Strathisla was supposed to be the first distillery we stopped at on this trip to Scotland. We left Edinburgh in the morning on a Friday and drove north and slightly east to Glamis Castle, thanking my many-armed gods along the way for the big highway we were on. We ate lunch at and toured Glamis Castle with our friends and then headed towards the Speyside. (By the way, if you’re into the Scottish castles thing, I heartily recommend Glamis Castle; they have very nice grounds—including play areas for kids—and while it’s pricey, the ticket includes a very good guided tour.) We chose to go via Aberdeen, in order to stay on large highways the whole way. This seemed like it had been an excellent decision until we got out of Aberdeen. Then a horrific accident on the A96 bottled up traffic for a good long while, and there was no way we were going to get to the distillery before they closed. Sitting on the highway we texted between cars and decided to head straight to dinner in Craigellachie instead (an enjoyable meal at the Highlander Inn, on which more later). As such, Glen Grant ended up being the first distillery we stopped at the next morning; Glen Moray followed that. We finally got to Strathisla bright and early on our second day in the Speyside, a Sunday morning. Continue reading
Glen Moray was our second distillery stop on our first full day in the Speyside. I’d originally planned for us to eat lunch at their cafe, with the possibility of a quick tour. But things didn’t pan out that way.
We started the day at Glen Grant and drove up to Elgin. After a visit to Elgin Cathedral, a large part of the group broke off to do a “Murder Mystery Treasure Trail” (highly recommended if you have small children with you) while a small splinter went off to check out Elgin’s other cathedral, the Gordon & MacPhail store—you’ll never guess which group I was part of. (Gordon & MacPhail was a hugely disappointing experience, as I will report later.) As the Treasure Trail had not been completed by lunch time we decided to eat in Elgin, finish the trail, and then go straight to our primary afternoon destination: Roseisle Beach in Burghead. On the way, we popped into Glen Moray while our friends went grocery shopping for dinner. While the kids used the facilities, I did a quick walk around the shop and distillery grounds, snapping crappy pictures, and then we were off. But there’s no reason why you should not look at those pictures now, is there? Continue reading
I may as well begin my long series of reports on our recent trip to Scotland with a look at the first distillery we visited: Glen Grant. It had not originally been on my list of places to stop at in the Speyside—where we rented a house with friends for a weekend after our time in Edinburgh. But Florin recommended it as a distillery where there’d be a lot for non-whisky-crazed members of the party to do, and so we stopped in. Florin was right. Though I didn’t do it the way I think he’d meant I should: me touring the distillery while the others wandered the grounds. As on our last trip to Scotland, I didn’t want to spend most of my time inside distilleries, doing repetitive tours. Especially when a distillery like Glen Grant has something truly unusual outside it: expansive and very attractive grounds. And so I joined everybody else in the gardens, where the kids ran and played and had a grand old time for almost an hour. It was a very good whisky-free introduction to whisky country. Continue reading
Here now is my last distillery report from our visit to Scotland in June. Fittingly, it’s of the most recently built, functioning distillery on Islay, Kilchoman. The smallest distillery on the island, it’s the one that’s least like the others: the most remote (relatively speaking), located not on the water but among farms, and absolutely independently owned. I’ve liked their malt since the very first one I ever tasted—a 3 yo bottled for Binny’s in 2010—and so I was glad to be able to stop in for a few minutes on our way for a ramble around Machir Bay (Kilchoman may not be on the water but you’re never far from the water on Islay). Continue reading
Here is my penultimate distillery visit report from our recent visit to Islay. I’ve already gone over my longer visits to Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Bowmore (where I did tours) and to Ardbeg (where we ate lunch) and short stops at Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. Here now is a brief look at Bruichladdich. We stopped here a little after my tour at Bowmore. We were on our way to Portnahaven, trying to figure out where to have lunch, and stopped at Bruichladdich to see if they might have a cafe (for some reason I’d thought they might). They do not, but I took the opportunity to take a quick look around and take a bunch of photographs. Continue reading
We visited Ardbeg on our first and second full days on Islay but on neither occasion was it for whisky-centered action. I did not do any of the tours or tastings the distillery offers. Instead, we were there to eat. Old Islay-hands already know this but Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Cafe may very well be the best place to eat on Islay—it certainly was where we had our best meals. I’d originally thought I’d only have the one post on our visits to Ardbeg, centered on food. But when the time came to resize and crop pics this weekend I discovered that, predictably, I’d taken an amount known to mathematicians as a shit-tonne—and I felt that it would be cruel to deny you the opportunity to look at all of them: many of which are of the same subject from multiple angles, taken with different white balance and aperture settings on different cameras. (There is no need to thank me.) Accordingly, my post on the Old Kiln Cafe will come on Friday. Today I have pictures of the distillery grounds and the visitor centre/shop, which we wandered while waiting for tables to open up. Continue reading
