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Published: April 13th 2010
Off to an extraordinary and upmarket start to the single malt tastings at Martin's place (see Australian single malt on left - that was my contribuition!)
I arrived in Aberdeen on a crisp, sunny day. So lovely was it that, after Martin picked me up from the airport, he immediately put the top down on his racy blue Nissan 350Z. After years of constant teasing about the practicality of having a convertible in Scotland, I am now officially a convert. So what that you need the heaters blaring, a scarf and sunglasses on (and a hair tie!) at all times? It rocks!
After a quick orientation in Aberdeen, I crashed and then got my second wind just in time for a fine evening of single malt tastings! I had purchased a bottle of Australian single malt whisky, Bakery Hill Classic cask strength, for Martin so we started off with that (which I really enjoyed) before moving onto a few single cask specials from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society! Warmed the cockles of my heart and ensured I had a great night's sleep!
Oh but how the weather can change overnight. Awoke to a cold and rainy day in Aberdeen which, as we traveled into Speyside (in search of whisky distilleries) turned to snow and it wasn't too long before the road ahead was blocked with
The road ahead......
Day 1 of our jaunt around Scotland. Did not look promising. Turned around and found some lower ground with less drift!
drift snow. Wow! This was only the third occasion in my life I had actually been snowed on!
Ended up heading into the little village of Keith and visiting the Strathisla distillery - home of Chivas Regal (blend). Of the 5 people on the distillery tour, I was the only one on my first tour so it felt like the entire tour was pitched at me which was great. Learned all the basics - including that whisky contains but three ingredients - barley, water and yeast - and how the process works from start to finish. The end of all tours is the sipping of a wee dram of whisky - agggghhhh, perfect.
After lunch, we headed off to the little village of Aberlour and found a great B&B run by a very chatty couple. Dinner at 'The Mash Tun' was recommended - so off we went. I had fried haggis balls with a whisky cream sauce for a starter and then salmon with vegies for main. Of course, we finished off the evening with a dram or two, including one back at the B&B courtesy of our gracious hosts!
The snow did not stop overnight and
Our first distillery tour. Strathisla is a Speyside distillery making it's own single malt but more famously home to Chivas Regal.
we were officially 'snowed in'. Whilst this was a little frustrating, it was also a 'first' for me and it WAS very pretty outside. Not wanting to waste any opportunities, we visited Aberlour distillery in the afternoon which just happened to be a couple of hundred metres from the B&B.
Far and away the most comprehensive tour of my trip. Dennis, the tour guide, was fantastic. Not only did he know what we was talking about but he added in many corny and non-PC jokes along the way And just to make it even better, not one dram of whisky at the end - four (plus new make spirit - which is the spirit which goes into the casks (spirit cannot be called whisky for a minimum of 3 years after being put in a cask), looks like vodka and has a very high alcohol content). It was great neither of us were driving, I certainly left there a little more ruddy cheeked than usual!
After another night at 'The Mash Tun', the following morning was clear, no snow falling
so it was time for Merryn to have her first snow clearing lesson! I managed to dig Martin's car out and clear half of Laura's (host) driveway. I expected to pull up sore the following day but surprisingly, it didn't happen. Whisky must have curative powers!
Made it to Inverness via Glen Moray distillery and Culloden. Glen Moray provided the standard tour but had a few interesting deviations including having two casks with perspex at each end to highlight the color of the contents. I also got to taste (and then purchase) a port-cask finished single malt. It has a very girly, pink tinge to it - so me!!!!!!
What can I say about Culloden except it was FREEZING! I had wanted to visit for such a long time and it did have an impressive visitor centre and exhibits highlighting the absolute slaughter of the Jacobites. However, the main attraction, the battle ground itself, was subject to high and chilly winds such that the walking tour, via headphones using a GPS, was difficult to follow. We were told once any speaking started to stay in one place and not to keep walking. Fine idea but not in that
Washback at Aberlour
Our tour leader, Dennis, providing some insight into the whisky making process.
Next day featured the ultimate in Merryn's Scotland tour highlights - Eilean Donan castle! Not only is the castle picture postcard stuff, especially on the beautiful day we were treated to, but it also featured in one of my favorite movies of all time, 'Highlander'. So, needless to say, there were a few movie lines quoted as I wandered around the castle.
Oh....and on the way, we did pass Loch Ness! It was very early in the morning, Nessie was having a lovely splash around but I failed to get a picture of her. Sorry folks.
Late afternoon, we made it to Fort William, passing Ben Nevis, the UK's highest peak. I had wanted to hike up to the peak. All the guide books had claimed it was not possible in April. Unfortunately, they were sooooooo right. See my panorama pic at the top of this blog - the Ben is on the right. Not for me to climb this trip!
Continuing both the battlefield and climbing themes, next morning we passed through Glencoe. Very beautiful is the Great Glen, even under mist and cloud. In fact, probably just makes it that little more eerie.
Set up in pairs, most Speyside distilleries, like Aberlour, distill twice - first time the spirit is around 20% alcohol, second time, close to 70%!
On the way back to Aberdeen, we passed through lots of villages and towns including Perth (not a touch on the capital of Western Australia) and Stonehaven (famous for having invented the deep-fried Mars bar).
And, on Aberdeen itself, I believe Lonely Planet is a little too harsh. I was lucky that I got to see it initially in sunshine so the grey granite was shiny rather than drab and dull. And there are some absolute treasures like 'Footdee' (pronounced 'Fittee'), a little enclave close to the port and formerly the homes to the local fishermen. It is a collection of tiny little dwellings with a little shed area across from each of them for storing fishing equipment - now converted to spare rooms or garden sheds.
And now to end with some interesting questions and observations:
Can Aberdeen really be seen from space in April because of the large volume of daffodils in bloom?
And some Scottish vernacular: dreich
- used to describe weather only - bleak, miserable, dull, otherwise known as downright
depressing fridge cake
- the sweet equivalent of 'bubble and squeak'. That is, a sweet made from left overs in
The Spirit Safe
The humourous part of each tour for me. Note the lock. This is all about taxes. The spirit safe was traditionally locked with 2 mechanisms - the still man had one and the tax man, the other. Just to make sure none of the product went missing without the appropriate tax being paid!
your fridge. twee
- refers to old-style things that are kitch fit
fit - in true northern, old-time Scottish it is used as 'what?' but seems also to be used as 'ready?' as in 'are you fit?' fancy pieces
Anyone wishing to confirm or refute these statements, please feel free to do so!
Next chapter from the Orkney Islands........
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