My whisky skills clearly outdo my ‘Paint’ skills….

A is for Aberdeenshire – Our home region and the “Granary of Scotland”

Aberdeenshire is the A in our new feature blog, showcasing an A-Z of who we are and what we do at the Inverurie Whisky Shop. I like to think of the North East corner of Scotland  as the “nose’ of a giant Highlander’s head that our country’s shoreline replicates. Wearing a Tam O’Shanter, with flowing tassels and ginger hair represented by the Western Isles and bearing a huge Cheshire grin that is the Firth of Forth, separated from the Tay by a bushy red moustache. It’s a novel idea but one that is hard to unsee.

When we think of Aberdeenshire on a global scale, whisky is pretty far down the list. We tend to think about the Oil & Gas industry, Stone Circles and Castles or Granite. As a tourist location it plays a small piece to Scotland’s overall jigsaw, with Edinburgh, Inverness and the West Coast all way ahead of our wee region in terms of visiting numbers.

However, tourism in the area is on the rise. With the nations tourist chiefs taking a particular interest in the region. The recent oil uncertainty has forced our hands into different areas of income. When I say different, what I’m about to talk about has always been there – we just haven’t been heard shouting about it before. It is very much the Aberdonian way to keep quiet and not brag about what is on our doorstep despite what we have being very much worth bragging about.

“From Mountain to Sea” is the Aberdeenshire motto and truly reflects the landscape. We are the mouth to the infamous Cairngorm Mountains and surrounded by the Moray Firth and North Sea coastlines. Our standout mountain, Bennachie a true gem. From the peak of Mither Tap you can see right into the heart of the Southern and Western mountains, from Lochnagar across to Benrinnes in Speyside. To the North and East are the coastlines, Aberdeen City and the fertile farmland of the Gordon and Garioch valleys. It is a true 360 degree representation of the region in all its glory.

Knitting the landscape together are hundreds of golden squares, a patchwork blanket of barley intertwined with cattle fields, rivers, small pockets of rural towns and forests. It is in the height of summer that we truly see the importance that whisky has on the area, and that the area has on whisky.

Indeed, 26.4% of all Scotlands cereals are grown in Aberdeenshire, despite having less than 10% of its land mass. Of these cereals the largest growth over the last 7 years is seen in Barley, with a growth of over 20%. Barley is, of course the source of sugar in whisky and one of its three natural ingredients, vital to Single Malt and Grain whisky production.

Last year we launched plans for our own Whisky ‘Academy’. Unfortunately hindered by the obvious, our plans have been delayed, but not deterred. The Highland Whisky Academy will happen in 2021. Here we will invite you to rub shoulders with giants of the industry, passing their knowledge on to you in intimate surroundings, giving a truly unique experience and allowing you to share your passion. Vic Cameron, Peter Mackay, Billy Walker, Rachel Barrie, Ron Welsh, Stewart Buchanan, Paul McGlaughlin, Tatsuya Minagawa and more all waiting to give you an insight into their craft.

In Aberdeenshire we have 7 distilleries producing whisky, Ardmore, Glen Garioch, GlenDronach, Fettercairn, Royal Lochnagar, Glenglassaugh and Macduff. With Burn O Bennie Distillery currently filling barrels with new make, the first micro-whisky distillery is well on its way as well.  Of these, only Ardmore and Macduff do not have visitor centres. 

Recent investments by international owners Beam Suntory and Brown Forman into Glen Garioch and Glendronach respectively show that the trend towards tourism is changing in the area, and that attracting visitors to the distilleries are very much at the forefront of the brand owners grand design. With rumours also regarding the opening of a Visitor Centre at Ardmore forever circulating, more investment in the region may well be on the cards. This strengthens my belief that the region deserves much more recognition than simply being a far flung corner of the great Highland region that brushes a far too broad stroke across the whisky’s ‘official zones’.

As a company we want to thrive on the upsurge of Aberdeenshire whisky. Fast changing from ‘hidden gems’ or ‘cult whiskies’ to well established and known distilleries in their own right. It is a region worth bragging about, not only with top quality whisky but astonishing views, beautiful heritage and real whisky people.

Once upon a time, Aberdeenshire produced around 60% of all the malt used in Scottish Whisky production. This number is much harder to judge now with malting factories gathering barley from the length of Britain’s Eastern coast. However the quality is sworn by, by both whisky makers and farmers alike, and with the growth of our micro brewing beer industry also contributing to the increase in Barley production, we can quite rightly sit proud of the produce grown in our wee region.

It’s not all about whisky however, with Gin also thriving in the area. When we opened the shop, in late 2015, the closest we had to a gin from the area was Crossbill. Made by Inverurie’s own Jonny Engels, albeit at the Inshriach estate in the Cairngorms. Now, we have a host of producers creating gin locally. Aberdeenshire producers Lost Loch, Lone Wolf, Little Brown Dog, Porters, House of Botanicals, Esker, Blackford Craft Distillery, Hrafn, accompanied by The Teasmith, Granite North and House of Elrick as companies based in the region but (currently) producing outwith. This doesn’t take into account the ones produced under contract at the above distilleries. Alexanders, GHQ, Snawstorm are just a few.

Rum has seen a mini boom in the area as well – Outlaw, Devils Point, Dark Matter, Lost Loch and more are on the way and with a handful of distilleries also producing a Vodka expression we are well and truly covering all bases – not bad for 5 years work.

You may well have heard of the Aberdeen Angus, world famous beef on show at the finest restaurants and hotels on the planet, reared by the finest cereals and meal produced by our distilleries, fed back into the farming community through age old handshake approved agreements. Peterhead, one of Europes busiest fishing towns casts North Sea fare far across the globe. With Cullen Skink, Deeside Salmon, Deans Shortbread all examples of renowned food enjoyed the world over.

Our history is boastful as well. We may not have a Culloden or a Bannockburn. We don’t have a castle on a hill as impressive as Edinburgh or Stirling. We have got fairytale castles, inspiring iconic characters such as MacBeth and Dracula in Dunnottar and Slain’s Castle, we have the inspiration behind the Disney Palace in Craigievar Castle. We have legendary stories that include Scotlands best known heroes and heroines. Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots, Rabbie Burns, all visiting the region either on the way to or from battle, or to escape and relax the trials of political life, or simply for some inspiration from the rolling hills, beautiful beaches and mystical stone circles.

So today we celebrate the North East of Scotland, still one of Whiskies best kept secrets but not for long. A region swarming with ancient artifacts, battlegrounds, monuments, and a history to be proud of. A region producing the finest food known across the globe for quality, taste and heritage. A region crying out to be visited, wether by Scots or by visitors when the time is right.

We raise a glass to the extraordinary Aberdeenshire. 

Glen Garioch, in Oldmeldrum, sits in the heart of Aberdeenshire