This article is taken from the October 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
Scotland, of skirling mountains and lilting waters flowing through the dales of the clans.” Laurence Olivier, narrating A Queen Is Crowned, waxed lyrical about this lovely land of lochs and rivers and mystical lore. One such river is the Turret, a burn running down from the head of Glen Turret and its loch towards Crieff. The Victorian artist Sydney Percy captured this scene in his Highland landscapes series more than a century and a half ago.
Whisky, like any other spirit or wine should be drunk slowly and in good company
Nestling beside the river, two miles north west of the town, lies the Glenturret distillery, home to the oldest whisky makers in Scotland. Founded in 1763 and with only one short intermission courtesy of American prohibition, which did as few favours for distillers north of the border as it did for lawmen in the northern United States, Glenturret’s stillmen have worked steadily for two centuries to bottle a heady mixture of phenolic compounds, lactones and aldehydes which tickle and tantalise with equal pleasure.
Chief of their clan is the 15-year-old Maiden 2020. Born out of refill casks that deliver vibrant oaky notes together with undertones of caramel and apple, Glenturret’s chief whisky maker Bob Dalgarno has ushered into the world a single malt of rare quality and maturity and with the hue of polished mahogany. Yet every palate is different and for my money the 12-year-old malt is even better — as well as considerably less expensive. This younger, softer whisky has slightly less caramel, a touch more honey and a tint like teak to make it a daytime dram as well as an evening warmer. Both are presented to perfection in stylishly tapering bottles which both boast the rich russet colour of the liquid and betray the influence of the distillery’s new owners — Lalique. The French glassmaker, eternally elegant, complements the whisky with cool, cut crystal; a range of gleaming decanters and tumblers sit alongside the glinting bottles in the bar and on the tables of a comfortable restaurant, opened only this summer, to add to the distillery’s attractions.
Whisky, like any other spirit or wine (Glenturret’s restaurant avows a 420-wine list including the splendid Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey) should be drunk slowly and in good company. And there can be few companions as fine as farmer Alistair Snowie, who knows his beef, and master distiller Ian MacMillan, who knows one or two things about the mystery of the mash and the art of ageing. Telling the whisky story, he becomes poetical. Ian has the uncanny ability to make chemistry sound sensual and to describe what you, not he, smell and taste. An afternoon with them both is not simply an experience, it is an education.
Ruaridh Jackson, formerly Scotland’s international rugby full-back, now presides as master of ceremonies at Glenturret and is always happy to arrange a tour for those interested to know how what they are drinking got into their glass. Glenturret may be small, but it is beautifully formed and handsomely situated. It is also easy to reach, being within striking distance of either Edinburgh or Glasgow. So, make the journey. For when nursing a Dalgarno single malt in a Lalique glass by the banks of that singing river, you will understand why the Alexander Brothers sang “These Are My Mountains”, and why they came home.
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