Drams Do Come True at Caol Ila!
Hi everybody and welcome back to Best Shot Whisky Reviews,
Yesterday evening I returned to Sao Paulo after having spend 15 days in Scotland and one week with my family in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Just imagine, 15 days with my Dutch brother in law in Scotland, just drinking and thinking whisky. Five Days on Islay, one Day on Jura and almost a week in Speyside. It was the trip of our lifetime and really a dream coming true! All in all we visited around 25 distilleries that are open to the public and took some outside pictures of another 15 or so distilleries that are not open to the public or have in fact shut down. On Islay we visited Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Bunnahabhain. The latter one was temporarily closed unfortunately on account of some staff problems.
The writer at the Gates of Heaven at Laphroaig!
On Jura we saw 1 Distillery, 1 Hotel, some 20 people and one deer! Quite a difference with Sao Paulo and its 17 million inhabitants! In the second week we moved to the Highlands (Speyside) and visited in random order BenRomach, Macallan, Dallas Dhu, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Cragganmore, Oban, Speyside Cooperage, Aberlour, Ben Nevis, Strathisla, Dalwhinny, The Glenlivet, Glen Grant, Blair Atholl, Cardhu, Edradour and Glen Moray. We also took some pictures at Knockando, Dailuaine, BenRinnes, Glenallachie, Tormore, Glen Keith, Strathmill, Auchroisk, Bladnoch, Craigellachie and Glentauchers.
Work to do at Cragganmore!
Logistics: We started our tour in Rotterdam and took the P&O Ferry to Kingston Upon Hull in the UK. Both on the way to Hull and on the way back to Rotterdam we sailed the Pride of Rotterdam. If you want to do the trip in your own car this is the most obvious solution although you can also consider the ferry: IJmuiden - Newcastle. We had booked the standard cabins but if you want a little comfort you might consider an upgrade as these cabins are really small. We were very lucky with the weather and enjoyed relatively calm seas both ways. From Hull we crossed the UK via Manchester, Scotch Corner, Penrith, Glasgow, Tarbet and arrived late afternoon in Tarbert, some 6 miles north of the Caledonian Mac-Brayne Ferry Terminal to Islay.
The Ferry from Kennacraig to Islay!
All in all it's around 550 km from Hull to Tarbert so that's a good day's work. Tarbert is a nice little harbour town and an excellent place to stay when you need to take the ferry early next morning. Don't forget to have a pint or a dram at the local pub The Corner House. The bar offers around 100 different whiskies. On Islay we stayed in Port Ellen in the excellent Askernish Bed & Breakfast. The owner, Joy, is really trying to make you feel at home. One day we took the ferry to Jura and while it takes you only 5 minutes to arrive, you pay 20 pounds for 1 car and two persons. Bit exaggerated in my opinion. And be careful cause sometimes it sails a bit earlier! Then on our way to Speyside via Oban and Loch Ness. The South West cost of Scotland is really beautiful and the many lakes are a feast to the Eye. In Speyside we stayed two days in Elgin and another four in Craigellachie in the excellent Strathspey Bed and Breakfast, just opposite the famous Highland Inn where we spent all our evenings. Good food, around 500 whiskies and great people! On our last day in Scotland we stayed in the town of Pitlochry in the well-known Moulin Inn & Hotel.
The Moulin " Blanc" at Pitlochry
Friendly hotel with a nice pub with solid Scottish Food and drinks! In general we liked the Scottish food a lot. Of course we took various Scottish Breakfasts with Toast, Bacon, Black Pudding, Haggish, Sausage, Baked Mushrooms, Eggs and Grilled Tomatoes. It sounds like a lot but it's a solid base when you have your first wee dram at 10.30 in the morning! For lunch we either had the Soup of the Day or a small Salad or Sandwich. At night we tried out various local specialities such as Haggish, Fish and Chips and Lamb. And always tried some of the local Lagers and Ales of course!
Bunnahabhain in the Rain!
The Weather: If you love sunshine you can better forget spending all of your spare holiday time in Scotland. On Islay we had two beautiful days but other than that we had either Drizzle, light Rain or heavy Rain, both on Islay and in Speyside with the exception of our two travel days when it was mostly dry. As most of our program was indoors it didn't bother us that much but it's so much nicer to take pictures in the sun!
Controlling the Head, the Heart and the Tail at Bruichladdich!
