During my Scotland whisky trip I made quite a lot of experiences that are not really worthy of an entire blog post but should not go unmentioned nonetheless.
I have mentioned some of the people I met in the corresponding reports, but I would like to take the opportunity to tip my hat to all those who have made this journey such a valuable experience, and a very fun one too. It was particularly nice to meet a lot of people in person that I had contacted before only over the internet.
The start was made by meeting up the with Glasgow’s Whisky Club at the Bon Accord, especially with Mark Connelly who I have to thank for taking me to Glengoyne, chairman Bill Mackintosh who invited me to their Round the Barrel Night, and Erik Burgess who I had the pleasure to meet again after my last visit to Glasgow in 2010
A major yet unofficial event of the Speyside Festival in Dufftown was the dramming party at the Parkmore Cottages. Facebook and Twiter friend Steffen Bräuner from Denmark invited me to join the group of Danish maltheads who were undertaking a major whisky tour to Speyside, Islay and the Limburg whisky fair. Also present were Maltstock organizer Teun van Wel as well as Bryan Crossan and Malt Manicac Tim Puett of The Ardbeg Project from USA. All of us brought whisky, of course. Too many fantastic drams to name them all were had, but special mentions are deserved for a great cross-section of bourbons supplied by the two Americans and two fabulous old independent Balvenie bottlings.
Steffen had also asked me if I would like to join one of their two teams they intended to form for the Spirit of Speyside whisky quiz at Strathisla distillery. Of course I agreed, and it turned out to be a fantastic night, eventually winning second prize with “my” team, a bottle of Strathisla 16 yo cask strength. Thanks go to the Danish Whisky Wizards for making this possible!
At the festival events I was pleased to also meet (in no particular order) Mike Lord of the Whisky Shop Dufftown, Steve Oliver of Spirit of Speyside, Mark Davidson of Cadenhead’s, Stewart Buchanan of Benriach, Dave Broom, David Stirk of The Creative Whisky Company, Tim Forbes of The Whisky Exchange, as well as fellow bloggers Neil and Joel of Cask Strength and Lucas of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog. Last but not least a special mention for Jan Beckers of Douglas Laing who I actually met twice as he also happened to be at Knockdhu distillery while I was there.
Speaking of Knockdhu, it was a great pleasure to meet distillery manager Gordon Bruce, who was kind enough not only to sacrifice a large portion of his working day but also to give me lifts that only made it possible at all to see his distillery and also Glendronach. THE German Grouse Mark Giesler deserves a big Thank You as well for turning my visit to Glenturret into a very special Famous Grouse Experience.
The last day before returning to Bavaria I spent in Edinburgh. After the cascade of whisky events I quite enjoyed taking it easy, but I was extremely delighted that Charles McLean took the time to meet me for a lunchtime chat over a pint or two. After Tim Puett and Dave Broom he was the third Malt Maniac I could meet in person in Scotland.
I was a bit late to find accomodation in Dufftown proper, so I expanded the search radius to find Norlaggan Guesthouse in Aberlour. I turned out to be an excellent choice for two reasons. Aberlour is a stunningly beautiful place – at least when the weather is fine which it was – right a the River Spey. You can’t get more Speyside than this, and if you are in the area, I strongly suggest you walk a little on the Speyside Way, at the very least the short distance between Aberlour and Craigellachie that offers beautiful sights of the Spey valley including a glimpse of Macallan’s Easter Elchies estate.
Ros and Ken of The Norlaggan are some of of the nicest people I met on my tour, and certainly the friendliest of all the Bed & Breakfast landlords and landladies I have come across in the UK. Their guesthouse is also the undisputed new media central of Aberlour, free wirless internet access and a free-to-use internet workstation for guests set them apart from others.
The Curly Coo in Crieff
When I arrived in Crieff the evening before I was going to see Glenturret, it was raining for the first time after two weeks of splendid sunny weather. A day’s travel and rainy weather, this just cries for an evening at the pub, so I was delighted to find this high street bar with a suprisingly big whisky selection. There wasn’t too much business in the bar, so it evolved into a nice chat about whisky with the landlady Mandy and another guest. I could feel the genuine enthusiasm Mandy has for whisky, and her ever-growing selection of malts (100+ when I visited) also includes quite a few interesting non-standard drams. Thumbs up!
The Highlander Inn
Right opposite the fabled Craigallachie Hotel, this is the place to go when you feel less luxurious (or are less wealthy). Their whisky selection is just as outstanding as their haggis, and this is not meant ironically.
Lack of Places
Speaking of food and drink, there is one thing that struck me this year as much as it has every time since I first was in the UK some 20 years ago. Gastronomy outside bigger towns is rather hit and miss. And unfortunately, more often it is miss than hit.
I know, a German complaining about British gastronomy, that sounds a bit strange. But in some respect I feel reminded of the Dark Ages of German gastronomy that we have been (slowly) overcoming now. Trying to find a hot meal for an affordable price that is something else like burgers, fish & chips, steak pie or the inevitable Chicken Kiev is a non-trivial excercise, especially at lunchtime.
Of course there are notable exceptions, like the Highlander Inn or the Mash Tun in Aberlour. And of course you can get pretty darn excellent food at places like the Craigallachie Hotel, but you have to be prepared to pay a fortune. What is largely missing is the intermediate level: less than luxury but more than just pub grub. Regional food? Forget it. On so many menus you fail to notice if you are in Brighton or in Thurso.
And to conclude this little rant, in a place like Dufftown I was utterly surprised not to be able to find a pub that has both a decent whisky selection (not to mention nosing glasses) and a nice atmosphere. And one that perhaps also has another beer on tap than just the omnipresent Tennents, Belhavens or McEwans you find all across Scotland anyway.
At the end of these hopefully not too extensive reports I would like to point out three moments that were my personal highlights of the journey in three different areas.
The social highlight definitely was the Parkmore dramming evening that I already mentioned. Nothing beats enjoying whisky in company. And when the company is so excellent like it was there, it can’t get better than that.
Intellectual highlight was without a doubt the Benriach tasting with the exepctional dissection of their 16 year old standard bottling.
And last but not least the emotional highlight: The walk up Ben Rinnes with subsequent whisky tasting, the perfect combination of geography, nature, a distillery and whisky.
This visit to Scotland was an execeptional experience. Thanks to all people who contributed, and thanks to you for having had the stamina to follow my reports.