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Whisky theme parks? No thanks!

General chat and talk about whisky.

Whisky theme parks? No thanks!

Postby Deactivated Member » Wed Sep 21, 2005 5:02 pm

Mrs C and I have just been to our local Distillery for a tour and to undertake the much talked about "Experience".

As a bit of background, we went to Tullibardine yesterday and had a really informative tour full of interest and some decent samples at the end.

The Famous Grouse Experience by comparison, was an example of a good concept turned bad.

Where do we start - tastless offerings in the restaurant (though Mrs C thought the decor was OK) or a poorly trained guide who appeared to know little about whisky apart from what she had learned from the script (and thought Glenrothes whisky came from Fife :shock: :shock: :shock:)

The tasting comprised of the previous tour's leftovers - Mrs C's dram had been watered!!! We then noticed that the pre-poured drams were of different measures and colours! What does this lead us to assume? :evil:

The tour was inaccurate on more than one point and actually quite patronising and uninformative - far too quick and very little explanation of how whisky is made.

Too much was made of the famous grouse adverts and little about Matthew Gloag and how his blend came to be where it is now. (If I hear that ruddy tune once more I'll throttle that buggering bird myself :evil:)

So - does it work? In concept perhaps - in practice a lot more has to go into attracting staff who are enthusiastic about whisky. I would not recommend a visit to anyone who knows something about whisky or wants to learn more about it. Therefore I would not recommend this tour to anyone reading these boards as you will probably know a lot more than the guides!

This is a place for the bus tours - not the whisky enthusiast and I doubt the "experience" will attract new generations of whisky lovers.

We're hoping to get round a few more distilleries over the next few days so I'll post my findings in due course.
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Wed Sep 21, 2005 7:09 pm

I agree with you.. I love the setting and buildings of Glen Turret (for those who havent seen it, I have a virtual tour of it on my site), but the tour itself is below standards.

And the "Experience" slapped on at the back of the tour is a joke, and IMO totally misplaced.

Ah well, I can see some people will like it I guess. But defenitally not me. Been there 5-8 years or so ago, and loved the place back then, including the tour, but the one a year back sucked on all sides I'm afraid.

Fix it Edrington guys! Its a marvelous place you got there, so much potential!
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Postby Iain » Wed Sep 21, 2005 9:53 pm

Even back in the days before it became the Famous Grouse experience, Glenturret (according to rumour) made more money from the shop and restaurant/cafe than from the whisky itself. I recall an awfy lot of tweedy "ladies who lunch" on the a occasions I visited, and they were surely more interested in tartan skirts, couthy jewellery, shortbread and pots of tea (and that stupid cat!) than the whisky. Nothing wrong with that of course - but it's a shame to hear that the tour is poor.

How does it compare to Dewars/Aberfeldy, which is aimed at a similar audience?
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Thu Sep 22, 2005 7:18 am

Aberfeldy is a very good tour, enjoyed that one fully. They also got a more "modern" thingy added which is at the start, but its more a museum with a blenders room (where witha computer you can test your blender skills, fun!), corners about advertising, the history of the distillery, etc.

The tour itself is much like any other, but the guide was quite knowledgable, so nothing bad there.

After the tour you can test your nose once more much similar as at Glenturret, where you identify common smells such as chocolate and vanilla, etc. Always fun. Then you proceed doing your tasting. This all happens at your own leisure.

The 'normal' and 'connoisseur' tour are exactly the same, just at the end you get more whiskies to taste (whiskies, there were also blends), and you get a Aberfeldy branded Glencairn glass.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Sep 22, 2005 12:16 pm

I worked as a tour guide at a mediaeval castle at weekends and during the summer in my youth. The pay was so poor that it was unlikely to attract people with the will or the skill to research beyond the given script. Tips were so rare that I can still remember them.

When I was tour guiding, I found that most punters wanted to be entertained, rather than informed. If I introduced the slightest hint of detail, you could see the eyes glaze over or start wandering about the room. On the other hand, stories of bear baiting, priest's hidey holes and King Henry VIII captured the interest and got wide smiles and knowing nods - even when they were made up. When most people asked a question, they wanted an answer rather than a "don't know", even if the answer was absolute rubbish.

Well-informed visitors could be a bit of a nightmare. Fortunately, most of them chose not to spoil things for the rest of the group and some, on occasion, gave interesting information to me that I then built into future tours. But the odd one would really grate.

