Old gold, new brew: The many treasures of Aberdeen
From a hip brewery to a 200-year-old distillery, the port town has lots to explore
Glen Garioch oak whiskey barrels
“We are geeks” is written in large white letters on the wall of the Brewdog HQ just outside Aberdeen. It’s one of the many proclamations you’ll come across on a DogWalk tour of the brewery, including “we bleed craft beer” and “we blow shit up”.
It’s all about attitude and energy at Brewdog – and it’s hard not to be impressed. The brewery’s massive tanks are visible way in the distance while approaching the site, a short bus ride from the city of Aberdeen.
Founders James Watt and Martin Dickie have always made a lot of noise about their “punk” approach to things and now, 10 years in, Brewdog has some 60 bars worldwide, 1,000 employees, two brewhouses and another being built in the US – and there’s talk of a Dublin bar too.
Last month the brewery announced that a private equity firm had acquired 22 per cent of the company. For founders who said they’d never sell out to the big guns, it was a change of tune.
Our guide – suitably upbeat and offbeat – offers around samples of Brewdog lager while explaining that workers are allowed to take their dogs to the office. And, he adds, you get a week off if they have puppies.
We then go into the brewery, have a wander around the massive tanks, and sample a few more of their beers including their flagship Punk IPA, which accounts for 65 per cent of their sales.
A massive wolf is painted above Brewdog’s new distillery, Lone Wolf, which garnered them some bad press recently over a legal dispute with a small Scottish pub of the same name.
Like their approach to beer, they’re planning on tearing up the rulebook with whiskey, which in Scotland is tightly controlled and must be three years minimum in the barrel.
It’s a fascinating place – even if the attitude gets a bit wearisome after a while – and their beers are good, many of which are available in the DogTap bar, where our tour ends.
It’s aptly decked out with neon signs and cool booths and it’s a good spot to while away an evening, musing the changing landscape of the craft beer world.
As a general rule of thumb, our guide says, it’s best to drink a good whiskey without water first
Back in Aberdeen, which is a port city, one of the nicest spots is down by the beach. There’s plenty of cafés and restaurants on the mile-long stretch, and a seaside amusement park. You’ll also come across the curious fishing village known as Fittie.
This tiny 19th-century settlement of stone cottages was built around small squares where fishing nets were once hung to dry. Curiously, all the cottages were designed facing away from the sea, to protect against it, and so have no windows facing seaward almost like they’re ignoring it.
The following day we take a visit to Glen Garioch, one of Scotland’s oldest whiskey distilleries. It’s all about tradition here, from the old mill rooms with their low ceilings to the copper stills and ancient granite warehouses where the walls have turned black over the years from the alcohol.
The sayings on this tour are of a different kind too, and mostly in Doric, the old Scots dialect. “I’m nae a green as I’m cabbage lookin,” reads one (“I’m not as daft as I look”).
Situated in a small market town 17 miles from Aberdeen, Glen Garioch is just one of 122 distilleries in Scotland and was founded in 1797. It’s owned by the Japanese Suntory drinks groups.
After watching a short video about the 200-year history of the distillery we’re taken to look at the rows of oak barrels, where each one is hand rolled and selected when ready for bottling.
Our guide takes out a small wooden mallet and whacks a barrel to release the cork and slowly fills a few samples. He then gestures to a whiskey barrel made, it turns out, the year I was born. Let’s just say it was of a particular vintage that it was deemed too valuable for sampling, so we each take turns having a sniff into the delicious sweet, spicy and peaty aroma inside the barrel.
As a general rule of thumb, our guide says, it’s best to drink a good whiskey without water first. If it burns a little as it goes down, however, add some water but only a touch, or you might “droont the mullart”.
Things to do in Aberdeen
Fyvie castle: Dating from the 13th century, this spectacular castle is full of fascinating tales, legends and artwork. Adult £12.50; family £29.50.
Brewdog: tours £15, including beer samples. See brewdog.com.
Glen Garioch: Tours range from £7.50 to £50, some with tastings. See glengarioch.com.
For more information on Aberdeen see visitabdn.com.