Another day, yet another castle (and a distillery) (and a brewery too)To begin at the beginning, as Dylan once wrote. The bus pricing just didn't make sense so we decided to drive the few miles up to Doune/Deanston (same place really, just either side of the river Teith) in the van and be very careful about drink driving.In December 2014 Scotland changed its drink driving limits. The rest of the UK has a limit of 80mg per 100ml of blood but Scotland now has the lower limit of 50mg. I'd risk drinking a pint and a half, maybe two pints in England but here in Scotland a pint is perilously close to the limit, if not over, depending on beer strength and physiological circumstances. A conviction in Scotland carries a mandatory 12 month ban, so, I believe, the crazy circumstance could occur where I was under the English alcohol limit, but convicted under the lower Scottish limit and banned from driving anywhere in the UK.So off to the distillery, via a minor diversion into the town of Callander where our tourist book informs us of a good baker. Correct. Not only that but there is a nice outdoor shop where Liz manages to buy the handbag she's been looking for.The distillery at Deanston is fairly new. It originally opened the eighties, reusing the buildings from an 19th century wool mill. In the early nineties demand for whisky dropped so it closed, only to reopen a few years later. It's a small distillery with 80% production going into blended brands so its single malt expressions are not particularly common. The tour itself was surprisingly intimate. Everything was in the open, and health and safety was only nodded at. I suspect few of the big name distilleries would allow such up close and potentially personal contact with the very hot distillation flasks. The process is as you would expect, steep barley in hot water to convert starches into sugars. Add yeast to turn sugar into alcohol (6%). Distill wort to extract the alcohol at higher levels (80%). Store in barrels to allow barrel flavours to make the whisky taste and then after many years dilute down to bottle strength (46%).The principle is simple. The immense variation in flavour comes from many factors. Is the barley roasted with or without peat? (Deanston is without). Is the water used peaty, flinty, hard, soft ?(Deanston is soft flowing over granite). What shape are the distillery kettles, much of the alcohol doesn't distill right off but refluxes back into the kettle. The way the kettle is shaped influences how the reflux characteristics (and thus the characteristics of the final whisky) develop. What about the barrels and how it is stored and for how long? All important factors in subtly influencing the final whisky expression.Something we didn't know. Deanston like most/all whisky distilleries uses bourbon barrels. I didn't know it was illegal in the US to reuse bourbon barrels, so once-used barrels are shipped over to Scotland by the thousands. Each one is used maybe twice to hold whisky, then it is scraped clean, re-charcoaled inside and filled with bourbon here in the UK, so it can then be reused for whisky later. Same applies to sherry casks from Jerez.Interestingly quality control over the grinding of the barley is done manually. 100gms are taken out into a box with a sieve, this is shaken exactly 40 times and then inspected. The ground grain is now in three separate states, each shaken into their own section of the sieve box: husk 20%, ground grain 70%, flour 10%. If the gryst passes this visual inspection it is then ready to go into the mash tun to have its starches turned into sugar.Final tasting, Liz has a ticket for two tastings, just one for me (I was driving, remember). The 12 year old was soft, fruity, apples and toffee; the younger virgin cask (I did taste Liz's 2nd dram) harsher, less rounded and vanilla oak replaced the fruitiness of the 12 year old. There, you all knew I could talk bollocks!
Oh, one last thing, the outside of this distillery is nothing to look at but it has nice internals, photogenic coppers and a wonderfully vaulted roof warehouse, No wonder, then, that Ken Loach chose it as the site to do the internal distillery shots for "Angel's Share". We spotted his signature on one of the bonded barrels along with the rest of the cast. Discussing this with our guide, apparently one of her colleague workers got roped into one of the scenes, something he still gets teased about today. OK, distillery done, off now to Swamp Castle/Castle Leoch (depending whether you are a Monty Python or Outlander fan). It's about a mile or so walk along the river from the distillery but since it's on the way home we decide to drive. Mistake! The tiny town of Doune is having some road works done necessitating a road closure. The closed road is maybe 50m but the detour involves at least 12 miles including a section of motorway! I'm glad I didn't have that second dram. Not only that you now approach the castle from the wrong direction and have an horrible retrousse bend to negotiate that even out little van can't make in one go.The castle? You'll know it, Holy Grail was set here, it's in Outlander, it's iconic.Doune Castle
The castle itself has been pretty much left since the 16th century apart from some Victorian wood panel renovations. The stone stairs are well worn with time and need care in places, Interestingly there seems to be no set route around the castle but the admission fee includes an audio tour narrated by none other than Terry Jones - including optional bits including scenes from the film. Just to bring the tour up to date there some new sections narrated by one of the Outlander cast.
Pity we weren't here in 1984, when Monty Python shot the Holy Grail film they persuaded tourists to the castle to don period costume and appear as extras. Apparently the scene where Sir Lancelot fights two guards on the steps it is the same student visitor playing both guards. Her was happy to folp over the stairs onto some padded barrels below. Ah, the magic of Hollywood!
OK, a few jokes about farting in your general direction (especially after meeting a french student in one of the rooms) and time to go back via The Bridge Of Allan where there is a small brew-pub. Several hours have elapsed since my single dram, I chose a not too strong beer so should be OK for the 3 or 4 miles back to the campsite. But I do buy a couple of carry outs of his stronger beers - we'll not need to go out tomorrow night!