The Distilleries: As I said before, we visited around 25 distilleries and in each case we looked around in the Visitor Centres and the Shops and participated in the Standard Tours. In some cases we did advanced tours and I will come back to that later on. The visitor centres vary from very small (Jura, Aberlour) to very large (Glenfiddich, Kilchoman) and anything in between. Most standard tours cost around 5 pounds and will take about an hour. A, usually female, guide will talk you through the basics of the Whisky making process and show you most of the stages of the production process. Some are quite knowledgeable, others less so. But most are at least enthusiastic. If you have only time for one tour and want to know as much as possible in as little time as possible I recommend doing the tour at Macallan. I'm not the biggest fan of all of their whiskies but their Standard Tour is great. Well done Judy! On many occasions we were very lucky to enjoy private tours as there were no other visitors at that time.
Private Tour at Benromach!
This happened a.o. at Benromach, Glen Grant, Laphroaig and Cardhu. This is great as the hosts are very relaxed and take all the time you need. In contrast there is the mass production at Glenfiddich, Glenlivet and Edradour. The latter one is the smallest Scottish distillery but they seem to make more money on tourists than on whisky. If you have the time and money you can also choose one of the more in depth tours. They will cost you anything between 15 and 30 pounds but will show you many more details and of course you will get the chance to taste more - and better drams, usually in the Warehouse or in a very cosy lounge room. We would have loved to do the The Balvenie Connoisseurs Tour but that was fully booked for a month ahead! Macallan was the best tour from an informative point of view but the most fun we had at Laphroaig and Bruichladdich.
Serious Matters at Laphroaig!
Wrapping it Up! Looking back we had two wonderful weeks in Scotland. Utterly stunning and Superb as some Englishman called it over lunch at the Mash Tun in Aberlour. I already knew a bit about whisky but I can safely say that we acquired a lot of additional knowledge during our visits. And we tasted over a 100 whiskies along the road. Among our favourites were the Laphroag 18 years and the Bladnoch 16 Years. In the coming months I will try to publish tasting notes of all the distilleries we have visited during our trip, also adding more details and pictures of those distilleries. There are two items that I will discuss in more detail in the coming months. I also intend to bring it to the attention of the distillery owners.
No Pictures Please!!!!!!!!
This is the first issue. Nowadays, lots of distilleries are owned by either Diageo or Pernod-Ricard. In all those cases company policy forbid taking pictures at production plants. While I can understand that Mobile phones might interfere with computer programs and Flash photography might be dangerous at the Milling site and in the Warehouses, I don't see why non-flash photography can not be allowed. The production process can hardly be called a secret and most of the magic takes place within the Stills and the Casks anyway. And I did not see any - or heard of any frequent explosions and fires in the Distilleries where you are more than welcome to take pictures. The majority of the visitors are whisky freaks and pilgrims like me and they love to make pictures of the Sacred Places. And no, picture postcards are not an alternative! If you take away this important part of the magic, distilleries become mere production facilities. And as such, they will become less attractive to the whisky fans. Or maybe that's the idea!
A Small Problem!
And finally, one little problem. When I travelled to Scotland I imagined that miniature bottles of lots of distillery expressions would be available in the distillery shops. However, this is not the case. Most distilleries only offer their basic standard expression in Miniature form. I just took Ardbeg as an example but it seems to be the rule everywhere. This is a pity. Because lots of people would like to have a little taste of the spirit before they decide to spend a lot of money on a full bottle. And since many people can't afford buying lots of full bottles, they have to leave many distilleries empty handed. And while I can see the commercial short term sales strategy of the distilleries, it is a pity that miniatures are not more widely available to collectors and beginners alike at the distillery shops. Although there is a tendency to issue 0,2 liter bottles. That' s a good thing! In the end I did manage to buy some 45 miniatures, mainly at Gordon & Mac Phails's shop in Elgin and The Whisky Shop in Dufftown. So enough stuff to look forward to!
Well, let's see what happens with those two items. But other than that we had the Time of our Lives and nobody can take that experience away from us. I lost my heart on Islay but I will promise you to try and remain as objective as I can in my future writings. Sometimes it won't be easy though when I think about those magic moments when our Drams Came True!
Tonight it's back to the Tasting business and the Poit Dhubh 21 years Vatted or Blended Malt is on the program, followed by the Jack Daniels Silver Select. Next week I will then continue with my Tasting Notes on whiskies produced at the distilleries we visited in the last two weeks.
I will leave you now with our favourite image of the tour! And a big thanks to my brother in law for organising this tour as well as taking loads of great pictures.
See you around soon!
The Heavily Peated Mist at Laphroaig!