On Wednesday I posted a look at the grounds and visitor centre of the venerable Bowmore distillery. Here now is a look at the interiors of many of the distillery’s most important buildings. As I’d mentioned, my initial hope had been to do the comprehensive Craftsman’s Tour but it was booked up before I got around to emailing the distillery. The basic tour was a consolation prize. This turned out to be a good thing though. For one thing, it meant I did the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin (which was the highlight of the whisky parts of our Scotland trip); for another, it meant we had time on this day to visit Kilchoman and go on to Machir Bay—and our time at Machir Bay turned out to be one of the highlights of our entire trip. And as it happened, the basic tour at Bowmore is pretty damned good in its own right. Continue reading
After Laphroaig, Bowmore was the Islay distillery I most wanted to visit. The distillery evokes a love-hate response from most whisky geeks and I’m one of those who is in the love camp, most of the time. (What can I say? I’m all about love and positivity.) And more than any distillery tour I’d wanted to do the Craftsman Tour at Bowmore, a 4 hour extravaganza that leads you through the entire process of whisky making and ends with a tasting session inside their legendary No. 1 vaults. Alas, I left making a reservation too late and they were full up the entire time that we were on Islay. On the plus side, it’s because of this that I ended up doing the Warehouse Experience at Lagavulin, and if you’ve read my report you know how happy I am to have done that. At Bowmore I contented myself with just the basic 1 hour distillery tour. I can tell you that this is a pretty good tour—probably better than the tour portion of the Laphroaig Distillers’ Wares experience and about 500 times better than the perfunctory tour at Talisker. This post, however, does not describe that tour—that’s coming on Friday. This post merely presents a look at the distillery grounds and the shop and visitor centre. I have too many pictures, you see, and can’t be arsed to crop and resize them all at once. Continue reading
On Wednesday I posted brief impressions of Bunnahabhain, one of the two Port Askaig distilleries on Islay. Here now is a report on an equally brief visit to the other: Caol Ila.
Both Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila are located right on the Sound of Islay, across the water from Jura and both are massive factories: Caol Ila, however, is not as rundown as Bunnahabhain. Of course, assessments of “character” differ—see the dissenting comments on my endorsement of the upcoming renovations at Bunnahabhain—and actually even I wouldn’t say that Caol Ila—or the little I saw of it on my visit, which was mostly to the gift shop—has character. However, it doesn’t look like Oliver Twist is inside, asking for a little more gruel. That’s a type of lack of character that I can get behind. Continue reading
Of all the distilleries I visited in Scotland, whether in depth or on a hit and run basis, none were more of a pain to get to than Bunnahabhain, few had as idyllic a location when I got there, and none presented as depressing a prospect in such a lovely setting. This does not immediately appear to be the case as you approach the distillery—see the photograph alongside for the promise of charm. It’s a lovely glimpse after a not-very fun four mile drive on a single track road on which you meet far more oncoming traffic than you would like (more than 0 vehicles was far too many for me at some of the spots where we encountered trucks etc.) but the promise is not kept. At least not right now. It’s been reported recently that the owners are going to spend a lot of money to refurbish the distillery and I think you’ll understand why below. Continue reading
For my earlier post about my recent visit to Laphroaig, see here. In that earlier report I described the visitor centre and the distillery grounds more generally, with more pictures than could possibly be said to be necessary. Today I have an account of the Distillers’ Wares tour that I took at Laphroaig that day. You will be glad to read that it too contains far more pictures than could possibly be said to be necessary, including three of barley and four of the same set of casks. Useful information you can get anywhere else; for unnecessary pictures of barley and casks you come to me. This is our arrangement. Continue reading
I’d originally planned to write one large post on my visit to Laphroaig, covering both the Distillers Wares tour that was the focus of my visit and a more general look at the distillery grounds and visitor centre (as in my write-ups of my visits to Talisker, Lagavulin, Tomatin and Oban). However, I have so many pictures from Laphroaig and—as it’s my favourite distillery—it is very hard for me to not post a large number of them. As such, a single post would become too overwhelming (both for me to format and for you to read). Accordingly, here first is a look at the distillery more generally; I’ll go over the Distillers Wares experience on Friday. Continue reading
I have already posted accounts of my visits to Talisker and Lagavulin. Those were my second and fourth distillery stops and at both places I did formal tours (well, a warehouse tasting at Lagavulin). Here now are quick looks at the first and third distilleries I stopped at: Tomatin and Oban. Both were as close to drive-by visits as possible. Literally so: both were right by the highway between places we were spending more time at. We got to Tomatin at the end of our first full day, on our way to Loch Ness; and a few days later we stopped at the town of Oban for lunch on our drive from Skye to Kennacraig to catch the ferry to Islay. Continue reading
The first three miles east from Port Ellen on the A846 are as close as it comes to pilgrimage for lovers of smoky whisky. One mile out sits Laphroaig. You go another mile and arrive at Lagavulin. One more mile and you are at Ardbeg. Whitewashed buildings, pagoda roofs, the ocean just beyond—if you’re lucky, the smell of peat smoke will be in the air. Even if you haven’t halted along the way you may well be feeling exalted by the time you arrive, a few more miles up the road, at the ruined church in whose cemetery stands the Kildalton cross. (If you go the other direction out of town you’ll come across another ruined church, the old Port Ellen distillery). But if you have stopped to spend some time at Lagavulin with Iain “Pinkie” McArthur, you will certainly be feeling the spirit quite strongly by the time you get there.
So it was for me on my first full day on Islay. Continue reading