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Emirates on board bar in business class.
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When the next Emirates A380 takes off from Sydney, heading for Dubai and thence to Glasgow (or Edinburgh from October 1), it will be sloshing around with some of the finest whiskies on the planet.

In economy you'll be able to quaff a Dewars or two while business class has Jura Superstition and a 15-year-old Glenfiddich Solera Reserve among its selection. In the rarified air of first class there's a Dalmore King Alexander III on offer.

It's all part of Emirates' revamp of its complimentary spirits selection, a two-year process which has seen 30 new spirits and liqueurs served across all classes. Joost Heymeijer, Emirates' senior vice-president, catering, said: "We aim to deliver the best culinary experience on board and that goes for our menus, our wines and also our new spirits range. We've invested time in building relationships with the best spirits makers in the world, understanding global trends and achieving the perfect serve on board to showcase these beverages in the best possible way."

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Getting into the spirit.

Getting into the spirit.

He also adds that they try not to "be just a pigeon that flies in and out of a place; we really engage with local communities and businesses". What this means in truth is that poor old Heymeijer has had to schlepp all over Scotland tasting whiskies and throwing down Loch Fyne smoked salmon like a whale swallowing krill.

It's as good an excuse as any to visit the places from whence comes this bounty, which is why we find ourselves touching down in Glasgow and heading north for a whistle-stop tour of some Scotland's famous distilleries.

We'll work up the cabin classes but, chronologically, the Dewars distillery was our fourth distillery visit (after Dalmore, Strathisla and Glenfiddich) in three days. This is not advisable as a general rule because it means, as affable as the chap is taking you on the tour, all you end up hearing is "mash tuns blah blah blah pot stills yadda yadda barley malt yeast blah blah bing bong bing bong". Or words to that effect.

Not that they aren't all very nice mash tuns, and the coppery shine of the stills is universally excellent, but unless you've got a particularly virulent form of OCD which means you have to visit a distillery every day or break out in a rash, it's best to put a few days between visits.

ECONOMY CLASS

The Dewars distillery on the outskirts of the little burgh of Aberfeldy in Perthshire sits, as all Scottish distilleries seem to, in countryside that has escaped from a 19th century landscape painting. It's all greens, russets and browns, like a bobbly old kilt that's been washed too many times and tossed aside for later ironing. Though compared to the wilder lands further north this corner of Perthshire is positively manicured.

Here, in buildings that date back to 1896, Dewars churns out one of the world's most awarded blended whiskies as well as a portfolio which includes an Aberfeldy single malt and single cask whiskies.

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In the masterful book, Whisky, published in 1930, author Aeneas MacDonald laid bare his aversion to blended Scotch in typically forthright fashion by declaring that you can't throw whiskies together "like rutting goats".

Sadly, MacDonald died in 1996 but I feel that he might have changed his mind after a dram or two in Dewars' whisky lounge and cafe in the former malting house. Using water from the Pitilie Burn (small river), which runs past the distillery, its premium blends are double-aged, with a second period in oak barrels after the blend is created. Far from bringing goats to mind, rutting or otherwise, the result is a smooth, honey-rich blend with notes of almonds, vanilla, butterscotch, Gene Autry's saddlebags and a wet weekend in Wagga. Well, that's what I get anyway. It's nice stuff.

BUSINESS CLASS

We are in Speyside, not far from the small and wonderfully named Dufftown, the self-proclaimed whisky capital of the world. To give a flavour of the area there is a castle in Dufftown (Balvenie) which was built from the remains of another nearby castle (Auchindoun) and the town itself was established as housing for soldiers returning from the Napoleonic War.

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Cocktails on Emirates.

Cocktails on Emirates. Photo: Alex Flint

The countryside is, well you get the drift. The Cairngorms National Park is just to the south in all its wild, granite and gorse beauty. There's purple heather here and there but bright yellow gorse and rape seed dominate.

At the Glenfiddich distillery we are taken in to one of the warehouses (no cameras and no phones, please, or the invisible alcohol vapours might ignite and we'll all be vaporised in a whisky-tinged fireball) and shown the huge vat that contains the Solera Reserve.

Glenfiddich, the whisky in the distinctive three-sided bottle, is the world's best-selling single malt but the 15-year-old Glenfiddich Solera Reserve is another thing entirely. With its softer, smoother, sweeter flavour profile it's perhaps best described as the whisky for people who don't like whisky.

The solera system is said to have started in Spain and Portugal as part of a dynamic sherry-ageing process and was introduced to the Glenfiddich range by David Stewart, its fifth malt master, in 1998. Since then the Solera vat has only ever been half emptied, ensuring a consistent but complex product.

There's more to it than that, of course, to do with former sherry and bourbon oak casks, new oak casks and a final rut (sorry Aeneas) in the aptly named marrying tuns.

