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In the Glen

The top of Carn Liath. 

It is only August, but snow will soon be flying up here, spreading its carpet to mark the passings of the red deer, the rabbits and the hares, the roaming sheep, the scurrying grouse. But today it is still sunny and warm, and one can see for miles across the high Scottish landscape with its vast stretches of purple heather and its swatches of evergreen forests that spread across the rolling mountainsides and into the closeness of its glens.

The path back down loses itself in the crisp crunch of the heather that seeks to conceal a boggy pool or an outcropping of white stone, but I make my way to a brow of the hill and below is the ancient refuge of the smugglers bothy and further along the narrow valley floor the large whisky factory that is The Glenlivet. There are a few houses and farms, a herd of cattle curious of the intrusion, the scar of a narrow lane, but the countryside is otherwise quiet and remote.

This is the domain of Alan Winchester, master distiller at The Glenlivet, a man reaching middle age with close-cropped hair, the glasses of a scholar, an honest jaw that drops down to flash a beaming smile. It is a good time for Winchester, as the demand and the praise flow in for his single malts.  He is comfortable in his roles, whether it is quietly leaning forward to explain the intricacies of a new release of old spirits or in his theatrical address Tae the Haggis in full Burnsian voice and dressed to the kilt.

Of a late afternoon, we taste a small assortment of ancient and exotic malts that Winchester has fresh-picked from his growing garden of barrels, and a couple are so rare that we are bound to silence, a vow sealed with a sip, not to speak of them until a few more turnings of the sun.

We live in a large, commercial world of spirits, yet there is still a poetry in our whisky, and Winchester and his colleagues are among the best at creating this poetry – sometimes as dark and somber as a sherry butt, sometimes as vibrant and free as an American cask, sometimes as smooth as the cool water that flows from nearby Josie’s Well.

We taste this poetry in each dram sparkled by a drop of water – the quiet recitations of the braes, of the burns and of the glens of The Glenlivet.

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