Monday, 14 May 2012

My Journey to The Glenrothes, Day Three

Have you ever had a situation in your life in which you were so immersed in delight, so exposed to incoming sights and sounds and smells and tastes and information that it took everything you had to keep your head above water and take it all in? Such situations are very rare, indeed, because most of us, myself included, have our hands full just managing our daily lives as it is. Even on vacation we often bring our daily world with us, right there in the back of our mind (or the back seat of our car, if we have children!) and vacations are often not restful.

Today I was so busy trying to be a sponge, trying to soak in everything, trying to memorize every word I heard, that for once in a very long time I felt transported out of my life and into something entirely new and exciting. I'm exhausted. I have to grab my notebook and try to scribble down as much as I can remember, but for now let me give you an overview of my first day in Rothes, Scotland.

Mr. Ronnie Cox, the Director of The Glenrothes, picked me up in Aberdeen this morning and I met my fellow winners in the global portion of the Vintage Moment competition: Paul from Holland; Ruben from Belgium; and Chun-Hsien Liu from Taiwan. We drove for about an hour from Aberdeen to Rothes, through rolling mountains of pasture and farmland. It is a rugged and beautiful country that reminds me somewhat of the landscape along the Saint John River in New Brunswick, Canada, with notable exceptions. There are fields of bright yellow oilseed, related to canola which we grow in Canada, there are hills patched with weathered yellow gorse, there are, of course, hills dotted with sheep, and heather, which is brown right now. In the distance we could see hares running back and forth like brown dogs over the barley fields. In my backyard I have cottontail rabbits that come and go, but they would look like mice next to these hares.

Ronnie Cox explained to us that the original fuel used to provide heat in the distilling process was peat, cut and dried from the wet areas in the valleys through which the spring water runs, the water that is so crucial to the whisky distilled here. In the early days the roads were poor and the railroad hadn't arrived, so coal was not an option for fuel. The distillers were forced to rely on peat, which is an inefficient fuel. Large quantities were required, and so the distillers tended to locate close to the source of peat. And water. Hence the amazing concentration of whisky distillers here.

On our way to the village of Rothes we stopped for a moment in the village of Dufftown. Apparently there's a saying about this place: Rome was built on seven hills; Dufftown was built on seven stills.

In addition, there were many illegal stills, naturally. Apparently the last one to be discovered was hidden in this clock tower in the centre of town. Normally an illegal still would be easily discovered because of the smell and the steam coming from it during the distillation process, but because there were so many other (legal) stills immediately around it in town it was impossible to tell that it was there because the evidence mingled with all the rest of the aromas in the village. A perfect example of hiding in plain sight.

We had a late supper at a hotel in Rothes the name of which currently escapes me, but it was notable for one room in particular that has to be seen to be believed. While Ronnie Cox was arranging for a table for us I wandered around a corner into a small library filled with old books. Then I discovered the others had gone into a room back the other way and I hurried to catch up. I found myself in another library: this one filled with single malt scotch. All four walls were filled with shelves, top to bottom, filled with bottles of the best single malt whisky in the world. I couldn't believe my eyes. Some were behind a locked metal grill; my new friend Paul explained that one bottle in particular was considered to be priceless. Can you imagine such a room?

One of the media guys took a photo of us in this room, and so I will try to get a copy and post it for you tomorrow along with the name of this incredible place. Right now I'd better try to gear down a few notches and get some sleep. Tomorrow, the real work begins!

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