I had two great guests on a whisky tour from Russia, they went home with 35 whisky bottles. We made a few distillery visits, with full tours at; Laphroaig, Bowmore, Ardnahoe, Kichoman, Jura, Glenmorangie, Tobermory, Macallan, Edradour*. Photo stops, tastings and shopping at; Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bunnyheaven, Bruichladdie, Caol Ila, Springbank, Flatnose whisky, Carnegie whisky cellars, Balblair, Glen Moray, Oban, Glen Ord, Old Pulteney, Clynelish, Tullibardine, Invergordon, Gordon & Macphail, Cardhu, Coleburn, Cooperage, Knockando, Tamdhu, Linkwood, Glendullan, Glenallachie, Speyburn, Craigellachie and special purchases at Glencairn Crystal, I think there are more. All the whisky bottles, maps and gifties are on the way to Russia with lots of Scottish love, my guests are driving from Scotland to Russia with an overloaded car! Some statistics from the trip: in total, stopped (and made pictures at) 44 distilleries. The total number of bottles taken home is 35 (have to admit that 3 are half sized from Bunnahabhain). For 12 days in a row we did not have rain, we actually had more sunny days than cloudy ones – let someone try to beat all or any of that!
On Islay great food, including a massive seafood platter, and the special of the day “haggis road kill” (where can we find the sea food of Islay’s quality? Maybe Oban), when in Iain’s bar chatting to locals, they mentioned their mate, who they called Mr Kipling, asked why that name; because when you see him driving, he always has two tarts with him. Say no more. They enjoyed the tour, enjoyed the food and the scenery, 6 calmac ferries and Jura landing craft, “I am pretty sure however, that everyone coming for the tours with you WILL get the same hospitality, WILL meet wonderful people and WILL be charmed by Scotland. And that is what matters in the end when you sit back home with a glass of your favourite drink in hand. And yes, we would like to come back. There are a lot of places we have not visited yet – and hopefully they will open that bar at Lagavullin next time we come to see them. Let’s keep in touch”. Alexey. The tour got off to a dismal start, Calmac cancelled the ferry to Islay, so we had to quickly book into a hotel in Tarbert, then (Liz would hate this), be up and out next morning by 6.15 to get in line at the ferry. We made it onto the 7am boat and the story began. Great days on Islay, then Oban, Mull, Plockton, Skye, Beauly, Wick, Tain and on to Speyside. From there to Perth and Glasgow. It was a long tour and I arrived home tired. Met loads of people, contacts, friends etc – as usual. Did I enjoy the tour? Is the Pope a Catholic? Did I take home any bottles? Same answer. Am I ready to go again, ditto.
*Chatting to Andrew, I will have news in the next three months.
Photo. Alexey is on the right, Adam the rock star from Jura Distillery on the left. Who does he look like?
THIS IS A WEE STORY WRITTEN AND SENT TO US BY OUR GUESTS FROM THE TOUR; 3 milestones.
When we have initially contacted Liz and Paul our idea was to visit 2 whisky regions, Islay and Speyside. If only because we have not heard a lot about any other whisky region. Due to good planning on Paul’s side it turned out we have been able to see 5 out of 6 of those regions leaving the Lowlands for the next time. We have started with Campbeltown and Springbank Distillery but were a bit frustrated by the fact we have not been allowed to join the tour that has left a dozen minutes prior to our arrival. Anyway, we only got there because our ferry to Islay has been cancelled due to high winds, so we just registered our first distillery out of what eventually became 44 visits. The first meaningful part of our tour was on Islay. Although it is not the biggest island, Islay is a separate whisky region and there are currently 10 distilleries on it. Having said that Port Ellen at the moment only does maltings for many of the local distilleries but does not produce any whisky – yet, we have visited the other 9 with different level of satisfaction. We have enjoyed the Caol Ila Distillery and a chat with a lovely Lithuanian lady during tasting experience there. The one that has disappointed us most is owned by the same company that owns Caol Ila and I will not say anything else about them to avoid unduly promotion. Ardbeg we found to be the most crowded of the Islay distilleries, so we did not stay there for too long. Laphroaig is our favorite and did not disappoint. The most positive surprise for us has been Kilchoman. Given their relatively small size they do not aim to outperform the big players, they rather concentrate on experiments and oh how good the result is! Bowmore, Ardnahoe, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain all have something to show.
