Touring Tomatin


Tomatin was the first distillery I ever visited. This was last summer on our first trip to Scotland. We were driving from Glasgow to Drumnadrochit and after a nice visit at Blair Castle we had time for a quick stop at Tomatin. I wrote up that quick stop last year—we didn’t go past the shop, where I filled a bourbon cask from their “bottle your own” selection. We didn’t spend much time there but I liked the feel of the place and hoped I’d have a chance to return. That chance came on our unexpectedly early return to Scotland this June. It was on our last day, on our drive back from Edderton to Edinburgh, where we boarded a plane to London; it was raining but the distillery was warm. And thanks to Tomatin welcoming small children on the tour, my entire family was able to go on the tour with me. And they all loved it.  Continue reading

Highland Park, Windily


I toured Highland Park this June and it turned out to be one of the better tours I’ve been on. But when planning the trip I’d not planned to tour it at all. This because I’d read numerous reports from whisky geeks about the experience at the distillery being soulless and so on. As all of this seemed of a piece with the relentless premiumization the owners have been engaged in for the last half-decade or more, I tended to believe it. However, when I had a drink in Edinburgh with James he recommended it highly. I still didn’t make a reservation but decided I’d give it a go if the chance presented itself once actually on Orkney. And it did.  Continue reading

Scapa, Soggily


We had incredible luck with weather in Scotland this year. Last June, it rained a lot on both Skye and Islay. This year we spent two weeks in Edinburgh, the Speyside, the northern highlands and Orkney and encountered only two days with rain worth noting; one was our last day, on our drive back from the highlands to Edinburgh. The other was our first full day on Orkney. The day started out nice and sunny and we had a lovely time visiting Skara Brae and the breathtaking cliffs at Yesnaby. It started raining lightly after lunch but it didn’t bother us as we walked across the low tide path to the Brough of Birsay (utterly stunning). By the time we got to the Ring of Brodgar it had begun to piss down and as the family grew damper their enthusiasm for being out also dampened. Accordingly, I dumped them back at our B&B (the highly recommended Foinhaven farmhouse) circa 4 pm and went off by myself to take a look at Scapa, just about 15 minutes away. It was drizzling throughout, it was not far from closing time and so I did not linger or even think about a tour. Here is a quick look courtesy my cellphone camera.   Continue reading

Pulteney, Properly


Our day began in Dornoch. We’d spent the night at the Dornoch Castle Hotel. In the morning I’d enjoyed a micro-tour of their micro-distillery (report coming soon) and after checking out we spent an enjoyable hour or so at the small but charming Dornoch Historylinks Museum located right behind the hotel (I recommend it highly if you visit Dornoch, especially with kids). We then headed north. Our final destination for the day was Orkney but our ferry wasn’t till the evening. We were taking the NorthLink ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. They sail three times a day and there was no way on earth we were ever going to make it to the 8.45 am departure. The next departure is at 1.15 pm, which would mean we’d need to check in by 12. That too would have meant a hurried departure from Dornoch plus rushed lunch along the way. So we decided to take the evening ferry at 7 pm. This meant we could have a leisurely day along the coast and it also allowed for some distillery stops. The first stop was at Clynelish and the second was at Pulteney in Wick.  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

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

Back to Scotland in a Month: Help Me Plan


We went to Scotland at the end of our extended sojourn in London last year—spending time mostly on Skye and Islay. While planning that trip I’d thought that it would be my first and only trip to Scotland. There are many parts of the world we want to visit as a family, and as we can’t do international trips every year, it didn’t seem likely that we’d double up instead of going somewhere new. But we loved our time in London and our trip to Scotland so much, we’ve been plotting a return ever since we got back. As luck would have it, an academic conference the missus and I were both interested in is taking place in Edinburgh in June; we applied and were accepted. Accordingly, we will be in Edinburgh for four days in early June and will then go up for another week to the Speyside and then further north to Orkney. I have the broad contours of the trip planned but invite your feedback here.  Continue reading