Ahhhhhh.....chilly days and single malt whisky...could life be any better?

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April 4th 2010
Published: April 13th 2010
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Night #1Night #1Night #1

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......The road ahead......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
Strathisla DistilleryStrathisla DistilleryStrathisla Distillery

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
On the way to Aberlour distilleryOn the way to Aberlour distilleryOn the way to Aberlour distillery

Martin amusing himself!
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 AberlourWashback at AberlourWashback 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.
The StillsThe StillsThe Stills

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
fridge cake - the sweet equivalent of 'bubble and squeak'. That is, a sweet made from left overs in
The Spirit SafeThe Spirit SafeThe 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
fitfit - 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 - cakes

Anyone wishing to confirm or refute these statements, please feel free to do so!

Next chapter from the Orkney Islands........

Additional photos below
Photos: 41, Displayed: 27


The samplingThe sampling
The sampling

The best bit of any distillery tour - especially this one, given the large range on offer. Thankfully, we were just a wee walk from the B&B!
Winter wonderlandWinter wonderland
Winter wonderland

The Aberlour cemetery....so pretty
The Mash TunThe Mash Tun
The Mash Tun

Fantastic whisky bar which we frequented both nights in Aberlour - and only a couple of hundred metres from the B&B.
My first snow shovelling experienceMy first snow shovelling experience
My first snow shovelling experience

Due to being snowed in in Aberlour, I volunteered to dig out the car. My only comment at the time was that is was easier than turning horse boxes!
Glen Moray distilleryGlen Moray distillery
Glen Moray distillery

Some of the filled casks, serving their time in the warehouse
The Angel's shareThe Angel's share
The Angel's share

This was a great display in the Glen Moray warehouse - a barrel with perspex at the end so we could gaze at the color (the red indicates this was previously a sherry cask) and see the evaporation. It is approximately 2% per year and is known as 'the angel's share'
Culloden Visitor CentreCulloden Visitor Centre
Culloden Visitor Centre

The exterior wall of the visitor centre had a raised stone for each of the fallen - 1500 Jacobites and 50 Government troops.
Culloden - The BattlefieldCulloden - The Battlefield
Culloden - The Battlefield

The red flag represents the government side, the blue flag, very distant, the Jabobites

It was very cold - the mountains in the background and the snow lying on the ground are making me shiver just thinking about it!
Loch NessLoch Ness
Loch Ness

Martin sighted Nessie very early in the morning - but she is known to be particularly camera shy so I missed THE shot!

...but I did get a few shots of Nessies - this is just one of the examples in the town of Drumnadrochit which houses the 'Loch Ness Centre'
Urquhart CastleUrquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle

Early morning Scottish mist on Loch Ness
Top DownTop Down
Top Down

It may have been cold but, as the sun was shining, Martin put the top down on the Mazda 350Z. Heaters blaring, scarf and sunglasses on.....toasty!
Really cold....Really cold....
Really cold....

...did I mention that earlier? This frozen puddle was on the shores of Loch Cluanie

13th April 2010

I enjoyed your post. My blog is looking for travel photos, stories, accommodation reviews, and food reviews. If you have the time and have some to share, email us at dirtyhippiesblog@gmail.com or check us out at dirty-hippies.blogspot.com Continued fun on your travels, Eric
14th April 2010

So you've sampled the whiskey and seen the hairy cow (pronounced by the Scottish as "cooo"); but have you seen a puffin yet?!
14th April 2010

Let me know when you leave Scotland and I'll try to track down the closest Detox Center and Alcoholics Anonymous support group!! Glad you are journaling your trip cuz there's a good chance you'll not remeber much! Happy Trails Mary and Jon
14th April 2010

no puffins
sorry Marketa - wrong season. The closest I came was a stuffed one at the Stromness museum!
18th April 2010

We are so jealous,it looks fantastic.
20th April 2010

The Doric
Hi Merryn. "Fit" is part of the ancient Doric dialect still spoken around Aberdeen - in most cases the "wh" is replaced with "f". Its not unusual for subtitles to be used on national TV when a fisherman from this part of Scotland is interviewed! Sorry you couldn't stop in Edinburgh in your travels - could have arranged for a visit to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society with its dozens of single cask whiskies - most around 60% abv! Alan

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