Jura is a small ferry away from Islay but the local distillery belongs to the islands region. We went there one early morning which was a good planning as we came there for the first tour and were alone. So, we got a private tour at a price of a regular one. Good tasting too! At the moment there are just 150 living on Jura 15 of whom work for the distillery. 10 % of the population! But we got a feeling that there will be more people living on Jura soon with quite a bit of construction going on there. We left Islay with a very warm feeling to it. People are super friendly. Food was majestic. Obviously whisky is overshadowing mostly everything on Islay but seafood deserves to be mentioned separately. Even if there was no whisky we might return just because of local seafood perfection. Talking about food we have tried haggis, black pudding, wondered at who could consume the full Scottish breakfast. But our top local food experience was porridge with a dram of whisky. Definitely once in a lifetime experience that we would not dare repeat!!! Oban was next stop on the way to Mull. And that one was the first one from the Highlands region that we have visited. Tobermory was another good tour and memorable tasting. And another linguistic exercise. For non-native English speaker a lot of local names present a certain challenge. But Ledaig won the first prize. Why would you pronounce it LEDCHICK??? Well, they do. Now you know too. Maclean castle was the highlight of the historical sightseeing part on Mull.
Back to the mainland after that. Unfortunately the planned visit to one of the distilleries there did not materialize as the people there obviously decided it not worth their time to come to work during the week-end even if the visit had been prearranged. Luckily, as opposed to Campbeltown, Highland region has a lot more distilleries and we have been able to visit some of more visitor friendly ones. Glenmorangie is another favorite brand of ours so we could not miss it. Had a tour/tasting there. On a personal note it still seems to be that the taste of Nectar d”Or has changed as opposed to the first bottles that we bought though the distillery claims that the technology remains the same. The good thing is they have a lot of different tasting products to offer so one will almost surely find something to his or her taste. Here I must say that we did not do the tours in every distillery but we tried not to miss the tastings. And if our impressions were similarly positive we would usually buy a bottle that we liked. That did not happen every time. But still by the end of the tour we managed to amass a horde of 33 (different) bottles in the back of our car. And this seems to be the first milestone that will wait to be reached by some whisky lovers in the future.
I must note here that we were surprised by the fact that the price of whisky at the distillery was very often higher that at the independent bottlers. So there’s a hint – if you are flying back home and consequently are limited in how much you can take with you try looking at Gordon & McPhail or other independent bottlers. You may be surprised.
On our way north we reached the town of Wick that claims to have the shortest street and Old Pulteney Distillery. Now, we have definitely heard claims about shortest streets in one or two other places, so can not guarantee that it is true. But we can verify that the Old Pulteney is there. And another tasting was a positive experience yet again! Highland castles are worth a separate mention. We have visited near a dozen. And all the visits happened in a beautiful weather. So, there’s another milestone. My feeling this one is the most difficult to achieve. Out of 12 days tour only during the last we had some rain. Was it luck or some old magic involved? We don’t know. But oh how we enjoyed it! After Wick it was south all the time. To Speyside. There are so many distilleries there. Macallan has just opened the new visitor’s centre. Even if you think that their stuff is overpriced – and it would be hard to disagree – I do recommend visiting. It is unique. Not everything on the tour we liked and they do not explain the whole process as at some other distilleries. And it is not traditional at all. But if you go there you will understand why we would still recommend a visit. We have finished our great tour at Tullibardine. And wasn’t it a memorable one too! Gavin there made us feel like kids during Christmas listening to the fairy tales with eyes wide open, smiles on the faces and an expectation of the best to come. Mind you, that was distillery number 44 in 12 days for us. There were others almost as good as him whom we’ve met during our tour. So that’s yet another milestone. More than 44 distilleries in one tour anyone? I would say that the best part of our tour was meeting so many nice and friendly people. And I am sorry that I could not name them all. My excuse would be to come and see all those wonderful people again. Finally, our thanks go to Liz for being quick to reply to our request and organizing the tour. And of course, to Paul for taking good care of us, driving us across his beloved Scotland; west, east, north and south, discussing history, supplying us with endless samples of whisky and biscuits and Maclean’s hospitality.
Alexey and Nataliya Drobysh, Russia, May 2019