By all means criticize naff touristy gimmicks or incorrect displays. But don't be too harsh on the poor guide, who is just trying to scrape together a few pennies whilst giving some tourists an enjoyable afternoon.

Incidentally, I can sympathize with anyone who thinks that Glenrothes whisky comes from Glenrothes in Fife.
Last edited by Deactivated Member on Thu Sep 22, 2005 1:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Thu Sep 22, 2005 1:11 pm

So now we should measure the quality of a tour by how much they earn? Some tours are quite pricey, especially considering this is one of the best ways for a distillery to bind customers to them, something for example Glenfiddich is well aware off. They even provide a tour which I enjoyed fully (the one from last week, before is hard to come to mind, crappy memory) and those tours are offered for free.

It is well know that Glenturret makes a lot from their shop as well. So the value of visitor centres are well known and clear.

If tour guides are underpayed (at Glenturret, or any other distillery) then that sucks, and is something that should be addressed. But to say I should not critice the guide itself becuase of his/her pay is in my opinion incorrect. Maybe (s)he simply choose the wrong occupation and (s)he lacks the skills to be a good tourguide?

I can only imagine how difficult it is to tell the same joke and story 10 times a day and make it seem like it is the first time you tell it. Or how hard it is to not sound like a machine rambling out the numbers of contents of washbacks and still and the temperature of waters going into the mashtun etc. But hey, in my opinion these are signs that some real skill is necessary to conduct a quality tour. If this is an underpayed job, there are ways to get wages raised (organise a strike guides!). And I dont even mind to pay for that!
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Sep 22, 2005 4:23 pm

Well, this falls under my occupational category as I work in the hotel & restaurant business. My thoughts on this matter is somewhat in the middle of both of you (Nick & Jeroen) have said. A low salary doesn't legitimise poore performance by the employee - you are supposed to do your best - or what is reasonable. Unfortunately, many employees see it as their right to decide what is the "correct" amount or level of service related to their salary. And of course it doesn't quite work that way! And after all, the employee is the representative of their company and if you cannot address your anger and disappointment with him or her then who would you turn to? To Nicks' defence I'd like to say that he seems like the person who did the most out of it - picking up the stories etc. and incorporating them in his reportoire.

On the other hand you could very well say it's no good to shoot the messenger. If the reception and tour is bad or plauged by inferiour quality I'd say that it is probably not the guide who is at fault but the management. And this is so for several reasons:
Lack of interest in the product, lack of quality assessment, inferior knowledgebase and training are all aspects of this trade that sometimes and quite frequently makes it look amateurish. This is ironic as it's probably the trade where customer satisfaction is crucial to profits.

The third point is that although a guide lacks the knowledge needed to impress diehard whisky fanatics like ourselves - most people will be content with a tour based on highly superficial knowledge. On the other hand they should know their whisky in case there are people with more than average interest in the product - those who realise that whisky isn't brown when it's a new make.

To sum it up I'd say lackluster performance is first and foremost the responsability of the management. If they wish to make it good it's their job to make sure it becomes that. If it doesn't then I'd say tough luck and it suits them well when people stop showing up at their doors.

Skål!
Christian
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Postby Iain » Thu Sep 22, 2005 4:40 pm

I think we could all agree that, if it's true that post-tour drams were "recycled" from the dregs of a previous tour, that would be absolutely inexcusable.

The quality of the tour is really the responsibility of management, who hire and train (and hopefully supervise) the tour guides.

Re strikes - sorry Jeroen, but that's hardly a realistic option for relatively low- paid, often part-time (or holiday-jobbing) guides who have pretty "flexible" contracts and don't usually have trade union membership.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Sep 22, 2005 5:02 pm

Mr Fjeld wrote: To Nicks' defence I'd like to say that he seems like the person who did the most out of it - picking up the stories etc. and incorporating them in his reportoire.


Thanks Christian - I tried my best. But I was a schoolchild working weekends. For me, it was a bit of fun before I went to university and got a better paid job. It would have been very different if I were doing it on a permanent basis.

