s quite a big change that’s taken place in these last few months. And I would say it’s definitely been a positive development!
Good to know
How do I get there?
You can either drive to the distillery as it’s located about 30-40mins outside of central Edinburgh (15 miles away) OR if you are in Edinburgh you can book the shuttle service that takes you straight to the distillery and back. I highly recommend that if you aren’t driving. It also means you can all try a dram or two without someone having to be the driver. I had friends who tried taking a local bus but ended up having to walk for over an hour to get there…
How much does the tour cost?
The standard tour Glenkinchie Flavour Journey costs £13pp and is about 1.5h, or £26pp if you want to include the Shuttle Bus from Waterloo Place, Edinburgh. I would highly recommend the shuttle service if you don’t have a car! They are also planning on hosting other types of tours as well. Of course when restriction allow it, so keep an eye on the different options available on their website.
Do I need to prebook?
I would recommend booking in advance to ensure a spot, especially in these times when tour numbers are limited.
Do I get to taste whisky on the tour?
Not at the moment due to the current UK restrictions leading up to November 2nd. But the plan is that you get to enjoy 3 drams and 3 wee seasonal cocktails as part of the standard tour. If you aren’t able to try samples on the tour you’ll get an alternative to take home instead.
Who is Johnnie Walker?
Johnnie Walker, visualised through The Striding Man, was a Scottish grocer who started an empire of blending whisky. Glenkinchie is one of the whiskies that goes in to the world renowned Johnnie Walker blended whiskies. There will soon be a Johnnie Walker Experience on Princes Street in central Edinburgh, which will be linked to Glenkinchie distillery. Glenkinchie is however very much its own working distillery. The tour mentions Johnnie Walker, but just in passing and the tour primarily focuses on the distillery itself.
I’ve been before…?
I’ve been on the old Glenkinchie tour – is it worth visiting the new one?
Yes! I’ve been on the “old tour” as well and I was amazed to see the new one. I think the “new tour” has been very well designed, incorporating something modern with classic elements. Making it more enjoyable and creates a more unique distillery experience. Keep a close eye on the details, there’s some really good ones!
Doors are officially reopening this Thursday, 29th October and due to the current situation in the world with COVID-19 there are some restrictions on the tour. They will be evaluated and adjusted on a regular basis to comply with the latest restrictions and changes. We felt really safe and looked after during the tour. There’s lots of stations for hand sanitiser, marks on the floor so you know where to stand to keep your distance. And also a wrist temperature control at the entrance.
The Glenkinchie Distillery Tour
Immediately when we arrived at the distillery you could tell things had changed. The entrance is more open to showcase the building and inside you are greeted by the reception and a big distillery shop.
One of the big standouts from the tour experience was the staff. They were all so friendly and I got the impression that they were really proud and excited to show the revamped distillery to visitors. We recognised some of the staff straight away and it’s so lovely that there’s a lot of people working at the distillery that are locals and some that have worked there for ages. They also really know their stuff about Glenkinchie.
We had Fraser as our tour guide and he was brilliant. We had no problem hearing what he said even though he was wearing a mask throughout the entire tour. And he effortlessly adjusted the information to our level. He also had a great personality which made the tour feel relaxed and interesting, instead of scripted and formal.
On the image above you’ll see the distillery bell which used to be a signal for when the staff would gather round back in the day and receive their ration of new make. You also got a little bit extra if you’d done some really demanding or tough tasks… Imagine if you had that at work!
Glenkinchie Distillery is located in the countryside outside of Edinburgh and used to be a farm before it turned in to a distillery. The road that leads to the distillery is fairly small and winding during the last wee bit, so if you get travel sick, just be a bit mindful of that. It has very charming surroundings however and you really feel like you are in the countryside.
There’s parts of the tour which I won’t spoil to you. I think the surprise is part of the experience. But there’s some areas of the tour where you get more of a visual experience, something that feels very informative and fun. One fact that I absolutely love however is that the distillery model that lives in one of the rooms at Glenkinchie Distillery, was made in 1924 (!) and has an interesting history of moving around between museums and distilleries before ending up here. Apparently it is a model that actually could be used for production. So every year there needs to be an official check to make sure it’s not being used.
Every room we entered felt really thought through and there were so many elements that really enhanced the experience. When you visit distilleries there’s always little touches and details that are really interesting and just the experience of seeing a new distillery is wonderful. However, the production process is basically the same in all distilleries. So it can easily get a bit repetitive the more distilleries you visit. Which is why it’s great to see a distillery like Glenkinchie that definitely can tell you all about their production if you’re curious, but they choose to focus on aspects of their story and their whisky that might be a bit more engaging. I really want to come back when the COVID-19 restrictions ease up. Primarily to see the distillery tour in all its glory.
