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The High Road

Driving the Morgan supercar through Scottish wilderness to the Balvenie distillery

Credit: Ian Bickerstaff
Credit: Ian Bickerstaff
Credit: Ian Bickerstaff
Credit: Ian Bickerstaff

Morgan Motor Company stands out from its peers with cars traditionally hewn from ash trees and individual panels hand-dressed in a series of sheds at its Malvern factory. This one-foot-in-the-past approach isn’t entirely borne out of stubbornness (although there might be a hint) – the main reason is to deliver something truly special in an otherwise sanitised world.

The company can produce surprises as well, though,  and its crowning model is the Aero 8, a stunning aluminium-bodied beast of a car. And what better way to enjoy it than a blast across Scotland’s finest driving roads en route to another firm that maintains much of the same ethos: the Balvenie whisky distillery. In their different ways, both Morgan cars and fine whisky explode the senses and engage at deep, emotive levels.

Although starting many miles south of the border, only beyond Stirling does it feel like the road trip has really begun. Traffic density drops, the sky seems to expand and the winding ribbon of tarmac invites us to enjoy our snarling monster to the full. The Aero 8 is Morgan’s supercar and it is simply unlike any other, juxtaposing old and new in a way only a small-volume manufacturer can justify.

The classic design with its narrow cockpit and deep, sweeping running boards squeezes a considerable 4.8-litre V8 power plant beneath the ever-so-long bonnet. Within its aluminium shell is an interior befitting a gentleman’s club, all hand-stitched leather, lacquered walnut and chunky carpet.

Any driving enthusiast who hasn’t sampled Scotland’s open roads is missing a treat. Following an overnight stop in the small town of Callander, we pick up a steady pace on the A9 to Perth. The light rain has ceased, sunshine breaks through and it is time to stow the hood for open-air driving. Switching to the A93, we head almost due north into the Cairngorms National Park with breathtaking scenery and glacial formations evident right across the landscape.

The heathers are showing their purple hues and the bright-yellow gorse delivers a heady scent. The Aero 8 feels alive too: not once have we missed having radio with such an invigorating bark from the car’s four side exhaust pipes. The experience is visceral with arresting power delivery, fast turn-in – quickly shifting to oversteer – and confident brakes all demanding this Morgan be enjoyed to the full.

Four-hundred exhilarating miles bring us to Dufftown and the Balvenie distillery where the Aero 8 causes a stir, as it does everywhere. The warm welcome is matched by the evident passion of the Balvenie people and talk turns quickly to the traditional methods and skills that lead to the creation of such unique flavours.

The range of cask-finished varieties is considerable with many thousands of barrels, including sherry and rum casks, lining the yard ready for either reparation or their next fill. Like Morgan, they do things in a tried-and-tested manner that includes having their own coopers to fabricate and maintain barrels, and coppersmiths to look after the stills.

The magic ingredient is David Stewart MBE, longest-serving malt master in the Scottish whisky industry and creator of interesting varieties such as the smooth Tun 1509 assembled from vintage casks of 22- to 30-year-old malts. Our tasting session takes us through the vanilla and fruit notes of the Caribbean Cask Aged 14 Years to the distinctly Christmassy feel of the Single Barrel Aged 15 Years.

In the same way one doesn’t drink whisky to quench a thirst, one wouldn’t select a Morgan for the daily commute. Both exist for pleasure alone. The sight and sound of the Aero 8, the feel of the aluminium gear lever and leather steering wheel, the smell of the hide… and the nose of the Balvenie whiskies, the layers of flavour hitting the palate and the journey through the multiple aftertastes should all be enjoyed for sheer sense-enlivening indulgence.

 

Time then to celebrate the past for many, many years to come.

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