Scenes from India Fest, 2018 (St. Paul, MN)


Last year, at just about this time we spent a good part of the day at the Little Africa festival in St. Paul. We were planning to do the same again this year but in the weeks prior I learned that India Fest was scheduled on the same day. I’ve been vaguely aware of India Fest—organized by the India Association of Minnesota—for some time now but had never previously been moved to attend. But now that our boys are getting older we’re trying to expose them to as much of their parents’ Korean and Indian heritage as we can and so we decided to go. And a very interesting event it turned out to be.  Continue reading

Clynelish, Casually


Clynelish was my fifth DIageo distillery visit, and the second of this trip (after Cragganmore), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. While my visit to Lagavulin last year had been a highlight—both for the Warehouse Experience and for the general vibe at the distillery—and my brief stop at Cragganmore likewise very pleasant, I feared that the more perfunctory attitude I encountered at Talisker and Oban might make an appearance again at Clynelish. I was very happy to be proved completely wrong. We stopped here on our way from Dornoch to Wick. The distillery is located only 30 minutes or so from Dornoch, and it’s a lovely drive there up the coast. Given my expectations—and also the fact that I had a tour booked at Pulteney at 2 pm that day—I had not planned for a tour at Clynelish and so what I have for you is my usual look at the grounds and at the Visitor Centre/shop.  Continue reading

Balblair, Briefly


Balblair was my third distillery stop on the day of my visit. The day had begin with a tour of Aberlour. Then on the way out of the Speyside we stopped briefly at Glenfarclas. A couple of hours later we were at Balblair. If you’re ever planning a trip in this part of Scotland and wondering about distillery visits, you should know that it’s very easy to get to Balblair. It’s less than an hour from Inverness and mostly on a nice big highway. It’s very easy to combine it with a visit to the Loch Ness area. And if you so chose, you could stop at Dalmore and Glenmorangie along the way. We did not stop and arrived at Balblair about an hour and a half before closing time.  Continue reading

Glenfarclas on the Go


Having just written up a Speyside distillery that I did tour (Aberlour), let me hit you with one last distillery visit that did not involve a tour. This was my second stop at Glenfarclas in as many days. You may recall that my friend Daniel and I went to Glenfarclas on the Sunday afternoon of our Speyside jaunt only to discover that they are closed on Sundays (and also on Saturdays—at least in June). We then went to Cragganmore instead. The next day, after we’d toured Aberlour and lunched at the Mash Tun, Daniel and his family drove back to Edinburgh. We drove to Dornoch but decided to go a bit south rather than north to meet the A9. This resulted in the only sustained bit of very narrow road driving on this trip, as our sat nav took us through a slightly more picturesque route than we were looking for to get to the A9. It also meant that we were going to be driving past Glenfarclas rather than Benromach on the way, and so we paused for about 15 minutes for me to walk around the distillery grounds and in the visitor centre.  Continue reading

Touring Aberlour


Here is my sixth report on a visit to a distillery in the Speyside and it’s finally one that I toured. (Previous stops were at Cragganmore, Glenfiddich, Strathisla, Glen Moray and Glen Grant.) I was very much looking forward to this visit as I’d heard a lot about their distillery exclusive bottles and was hoping to taste and purchase one of each, and certainly at least the ex-bourbon cask they’re said to always have on offer. And the tour itself has a very good reputation—it’s one of those that is always recommended by whisky geeks to people making their first visit to the Speyside. Well, I was disappointed on one score and pleased on the other.  Continue reading

Cragganmore at Closing Time


Cragganmore was the third distillery I visited on our Sunday in the Speyside in June. I’d not actually had any plans to visit it. The plan was Strathisla in the morning, followed by Glenfiddich, and then the afternoon at Ballindalloch Castle. After Glamis Castle on the way to the Speyside, however, we weren’t feeling like another castle tour and so decided to just hang out in their gardens—which include extensive play areas and activities for kids. When we got there, one of the gents at one of the activity tables asked my friend Daniel and me if we’d been to Glenfarclas yet (it had somehow come up that we were interested in whisky). No, we said. You should really go, he said, it’s just a few miles away. And so off the two of us went. And found that Glenfarclas is closed on Sundays. Rather than go right back we decided to drive a few miles the other way to Cragganmore, which we’d established was open on Sundays. We arrived just about 20 minutes before closing but got a warm welcome.  Continue reading

At Glenfiddich


There was no way I was going to go to the Speyside and not stop in at either of the region’s two most historically significant names. The most significant distillery, of course, is Glenlivet. But Glenlivet was just a bit too far out of the way for our mostly non-whisky-obsessed group. Glenfiddich has the added attraction of being situated right by the ruins of Balvenie Castle. And so it was an easy choice to go to the distillery that pioneered the marketing of distillery-released single malt whisky in the early 1960s. Accordingly, we drove right there from Strathisla. The two make for quite a contrast, especially in quick juxtaposition. Continue reading

Strathisla on a Sunday


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

Gordon & MacPhail (Elgin, Scotland)


Our time in Elgin began with a visit to the evocative ruins of Elgin Cathedral; but as far as I was concerned, the most important cathedral in Elgin was the legendary Gordon & MacPhail store—the place that many say is essentially the birthplace of single malt whisky as we know it. It is this store that began the consistent practice of bottling and selling whiskies from distilleries when their owners were not yet doing so. Their stocks are legendary and some of the oldest single malts ever released have either come directly from them or from casks bought back from them by the distilleries (G&M have their own bonded warehouse in Elgin and are highly unusual among independent bottlers for having filling contracts that let them mature their casks themselves). In the modern era, they have released a large number of excellent whiskies in a number of different lines, and until recently were one of the bottlers who could be most relied upon for providing value to middle-class drinkers. For all these reasons, as well as the possibility of finding some recent lauded releases still sitting on their shelves, I was very excited to visit. Indeed the visit was at the very top of the list of whisky things I was excited to do while in the Speyside. Alas, the experience turned out to be quite disappointing. Continue reading

Glen Moray, On the Run (Summer 2018)


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

At Glen Grant, Mostly in the Gardens (Summer 2018)


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

Edinburgh Whisky: Cadenhead’s

As you probably do not remember, my experience at the London branch of Cadenhead’s was not very positive. This is partly because the selection on the occasion of my visits was not very inspiring, and largely because the staff were not inclined to be very helpful—one gent, in particular, almost eccentrically so. I am happy to say that, as expected, the experience at the Edinburgh location—down the hill on the Royal Mile—was as different as could be imagined. I’m also happy to say that the Edinburgh Cadenhead’s turned out to be a 2-3 minute walk from our Airbnb. As a result, I went a couple of times. I’ll have reviews of the things I bought in the coming weeks (or next month, more likely); here, for now, is a brief write-up of the shop along with far too many photographs—if such a thing is possible.  Continue reading

4th Annual Little Africa Fest, St. Paul


On Saturday we went up to St. Paul to take in some of the 4th Annual Little Africa Fest. It was held in Hamline Park, at the corner of Lafond and Snelling (free admission). There are quite a few African restaurants and businesses in the area and there’s also a sizable immigrant African population: Somalis and Ethiopians, in particular, but also Eritreans and immigrants from various west African nations. This is a part of the Twin Cities that we have not previously seen much of or interacted with and we’re eager to close that gap. Our town in semi-rural, southern Minnesota is not remarkably culturally diverse (though there’s more diversity here than most might imagine) and as our kids get older it becomes more and more urgent for us to get them to see Minnesota as not just a sea of whiteness. Fortunately, the Twin Cities offer plenty of opportunities to expand cultural horizons.  Continue reading

Kilchoman


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