Legends of the Garioch - a distillery tour like no other

As Aberdeen opens the doors to its wonderful food and drink offering, Sean Murphy heads north to try one of the country's most exciting new whisky distillery experiences

Published 12th Sep 2019
Updated 6 th Oct 2023

Over the past few years several notable Aberdeenshire distilleries have began to proudly step out from the shadow of their more famous Speyside neighbours, forging a path for a region that's slowly but surely beginning to realise just how good its got it when it comes to food and drink.

With the oil money no longer a certainty, and an abundance of incredible producers, restaurants, breweries and distilleries on offer, the north east is now turning to the powerful draw of food and drink tourism - and catching up with the rest of the country - when selling itself to the world.

Legends of the Garioch

The distillery sits at the heart of the picturesque town of Oldmeldrum.

One shining gem in its crown is the no less than eight whisky distilleries - seven of which you can visit - that pepper the landscape of the region.

These include the hugely successful Glen Dronach, the recently rejuvenated Glenglassaugh, the hard working Ardmore and the up and coming BrewDog Distilling Co.

However, its Glen Garioch, which lies at the heart of Oldmeldrum and is one of Scotland’s oldest whisky distilleries, that is perhaps ahead of the curve when it comes to whisky tourism - in particular with its latest launch, the Legends of the Garioch Experience.

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Combining elements of the distillery's history, the people who made it what it is, the community in which it plays a key part, the food and drink producers of Aberdeenshire and even the regional dialect, the tour is the perfect way to learn not only about whisky making but also everything that makes this small distillery so special.

Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery) has been making its popular malt in the historic market town of Oldmeldrum, near Aberdeen, since 1797.

Taking advantage of the richly fertile land that surrounds it, and the high quality barley produced there, the distillery has had a long and illustrious past.

The most easterly distillery in Scotland (following the demise of Glenugie) Glen Garioch, which already has an impressive state of the art Brand Home Experience, shop and a founders tour, launched the experience a few years back in a bid to cement its standing as one of the north east's top food and drink attractions.

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The tour is described as a "unique adventure that explores the heart of the Valley of the Garioch" and begins at the heart of Oldmeldrum - the distillery literally sits at the centre of the town - before venturing out to follow in the boot-steps of the brothers who founded Glan Garioch over 220 years ago.

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As an experience it's certainly unique - described as a "tour like no other" by the distillery team - and not only allows guests to experience the Glen Garioch whisky range but also some exciting settings within the area that it calls home.

Beginning with a stop off to enjoy a 'fly-cup' (read dram of Glen Garioch Renaissance) and that most famous of north east delicacies the buttery (or more specifically, a traditional Premnay buttery from famed local baker JG Ross) alongside spectacular views of the ‘Granary of Aberdeenshire’.

Legends of the Garioch

The tour offers the chance to sample some of the region's incredible producers such as Deeside water and JG Ross.

There's also time for a quick lesson in Doric from experienced guide Fiona Marshall and even a dollop or two of Glen Garioch whisky marmalade to enjoy alongside the aforementioned buttery.

From there the tour explores the lives of the Manson family - the founders of the distillery - from their farming heritage and links to the Dutch through to key member John's final resting place at a small church called Bourtie Kirk.

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Another spectacular stop off, and one where another dram is enjoyed, is at the viewpoint from the Oldmeldrum quarry which offers a stunning vista that takes in Bennachie and Mither Tap, as well as the chance to enjoy some local strawberries and learn a bit more of the history of this spectacular location.

Legends of the Garioch

The view from the quarry.

The return to the distillery itself then sees guests enjoy a full tour of this exciting distillery, learning all about its traditional production techniques and interesting characters like distillery manager Kenny “Digger” Grant - whose father discovered the fresh water spring the distillery currently uses.

Finally, the tour concludes with a visit to the nearby Meldrum Country House Hotel, where an exclusive whisky pairing meal - expertly prepared by the hotel's in-house chef - served in the 800 year old Cave Bar that showcases the region's stunning natural larder.

Meldrum House Country Hotel

A striking and stylish setting, the hotel - which dates back almost 800 years - fully embraces the uisge beatha and offers a perfect partner for Glen Garioch in its bid to entice more whisky tourists to try out this exciting and fully immersive experience.

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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