If you know me, then you know I have a soft spot for vintage, old things and items with a story – and the grist elevator on the right of the photo above is just beautiful. It’s of Porteus make – the famous mills that were so good that the company went out of business. This was because no-one ever needed a replacement. It’s just a little example of how details like these show how it’s very much a working distillery. And right next to it there’s a display of production which uses some brilliant ways to showcase how it all works. This is also one of the best ways to explain production at a distillery that I’ve seen. It’s usually quite tricky to grasp how whisky production works, but at Glenkinchie they’re using some visual (and manual) aids which definitely make it easier to understand.
And speaking of my love for stories and vintage. Just look at this stunning wall of photos from the distillery. I’m sure there’s a lot of incredible stories that the people in those photos could tell. Fraser also told us that when restrictions loosen up they’re planning on putting in some headphones where guests could hear some of these stories that they’ve already recorded from the Glenkinchie Distillery people.
Fraser took us through the production before we set foot in the main part of the distillery. Which is of course where the production actually happens. I think it’s a good way of doing it as it gives you a better understanding of what you are seeing when you actually stand in front of mash tuns, wash backs and stills.
Another great thing is that, apart from the spirit safe, you can take photos of pretty much everything!
The Glenkinchie Distillery Stills
These stills are so impressive! I believe Glenkinchie has the largest wash still in Scotland, or at least one of the largest. Until you’ve seen these stills and can compare them to others you can’t really grasp how big they actually are.
After the still room you go outside for a wee bit. Here Fraser told us about how Glenkinchie works with sustainability, which was great to learn. Also I love visiting distilleries in autumn! There’s just something so charming about the crisp cold air, warm still rooms and (usually) a dram or two. He also told us about the quite wild wildlife surrounding the distillery. They have acquired bee hives and will be selling the honey in the shop which will also be used for cocktail masterclasses. And they’ve also spotted otters in the Glenkinchie Burn! And if that wasn’t enough, Glenkinchie Distillery actually isn’t allowed to do anything to the top floor of the building as there’s bats living there.
During the tour there was a lot of interactive scents. Everything from identifying the aromas that might be a bit more typical to the character of Glenkinchie Distillery, to rubbing new make on your hands to get a lovely nosing experience. Everything of course in a safe and clean way. One thing that really intrigued me was that the part of the tour that tells you about maturation, actually is a room that acts as a real warehouse since there’s real casks sitting in it. The casks were filled in 2020 so eventually these will help spread a lovely warehouse & whisky scent in the room. This is something I really appreciate at a tour – it’s just such a magical scent! This was also one of the things that I thought was a good example of how the tour has improved. As the “old tour” showed you a warehouse with some casks behind a glass wall. Something that makes things feel almost a bit “plastic” and overly commercial, in my opinion. Especially when you know pretty much all the casks would be maturing on another site.
I have previously mentioned the details of the tour, that for me just made the whole experience feel really nice and thought through. Instead of feeling commercial, and it was little things like this on the photo below. On the doors in the warehouse there’s actual big locks which I belive belonged to the old warehouse building. Since this room is functioning as an actual warehouse, they need to properly lock it up every day. The walls in this room are also made from the wood of old retired wash backs and so is some of the benches outside.
A big thumbs up for this kind of upcycling for me!
The Tasting at Glenkinchie Distillery
Next on the tour we would’ve had the tasting which takes part in this pretty room below.
A tasting room complete with their very own flavour wheel. So you can identify the aromas you might get in your whisky.
Three drams and three wee cocktails. And the cocktails are changing by the season, so don’t be surprised if different flavours are presented in summer compared to winter.
After the tasting you end up in the bar where you are more than welcome to have a seat and finish your dram. And perhaps have a look at what they’re offering. Of course subject to whatever the restrictions are saying. There’s also another tasting room, which I’m guessing would be for the upcoming masterclasses that they are planning on hosting.
There’s definitely worse places to enjoy a dram than in a room surrounded by casks.
I had no idea of what to expect when we arrived at Glenkinchie today but I definitely had a wonderful experience. I think they’ve succeeded in creating a distillery experience that leads to the way to what some distillery tours will be in the future. Expertly balancing classic and historic elements with fresh and new ideas that enhance the whole experience. I also really enjoyed how they incorporate the importance of blended whiskies. They hold a really important role in whisky history! And as Glenkinchie is an important blending component in Johnnie Walker it makes sense to include that in the tour as well. I can definitely recommend visiting Glenkinchie Distillery, no matter if you like or don’t like whisky. It’s a lot of experience that you get for £13. One that I think would suit a lot of people.
Have you been to Glenkinchie? What did you think?
Looking for more inspiration for distillery visits? Check out my other posts here!
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