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Good Old Saint Drostan

Quotes from http://www.aberlour.com/spiritofaberlour/

‘Unofficial patron saint of Aberlour. Drostan – also known as Drustan or Dunstan – was a protégé of St Columcille (Columba) and accompanied him on his missionary journey to Scotland in the 6th century, bringing Christianity to the Picts. When Columba returned to Iona, he left Drostan behind to continue the good work. Drostan visited Aberlour, where he set up a monastic cell and baptised Christian converts in a spring on the site of what is now the Aberlour Distillery. An engraved weather-beaten stone, which for years marked the exact spot of St Drostan’s Well, has been carefully preserved at the distillery.

saint drostan
Saint Drostan

Drostan stayed in the area for some years, becoming abbot of a monastery near Aberdeen. Later, seeking a life of even greater seclusion, he became a hermit and a spiritual inspiration to the sick and the poor. A number of miracles are attributed to him, including the restoration of sight to a blind monk. Some would say that the pure spring water of St Drostan’s Well, which today is the lifeblood of Aberlour malt whisky, is another of the saint’s miracles’

On holiday as I was, within 30 miles of more than half of the whisky distilleries of Scotland, and most of the best ones at that (IMHO) it was inevitable that I would do a distillery tour. As it was a family holiday however I could hardly spend every day traipsing round various distilleries sampling their product (tempting though the notion was!) so I chose just one and it was a good choice.

The Aberlour Distillery is at the heart of Speyside, the country’s premier whisky-making region. No fewer than half of Scotland’s malt distilleries are located in Speyside, which is renowned for producing whiskies of subtle depth and elegance.

Situated at the junction of the rivers Lour and Spey, the distillery is surrounded by glorious scenery, dominated by the rugged peaks of Ben Rinnes a short distance away. Pure spring water for making the whisky is drawn from the Lour, and the maturing spirit in the warehouse beneficially inhales the moist Speyside air.

Aberlour is an ancient place as well as a beautiful one. For more than 1,400 years there has been a community there and signs of its long heritage are all around, from the age-old oak trees above Linn Falls to the mysterious standing stones on Fairy Hill.

At the distillery, nature, tradition and local craftsmanship combine to create a great malt whisky – the spirit of Aberlour.’

First of all the name of the village which gives the whisky its name is as follows:

This is thanks to one Charles Grant, a wealthy landowner who named it after his son. To all intents and purposes though the village is known simply as Aberlour. The reason I chose the Aberlour distillery to tour was my liking for their A’bunadh (meaning ‘the origin’ in Gaelic) cask strength whisky. That and their publicity which promised five drams included in the tour price of just £10.00. In the end it was six but one was the clear raw spirit (left in the photo) which may have a thousand household uses but drinking it is recommended as a once only experience.

The tour was very interesting indeed but shattered any illusion that there is any black art left in manufacturing whisky. After all like most of the distilleries in the area (though not all) Aberlour is owned by a multi national company (Chivas Brothers Pernod Ricard) whilst others are owned by Diageo
and Campari (!). Everywhere in the distillery are computer screens which monitor volumes, temperatures, timing etc. are in evidence, but there are really only a few people involved in the process. Most of the crucial decisions in whisky manufacturing are taken by the click of a mouse.

Even the interesting cask descriptions (above) have now been phased out having recently been replaced by bar codes. I was however heartened to learn that a’bunadh contains no artificial colouring (I suspected caramel) and that the distillery draws its water from a spring (St Drostan’s Well) for the manufacture and the Lour burn for the cooling process.

Another rather charming notion of whisky manufacture is the ‘angels’ share’ which is the loss incurred in years of maturation of spirit to evaporation.
angels share

The Angels’ Share

However even this old tradition is under threat with Diageo being at the forefront of experiments to wrap casks in clingfilm. If it works it could be worth over £1million to that manufacturer.

The tour of Aberlour Distillery was conducted by Mabel, a most entertaining and pleasant guide, who took us through the manufacturing (distilling) process CLICK HERE and the history of the distillery and distilling in the area. We then retired to the tasting room to sample the fine whisky you see above. A ten year old, a sherry finish, a 12 year old, a (new product) 18 year old, and a’bunadh were the stars of the show. Visitors are also given an opportunity to fill their own bottle straight from the cask with an attractive wooden gift box and signed label for £60.00. I didn’t take them up on this myself but you can see this being done on the video below. Mabel let slip that she featured on Youtube so a cursory search found this:

Below is my photo of a’bunadh Silver Label (the first batch). Yours for £250.00 on Ebay apparently but no longer available from the distillery.

I’ve featured this song by Robin Laing before but it’s an ideal opportunity to do so again. It’s called ‘a’Bunadh’