The Speyside Whisky Diaries

by Keith Savage · 4 comments

Whisky Artwork at Glenlivet Distillery

As we crossed from Perthshire into the Scottish Highlands, I stood on the edge of a whisky-filled abyss. The Spirit of Speyside whisky festival loomed before me – five solid days of whisky-splashed hikes, tours, rambles, quizes, and tastings around Scotland’s Speyside whisky region. I’d filled my calendar with a slate of events several months prior, and here I was in the area of Scotland with the highest concentration of distilleries.

And I don’t believe in spitting. Somewhere Mickey Mantle shook his head in reproach.

I write this post on Monday night just north of Speyside proper. The festival – for me – has come to an end and the previous five days are little more than a scattering of mental images viewed through the bottom of a Glencairn glass. The notes I made and discussions I recorded on my iPhone have proven inane, unintelligible, hilarious, epiphanic, tear-jerking, and joyous. And I’m just talking about the list of drams I tasted.

What follows is a metered selection of some of the darker moments in whisky tasting notes history, straight from my moleskine. Just a taste to whet your appetite for proper articles on all my machinations at the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival.

Thursday: Glenfiddich Pioneer Tour Tasting

The Glenfiddich 12 is a bunch of sun-ripened green grapes drizzled in honey being fed to a Roman demi-god. Pears nearing retirement on a sun-splashed counter. A dab of vanilla perfume on the wrist of a woman wearing a ball gown. A Jesus-y wooden mug brimming with pear syrup.

What dark beast comes round the end of the tasting? Ah, the Glenfiddich 30. Willy Wonka juggles boxes of raisinets whilst sucking on a lemon and riding a unicycle. That’s going to give me nightmares. Is that smoke? Maybe his coattails are smoldering. An angel grates cinnamon from on high; another sounds a cornucopia of apples and pears like its a french horn.

Friday: Glenlivet Legacy Masterclass Tasting

The Glenlivet Inveravon Single Cask‘s nose is a cherub made of apples shooting an arrow through my heart. A viscous substance like toffee or caramel leaks from the wound. Honey-filled pears that glow in the dark like lantern fish – this is devil candy.

The Glenlivet 1959 Cellar Collection is a block of fudge hitting a baby bashing a potpourri pot against the wall. A thousand zested oranges and shoe polish where tears should be. An air horn of delight. A proper gentleman with a sweet tooth.

Saturday: Glenglassaugh Ultimate Tour Tasting

The new Glenglassaugh Revival, just three years old. Pears and peaches do the sword dance on a log of shortbread. A curtain of solvent begins their afterlife. No tears though, it was a good life. A buttered slip-n-slide ending in a wall of caramel.

The Glenglassaugh 45 is old enough to be my parent…if I were a whisky. Dried middle-eastern fruits we never eat attack me. Godiva chocolate splashed on red apples roasting over a crushed Sherry butt. Mrs. Robinson. My mouth is a pepper grinder, give me a shot of bitters. More please.

Sunday: Benromach’s Award-Winning Whiskies Tasting

Benromach 10 is the person across the party you can’t take your eyes off of. A Russian doll of dried fruits then smoke then nuts then mocha. All those itchy scratches from the berry patch. Someone smoking while making oatmeal and eating dried currants. Your favorite neighbor.

Hello Benromach 30. Christmas in Jamaica. Forgotten harvest beneath the peach tree. One slice too many of fruitcake, sick but you love it. Sleeping in the orchard only to find the trees are burning. A holiday.

Monday: Mortlach Vertical at the Grouse Inn

The Mortlach Wine Society 19 year old cask strength is a fig on an oak splinter drizzled with worcestershire. Dusty beef jerky in the cowboy’s satchel. A balloon of salted Sherry carries me on updrafts of airplane glue. Life-altering dram to die with. But not yet.

The Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask Mortlach 15 year old (NCF, SC, CS) is a Cuba Libre with a mint leaf sweating in the Caribbean sun. The flavor wheel spins where my eyes should be. Nutella with a side of cayenne oranges in the viceroy’s library while he rolls up a map. Everything is known.

Note to self: Add panache to tasting notes. Too staid as is. Not evocative.

RandyNo Gravatar May 18, 2012 at 7:23 AM

Hey Keith, love your website.
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed your and your dad’s company at the Breabach concert at the Glenfiddich distillery. Breabach was very entertaining. They reminded my wife and I of a Canadian band called the Barra MacNeils, except the Barra’s don’t play the pipes. They hail from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
We were able to tour the Abelour and Cardhu distilleries as well as the Speyside cooperage near Craigellachie. What a distinctive smell coming from those distilleries 🙂

What a surprise it was to have a fellow Senators fan in the building !!

Randy Plunkett
Ottawa, Ontario


Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 18, 2012 at 8:20 AM

Hi Randy, it was a pleasure meeting you and Louise as well. Little meetings like ours are one of my favorite things about travel. Glad you had a chance to visit Aberlour – it’s a great distillery making excellent whisky.

Go Sens!


DavidNo Gravatar May 10, 2012 at 8:14 AM

Nar a word about the opening dinner. A night of far too much Macallan 10 (yes there is such a thing). The merriment. The craziness. The not remembering the taxi ride back to Keith. All good things in the end.

I’m amazed you have posted about the festival already. We just got back two days ago and with jetlag and resparking the relationship I have had little time to reflect on our crazy tour. Things will appear on the blog in short order (I hope).

T’was a pleasure to meet you and your dad and, maybe one day, we shall scotch about together again!


Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 10, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Oh there will be more and plenty of proper posts about the festival, including the dinner. This was just a bit of fun.

It was nice meeting the four of you as well. Anyone who shares a love of single malts is alright in my book. Cheers!


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