There's little doubt that you've arrived in peat country when you drive into the courtyard at Laphroaig and the kilns are on. Ardbeg may be more heavily peated, Lagavulin more smoky, but if it is an uncompromising belt of pitch, peat oil, tarry ropes and iodine you want, this is the place to come - and that's the way manager lain Henderson likes it. lain is another old school graduate, a man with an in-depth knowledge of the industry and who isn't afraid to share
Bells Scotch Whisky
Caol Ila is an exception though. Most distilleries are stubborn individuals. 'If we seriously wanted to change Mortlach could we do it?' she asks. 'No, you'd get a corrupted spirit. We always have to keep within the parameters of what the distillery character is'.
It's a polite way of responding to criticisms that the bigger the firm the more likely it is that all their whiskies will taste the same. Ask Turnbull the same question and he visibly twitches. 'People think if you're big you don't care about quality and all the whisky is the same,' he says. 'In reality, our size has allowed us to do the opposite. We're more aware than anybody that we need the character of the 27 distilleries to come through. The Walker, Bell's or J&B character is paramount. We won't kill the goose that laid the golden egg'.
There was a time you could spot a distillery by the smoke belching from its chimney. Now, most chimneys have been demolished as distilleries have switched from coal to steam. Hughes recalls as a child watching glen garioch's chimneys being demolished brick-by-brick by a Glaswegian steeple jack. He came up the road, bouncing off the walls I had so much to drink,' Fraser recalls.