Not all tour guides are bad. I have some friends who are tour guides here in Edinburgh. One is self employed and works very hard to give the tourists a good time - he is knowlegable and entertaining. Two work for a tours company who go off on good quality week long packages: they drive the buses and do some guiding on the way, but at some stops, they use local guides. I am sure they offer a good service too, and also know which tours in Edinburgh are well run and which are not. They have enough variety in their routes to keep them interested. I suspect the problem comes when the job is dull, badly paid and in an area of low unemployment. Tour guides who are in those jobs and are any good will probably get snapped up for better paid, more intersting work.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Sep 22, 2005 6:56 pm

Iain wrote:
How does it compare to Dewars/Aberfeldy, which is aimed at a similar audience?


Mrs C and I have just returned from Dewars World of Whisky. Compared to yesterday's effort the difference was like chalk and cheese.

The reception area was professional and friendly and the staff were eager to accommodate. They appeared to take pride in what they were doing. The self guided tour started with a video show in a purpose built theatre. It was an interesting bit of film and the sound level was pitched just right (Famous Grouse take note. It's a distillery - not a night club!)

The mock up of the Dewars' study was filled with whisky trivia and there were enough gizmos to keep everyone interested. The mock blending room was also of interest and the hand held audio guides allowed us to go at our own pace.

The sampling was better than the Grouse effort (although I thought the scratch and sniff cards were quite good) and we saw our dram being freshly poured! We also had a choice of three to try.

The coffee bar was pleasant and relaxed (as was the whole day) and the food on offer was locally produced and of good quality.

We then went on a tour of the distillery itself, conducted by a guide whose father had been one of the stillmen at Aberfeldy. She clearly knew her stuff and the tour was very informative including a bit about the part played by the cask.

I have no hesitation in recommending a visit to Dewars and the chances are we'll be back. There is quite a lot to take in.



Christian -
I wholly agree with your comments about tour guides and it being a management problem. Grouse always seem to be advertising for staff - (there are four vacancies at the moment) so staff turnover must be a problem. There seemed to be little enthusiasm from anyone in the place and it strikes me that the management must take a fair whack of responsibility for that.

Nick -
I agree with a lot of what you say - I wasn't necessarily having a pop at the Grouse guide (I'm sure she's a really nice person), but no-one got a chance to ask her anything. It was far to quick and I'm sorry, but if she didn't know her stuff, she shouldn't have strayed from the basic script. Whether it was poor training or simply she shouldn't have been there the end result felt like a tacky, ill informed rip off. The cost of the tour was comparatively expensive, and a £2 discount from Glenturret 10yo only, was not much of an inducement. It was just not value for money.

The difference between yesterday and today was entusiasm, attention to detail, value for money and customer care. Yes, I probably already know what tour guide is telling me - but that's not why I go on tours. I want to feel the spirit of the place - if there is poor attention to detail at that level, why should I believe that the same disinterest doesn't permeate through to the distillation?

I'll report back on other distilleries we hope to visit including Tullibardine, Edradour, Blair Athol and Springbank (a bit off the beaten track but Mrs C insisted on some sort of holiday away from home :roll:)

Slainte, all
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Thu Sep 22, 2005 8:28 pm

Crieftan wrote:I'll report back on other distilleries we hope to visit including Tullibardine, Edradour, Blair Athol and Springbank (a bit off the beaten track but Mrs C insisted on some sort of holiday away from home :roll:)


<blatant self promotion>Speaking of that... I have a section on my website named Distillery Visits where I describe my visit to a series of distilleries. Might be interesting for some of you. Or maybe even to compare as I'm sure tours can vary greatly in the same distillery due to off-days, new staff, etc.</blatant self promotion>
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Postby Mr Fjeld » Thu Sep 22, 2005 9:41 pm

Nothing wrong in promoting your own page Jeroen as it's one of the best out there :)

Skål!
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Postby Paul A Jellis » Thu Sep 22, 2005 10:50 pm

I'd also like to congratulate Dewars World of Whisky on getting the balance right. Even my long suffering wife, has been dragged around many distilleries, enjoyed herself! The staff were very good at their job and very obviously enjoyed their work and it showed.

We were very lucky with our timing, it was also the day of the Aberfeldy Highland Games, so the whole day was fantastic!

It's a shame to read about Glenturret, it was the first distillery that I visited, and, back then, the tour was very good with an extended tasting at the end.

Cheers

Paul
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Fri Sep 23, 2005 7:23 am

Mr Fjeld: *blush* :oops: Thanks!

