FROM A FEW HANDFULS OF BARLEY by Mike Drury - An Article written for the Jubilee Edition of The Royal British Legion Scotland Magazine 2012.
The story of the single malt Scottish whisky "The Loyal Toast" is truly a Scottish one.
What better way to toast Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee Celebration than with this Royal British Legion Scotland Celebration bottling. From origin to first bottle, here is the story of what started out as a few handfuls of seed-barley cast to the earth to become a very special dram fit for our Queen. Bottle No (1) will be presented to Her Majesty on the anniversary of her Coronation 2nd June 1953 in Westminster Abbey. Many of you will remember the day when a very young and beautiful Princess Elizabeth acceded to the thrones of seven countries upon the death of her father, King George V1, on 6 February 1952. She is today Queen Regent of 16 Sovereign States, 12 of which were British colonies or Dominions at the start of her reign. This simple bottle of finest quality Malt whisky is representative of the love and care that Her Majesty has bestowed upon her people. Whether rich or poor, famous or not, we have all been equally enriched by 60 wonderful years of her reign.
The Speyside region of Scotland is arguably the most famous of the areas of Scotland for producing malt whisky. The springs and burns that run to the river Spey contain the most pure of water and grows some of the finest malting barley to hand. Nearly half the Distilleries in Scotland have their home here high in the Eastern Highlands of Scotland. What better source to choose, than spirit from the distillery that bears the name of this famous whisky region 'The Speyside Distillery' for the The Loyal Toast. This small output distillery nestles just below the small village of Drumguish in a tranquil and picturesque spot embraced within a meandering river Trombie. The still was on the original site of the early 18th century Trombie grist mill, where it served the crofters of the area. The mill became redundant in 1965 and a few years later a whisky merchant called George Christie commissioned a 'dry stane dyker', Alex Fairlie to build the distillery. Alex single-handedly laid all the stonework over a period of nearly 20 years and the distillery started production on 3rd December 1990. The old mill and water wheel were retained and are still in working order, where the pristine water for distilling is still taken from the old mill laid that runs through the workings. Many readers will have seen the distillery when it was renamed The Lagganmore Distillery for the hit BBC TV series, "Monarch of the Glen". The still is run today by just four people gently nurturing fine spirit to put into blended drams such as Scottish Prince, Kings Crest and of course The 12 year old "Speyside" and the "Drumguish" branded Single Malts.
Some sixteen years ago the Mashman would have put a sample of fine Scottish malted barley to his nose and judiciously tasted the tiny barley seeds that had been warmed and moistened for 8 days of growth, then dried and very lightly smoked with peat. Satisfied he would have turned on the malt mill to turn the seed to a crushed rough flour. The resultant grist would then have been steeped in warm Trombie water for some hours to extract all the goodness, sugars and starches from the mash. Then the strained the brownish thick liquid would have been pumped to the washback where distiller's yeast was added and over a period of a day or so, the wash would be turned into a beer like liquid called wort. Strained again the wort would have been pumped to fill the small 13,000 ltr copper Wash Still, where boiling and contact with copper prepared the liquid ready for the final distilling process in the 'Spirit Still'. These 'Low Wines' would be pumped to the tiny 7,000 ltr 'Spirit Still" where the process of boiling , contact with the copper and when condensed would have formed the alcohol to a state where a cut could be made by the Stillman, to an average of 65% abv. The spirit when cooled was now perfect for filling a fine oak cask.
The wood chosen was a fine Oloroso Sherry cask made from European Oak identified with the number 1073 soaked and flavoured with the heavy wine produced in Jerez, Spain for many a year. Up to 70% if not more of the flavour, texture and mouth-feel of a malt whisky is determined by the wood of the cask and what it has been stored in it previously. Every cask is different, as if each oak stave that makes up a cask is indeed a personality. Every tree different and individual where flavours induced are sometimes as variable as chalk and cheese! Cask number 1073 was well chosen! For 16 years sherry cask number 1073 lay in a sweet scented dusky warehouse where the oak slowly and lovingly worked on the original spirit maturing it into the finest of Scotch Malt Whisky.
Then through very careful selection it became part of the portfolio of The Scottish Liqueur Company, run by Directors Brian and Jamie Morrison and Kenny MacKay. There is over 90 years of experience between them! "Small is beautiful is the company theme". The very best of whisky produced in bottle is always made and matured where men of great skill interact with it on a personal level. At The Scottish Liqueur Company the by-word is small batches or single cask bottlings where whisky is judged to its perfection by carefully farming the casks. At bottling the whisky is left in its natural state, without processing, without chill-filtering to extract oils and break down flavours for harmonisation of product, or coloured for effect with caramel.
Fate took a hand when Mike and Cathy Drury Directors of The Whisky Castle at Tomintoul were approached to advertise in the Jubilee Edition Magazine by John McConnachie working on behalf of the R.B.L.S. The light bulb moment an idea, that a special bottling of a malt whisky for Royal British Legion Scotland celebration of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II' Diamond Jubilee could not only mark the occasion with the ideal spirit for "The Loyal Toast", but could be a bit of a fund raiser for the Legion too.This was welcomed by Neil Griffiths of the Legion and The Whisky Castle went ahead with the project.
Mike Drury was able to choose the best sample out of 10 fine casks offered to him at a private tasting with Jamie Morrison of the Scottish Liqueur Company. (It's was a lousy job but someone had to do it!). Mike and Cathy then set to work to design both the front and back label. These were printed at Windmill Printers of Brig o'Don, Aberdeen. It was decided that there would be no more than 250 bottles each hand numbered on the front label. For every bottle sold £5.00 will be donated to the R.B.L.S. by Whisky Castle Ltd.
On a little reflection and discussion with the R.B.L.S., it was naturally decided that bottle No 1. would be presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, if Buckingham Palace would accept. This was so and the task of making a wooden case for the bottle presentation was given to Whisky Castle's next door neighbour Barry Horning at A'anside Studios, to furnish an oak case fit enough to place before a Queen. This gift will be presented to Her Majesty by representatives of the Royal British Legion Scotland in June this year.
A long journey for a few handful's of Barley, but a worthy one indeed, where endeavour, patience skill and a great oak cask has seen raw spirit transformed to a Scottish product worthy for marking this most magnificent human achievement by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. What better way to mark this wonderful moment for those who are lucky enough to taste the contents of one of the remaining 249 bottles, when raising our glasses to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with a very, very Loyal Toast! 'All members of the Royal British Legion Scotland offer Your Majesty our most sincere and admiring congratulations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Your Majesty's accession to the Throne. We are enormously grateful to have Your Majesty as our Patron and we stand proudly at the salute in honour of a magnificent and joyful achievement. As the Diamond Jubilee events unfold, we look forward to sending Your Majesty messages of loyal greetings for many, many years to come.' "Ma-aam - Slainte' - Slainte Mhaith,!".