And, of course, so do we. So, Friday morning we were up at an early hour to enjoy breakfast in Pitlochry before heading out to discover one of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, Scotch whisky. This was the part of the trip The Husband had been waiting for! Over breakfast, we were treated to several guesthouse guests and the owner discussing the upcoming vote for independence from Britain and how it might affect local businesses. It was an interesting start to the morning. Having finished our first meal of the day, we head down just past the center of town to Blair Atholl Distillery. Blair Atholl offers tours and tastings every day, showcasing their lovely operations and ending with a small sampling of their finest single malt. It was still fairly early in the morning, so our tour group was on the smaller side and I thought it a wee bit early for a dram. But apparently, there is no such thing as too early for alcohol in Scotland! As someone who isn’t really a brown liquor drinker, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed most of the whiskies we tried over the course of these two days, including the one at Blair Atholl.
Each distillery tour (we did 6 altogether) was very similar as the actual process for making Scotch is pretty standard. However, each distillery does delight in telling you exactly how it differs from their competitors, and it’s really interesting to see those differences first hand. For example, did you know that the shape of the copper stills that every single distillery in Scotland uses are completely unique to each brand? Seriously, every single distillery has its own specially-designed stills- some are fat, some are tall, some are bell shaped, others have multiple curved areas. Those were definitely something to take note of on each tour. Most of the tours lasted about 60-90 minutes, and they all ended with tastings (some more generous than others). Also fun to note, only 2 out of 6 tour guides were actually Scottish. The rest were Canadian, American, German, and English. I just thought that was funny.
After having our tasting and making a small purchase, we next decided to hike our way through Black Sprout Woods to Edradour Distillery, the smallest distillery in Scotland. Yes, we hiked. Not on a path. Through brush and grass. Through plants that had sharp prickers on them. Through fields with no discernible sense of direction. Here is where I will insert that I hate Rick Steves. I have perused some of his books for years. When planning our Italy trip a few years ago, I used some of his recommendations and was NOT impressed with his restaurant recommendations, nor with his guided tours of the Forum and St. Peter’s. So why I thought I would try trusting him again with this trip is beyond me. According to Rick, there is a footpath to follow in between these two distilleries. It should have been an half an hour of an easy wooded walk. NO. NO. NO. It was not pleasant. Those plants pricked me through jeans, Rick! I think I’ll just stick to my trusty Frommer’s and Eyewitness Guides from now on. Regardless, we eventually made it to Edradour and their picturesque distillery. I did appreciate that we got a choice of a couple of different whiskeys to try during our tour so I enjoyed a dessert cream whiskey similar to a Kahlua- it was delish. I really liked their unique lay out and it’s the only distillery we visited that actually allows you to take photographs at nearly every step of the process. So, below are a few pics from Edradour.
aging barrels of Scotch
lots of barrels filled to various levels depending on how long they’ve been sitting around, the rest lost as the “Angel’s Share”
the cooling system that uses water from the nearby stream
overlooking part of the interior’s second floor with the tops of the wash backs and stills
one of the copper stills
one of the wash backs, where the fermentation process begins
another step in the process
the spirit safe- which separates the whisky suitable to be called whisky from that which is either too weak or too strong
Having purchased another bottle from Edradour, we headed back down a slightly more used footpath (that was actually sign posted) and passed by a lovely waterfall on our way back to the car. From there is was on the Dalwhinnie distillery, a personal favorite because their tastings were accompanied by chocolate! This tour was the same information but still really interesting and we got to keep the Glencairn tasting glasses that they used in our tastings. At Dalwhinnie, you do get a free tasting on the tour, but you can buy extra tastings in the shop. so that’s what we did. (Plus, chocolate pairings!) Then it was on to our home for the next two nights, RossMor house in Grantown on Spey, a tiny hamlet in the center of Scotland’s famous whisky trail. The owners of RossMor, Karen and Neil are such incredible sweethearts and they run a lovely guesthouse. Karen was kind enough to offer dinner suggestions and also made reservations for us for the following night. We had a top floor room with lots of space. That evening for dinner, we headed out to The Craig Bar, a small pub with a lively proprietor and barkeep where we made quick friends and enjoyed a few pints of ale along with delicious meat pies.
To start our day the following morning, I had to have Karen’s full Scottish breakfast, including haggis- a first for me. I will say, it wasn’t bad. Kind of like a loose sausage. Mind you, I didn’t feel the need to order it again the following morning, HA, but still, when in Rome and all that. From there we headed out to Glenlivet Distillery. Now, Glenlivet was famous enough that even I have heard of them. They have a small museum in the visitors’ center where you can avail yourself to the history of whisky before you distillery tour. After the tour, The Husband was able to fill his very own bottle of cask-strength whisky straight from the barrel, complete with filling out his own label and corking and sealing his bottle. His dream come true! From Glenlivet, it was on to Glenfiddich, another popular selection. The Glenfiddich people take themselves VERY seriously and start their tour out with a short film telling the story of the founder’s family. The copper-roofed buildings were interesting to see, and at the end of this tour, you get a prolonged tasting of three selections of Glenfiddich whiskys (a 12 yr, 15 yr, and 18 yr). I learned that I appreciate an 18 year old Scotch more than a 12 year.
Finishing up at Glenfiddish, we headed to our last distillery of the trip, Glen Grant, which is smaller and set on lovely grounds that include a small park complete with hiking trails. While we waited for our tour to begin, we explored the grounds and walked up to a small waterfall passing by another couple with the guy sporting a VA Tech sweatshirt. By this point, we definitely we familiar with the whisky-making process, but The Husband got any remaining questions he may have had about the process answered on this tour. Our tour guide did take us into the brand-new state-of-the-art bottling center that was recently constructed at the distillery. And at the end of that tour, more tastings! For their tastings, Glen Grant basically hands you a glass and a bottle and lets you pour your own dram. They were givers! Drams were drunk, more alcohol was purchased and then it was on to our final stop of the day, Duffus Castle (next post).
For your visual delight, here is a pic of the whisky collection that came home with us.
Buy ALL THE WHISKIES!
You’re welcome, Husband!