From mashtuns to worts to washbacks finally to distillers, we learn how malted barley, water and yeast are processed to become moonshine. Little flavor is added at this stage other than peatiness, while most of the taste comes from the maturation process. Maturation happens in wonderfully stacked casks, and the process which coopers use to create the watertight oak casks without anything other than natural wood and several metal hoops is a trade that takes decades to master. Master coopers practice their crafts for forty years and teach the art through an apprenticing system to new coopers. The distilleries we visit are beautiful, whether they are polished ones of Glenfiddich and Macallan or the more authentic kind like Tomintoul. After many years in the casks, the moonshine from before becomes Scotch.
Joe Brandi is Speyside. As the proprietor of Craigellachie’s famous Fiddichside Inn for the last fifty years and having lived in the region his entire life, Joe embodies everything great about this part of the world. His bar sits in a room no bigger than 200 square feet with a warming fireplace and a constant stream of locals sharing their stories of old. When asked what’s changed in Craigellachie over the years, Joe mentions only the disappearance of the railroad stop. Naturally, we ask when that happened, and he responds in 1968. In other words, not a lot has changed. Prior to tending to Fiddichside, Joe spent some of his youth working as a generalist at the Macallan Distillery and afterwards as a cooper making the beautiful oak casks in which the local Scotch matured. His shaky hands pouring semi-measured drinks, the pictures lining the walls of his family, and the rainbow of scotches from golden to reddish to dark wood, all create a memory of Speyside we will not soon forget.