The Whisky Tasting Club

Brechin: Jewel of the North?

I don’t like Brechin. Today it’s wet, cold and closed.
The one main street is at the top of the hill and is littered with pubs, pubs converted in to takeaways, chemists (three) and discount stores. There’s a shop called Little Poland, and an ‘extreme tanning shop’ which, given the colour of most of the locals, can’t be doing good business. Heaven knows what they look like at the END of winter.

I’m no snob but the few locals around are pretty scary. There’s one at the door of each of the pubs smoking a cigarette, and one school boy passes drinking what looks like a pint of super strength lager but is actually a very large can of caffeine-reinforced energy drink. One ‘low cost’ shop is in crisis – announcing through a sign in the window that in three days’ time the price of wool is to rise to £1.50 a metre.

I find Glencadam distillery by walking through a graveyard. Not a wee church one, either: a municipal one the size of Heathrow Airport with more paths than Hyde Park. I’ll get lost here on my way back later, stumbling through the gloom and rain of a Highland Autumn, and unintentionally discover Brechin City FC. I wouldn’t fancy my chances visiting here as an away supporter.

But Glencadam distillery is a delight.
It’s a compact distillery, its equipment squeezed in to the narrowest of spaces. You can visit if you book in advance but you’ll be warned that narrow corridors and steep staircases make it a challenge.

Worth it, though. My tour guide is Doug Fitchett, and he’s generous with his time. Highlight here are the stills, where an external heat exchanger is used to heat the spirit for distillation and the liquid passes from still to heat exchanger on a continuous loop. This is now the environmentally approved and energy-efficient way of doing things – you’ll find similar at Diageo’s super-distillery at Roseisle – but Hiram Walker imported this system from Canada in the 50s and it’s unique.
Glencadam also blends on site and last year sent 4.5 million litres of blended whisky to supermarkets across the world. The operation is an impressive one, and it makes this dinky distillery a veritable powerhouse of whisky output.
We end our tour tasting the new releases – a 14 year old sherry finish, which spends 18 months in oloroso wood, and is a delight, the rich fruity and toffee notes off-setting Glencadam’s trademark pepper bite; and a 12 year old port wood finish which is pink, light and zesty, with a distinctly feminine flower and rosewater feel to it, and a gentle tinned strawberries in syrup note on the palate.
Back in the graveyard there’s a monument to the memory of Gordon Ramsay.
Weird place. Weird visit. Nice whisky.
That’ll do.

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  • To make a good whisky can take a long old time. It only seems right to make it in a place where there is clearly fuck all else going on. Brechin sounds ideal.

  • thats it, Brechin for our holidays next year

  • Aye, it’s nae the bonniest. I was fortunate enough to cycle to Glencadam – and then on to Fettercairn – in glorious early April sunshine when everything appears much more hopeful and forgiving. Douglas is quite a character and a very different host, as the distillery manager, to your standard tour guide. You get a sense that he really isn’t following a script from head office, and my tour was all the more memorable because of this. The new make is rather nice, I thought, and I’m keen to sample more of the newly-expanded range.

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