I'd also like to congratulate Dewars World of Whisky on getting the balance right. Even my long suffering wife, has been dragged around many distilleries, enjoyed herself!


Haha, sounds your wife has to undergo the same type of treatment I give my gf on our trips to Scotland! =D
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Postby Deactivated Member » Sat Oct 08, 2005 12:24 pm

Got as far as Edradour but the place was mobbed by tour buses so gave up. Will go back when its quieter. A lovely looking distillery with one of the few remaining worm tubs. So I'm looking forward to trying it again. Had a look in the shop. There seemed to be a huge number of expressions and I wonder how well they will all work. I suspect Signatory are putting their efforts in to marketing their old stocks at this stage and I hope they don't go too far in the wrong direction. If they push out substandard whisky just to realise revenue they may lose the character of the distillery. Time will tell.

Tried Blair Athol - they have infrequent tours and we didn't have time to wait. We'll do that another day as well. I agree with the mystery visitor though - it does seem a little sleepy and uncared for. The outside wall seems to be a target for graffetti.

Tullibardine was great. We arrived late in the day and had a private viewing. The tour guide knew her stuff and made it very interesting. A nice wee place and good shop area with quality items for sale - not the usual tat aimed at bus tours. We (I) got to try two or three expressions - all good but I don't think the Port finish works too well. Got my entry fee deducted from a bottle of 1992 and also received a free blenders glass. They have also had some of the wash made into a beer. Really nice. A glass of wash and a nip of distillate all from the same barley. Lovely.

Springbank was the best tour I've been on so far. As a whisky enthusiast this was the most informative yet and the guide, who I suspect was a retired stillman, really had passion for the craft and wanted us all to share in that. This was my first sight of floor maltings. It brought the whole thing into perspective. I'm still trying to work out a two and a half distillation though!

Went past Glen Scotia - it looks pretty drab but we'll maybe visit next time we're there.

So - order of merit so far

1. Springbank
2. Dewars World of Whisky
3. Tullibardine

Discounted Famous Grouse

Yet to visit Edradour and Blair Athol.
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Postby Lawrence » Sat Oct 08, 2005 4:16 pm

Crieftan, I've enjoyed reading your posts especially about the ones I've visited like Dewar's & Aberfeldy and Springbank. I'm glad to hear that Tullibardine is a good tour because a group of us are going there next summer and will be visisting our cask.

I'm sure we've both been on the Springbank tour with the same old gent who was in fact a retired stillman if I have my facts correct. I take it yu're doing these tours on weekends, lucky you!
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Postby Jeroen Kloppenburg » Sat Oct 08, 2005 5:27 pm

And for Edradour, go there *early*, like arive there beofre it even opens. Even better, walk up through the forrest on the "Edradour walk" from Pitlochry, which also goes past a waterfall. Excellent way to get to the distillery! Also, around that time you wont meet to many tourbusses (we didnt had any at 9am or so when we visitted the distillery).

The open worm tub is a beauty, as is the morton refrigirator which is antique and still in production!

And again, do the walk up to the distillery, its really worth it.
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Postby martin grant » Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:29 am

Spent yesterday afternoon with my six year old son at The Famous Grouse Experience.

I really should have taken the time to read about it here first.

Priced at £7.50 the experience tour seems to be the most popular choice.

The visitor centre was packed yesterday, with several coaches in the car park. My son and I joined an early afternoon tour led by a very pleasant and enthusiastic Italian girl. Unfortunatley her Italian accent was really strong and I struggled to understand a lot of what she was saying. She followed what seemed to be a well written script for most of the time. The group I was with asked several questions, a couple of which she replied to hesitatingly. Other's she confessed to not knowing the answer but that she would try and find out.

When we were shown the fermentation process, all washbacks were covered over. We were all asked not to lift any of the lids, as the carbon dioxide which was being produced may cause an explosion!

I have absolutely no problem with foreign staff working to a script, showing visitors around a distillery. However, surely before being let loose on a bunch of tourists any guide should be given a quick test to prove they have a good understanding of what they are talking about.

The 'experience' part of the tour went down well with junior, who really liked the film and flashing lights. He got to meet the distillery cat as well, who was just lying on top of a barrel in the still room.

I'm glad I went, because I have heard a lot about it, but I won't be going back.

If you still feel the urge to go on the tour, don't go thinking it will be an educational trip. And at £7.50 way over priced, IMHO
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