We don't have time to get to Jura, a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides where Superstition is made, but the descriptions of the island, that George Orwell finished 1984 while living here, and this sweet and semi-smoky whisky (a good halfway house for those who find the Islay malts too extreme) are enough to put it on the must-visit list.

This is whisky that I return to on the final leg of the Emirates flight back in to Sydney. You will recognise it from the hour-glass bottle and the large ankh symbol on the front. It is said that holding the bottle so that the ankh (the Egyptian symbol of life) is in the centre of the palm brings good luck. If true, that flight attendant is probably a millionaire by now.

FIRST CLASS

The Dalmore distillery sits way up in the Highlands, the unruly coxcomb of Scotland. This is a brooding land of water and mist and clouds and rain, of dry stone walls and severe grey villages huddling in the shadow of mountains or cuddling up to cold-looking rivers and lochs full of salmon and the men trying to catch them.

Started in 1839 by one Alexander Matheson, the distillery sits on the edge of the Cromarty Firth. From the edge of the property where gulls big enough to carry off small babies squawk and squabble we can see the shadowy bulk of an oil rig sitting off incongruously in the distance, awaiting repair and maintenance at the Cromarty Firth Port Authority dry dock.

The Dalmore King Alexander III is the world's only sextuple-wood bottling. Yes, you read that right. This thing goes into ex-bourbon casks, matusalem oloroso sherry butts, madeira barrels, marsala casks, port pipes and cab sav wine barriques before being combined to create the finished single malt.

We're told the five basic flavours in the nose are coffee, chocolate, sweet vanilla, citrus orange and spice – and this proves to be spot on. It's like falling head first into a Christmas cake but with fewer raisins in the hair.

The distillery itself has eight copper pot stills but of a different shape to other stills because the tops had to be cut off to fit under the roof. They look like giant copper spaceships from a Jules Verne novel.

The most popular spirit requested in First Class, however, is the 21-year-old Chivas Royal Salute whisky, which is made in the Strathisla distillery in the small and wonderfully named town of Keith. First opened in 1786, it's the oldest operating distillery in the Highlands, says custodian master blender Colin Scott, who has worked here since 1973.

Scott takes us on a whistle-stop tour (stills, mash tuns, yeast, yadda) before we head off to a tasting and dinner. Chivas, he says as we "um" and "aaah" over a dram, is the "power in the velvet glove … velvet smooth, a hint of smokiness, warmth, a little spiciness".

But then he bestows upon us this piece of wisdom: "Drinking whisky is all about your own personal pleasure. There are no rules."

Keith Austin travelled as a guest of Emirates.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

traveller.com.au/scotland

thedalmore.com

dewars.com

chivas.com/en-gb/the-story/strathisla

glenfiddich.com

GETTING THERE

The Emirates Airbus 380-800 flies from Melbourne and Sydney to Dubai four times daily. Flights to Edinburgh start on October 1; see emirates.com.au for details and prices.

STAYING THERE

Novar Estate: Ardtalla, a 10-minute drive from the Dalmore distillery, is a converted 18th-century stable square with nine bedrooms arranged around a double-storey galleried hall. There are holiday cottages available and the grounds boast a deer park and a five-acre walled garden complete with tennis court and croquet lawn. See novarestate.co.uk

The Castle Hotel: Set on its own parkland in a grand 18th-century country house built for the dukes of Gordon, this high-end hotel is a 10-minute walk from Huntly Castle. There's a wood-panelled bar with a good selection of whiskies. The main staircase is impressive but not for the faint of heart – and it's the only way to the upstairs rooms. See castlehotel.uk.com

Loch Fyne hotel and spa: Ideally placed if you're visiting the west coast of Scotland, this four-star AA awarded hotel is on the banks of Loch Fyne, just a five-minute walk from the small town of Inverary. See crerarhotels.com

DISTILLERY TOURS

Dalmore: Tours take about one hour and the standard price is £8 a person. Tasting and bespoke tours are available on request. Children under the age of 8 are not permitted in the distillery. Opening times are 10am-5pm (Mon-Sat) from April to September; 10am-5pm (Mon-Fri) from October to March. See thedalmore.com for details.

Dewars: Whisky tours take place throughout the day and include options for whisky aficionados. All tours include access to the heritage exhibition and warehouse experience. Tours range from a simple tour for £10.50 to a whisky and chocolate tour (£23) and a full-day luxury "immersion" tour for £120. See dewars.com

Glenfiddich: Tours run from a 90-minute Explorers Tour to a four-hour Pioneers Tour which includes warehouse visits, a tutored masterclass of a selection of six whiskies along with canapes prepared by the head chef. See glenfiddich.com

Strathisla: There are all manner of tours at Strathisla but the creme de la creme is the 45-minute Chivas Cellar Tasting which involves drams drawn straight from the casks inside the Chivas Regal Cellar within Warehouse 3. Or maybe try the Chivas Regal Blending Experience and create your own blend. See maltwhiskydistilleries.com

from traveller.com.au