#3.2 Campbeltown Loch, I wish you were whisky!

A tale of two spirits…or three
(Day 2)


A day around Campbeltown with a gin tasting, a whisky tasting, and a trip to a distillery. 

(missed Day 1? Jump to Day 3 and 4)

On Friday morning we understood why it was worth spending a few extra quids by staying at the Ardshiel Hotel, other than their great whisky bar: the breakfast and the service! The breakfast was abundant and delicious, and the nice lady serving us very kindly kept refilling the coffee mug (American diners’ style, one of the things Gianluigi misses the most from when he lived in the US). A big breakfast was necessary, as we had an early start: a Kintyre gin tasting at 10.15am at the Hall’s of Campbeltown, the Beinn An Tuirc distiller’s shop in town.

Preparing our stomachs to a looong day.

Before that we had just enough time to go to the Springbank’s shop to try get a cage’s bottle. All the frenzy around Springbank’s bottlings meant that, around 9.40, we were already second in line, with the first one being a nice couple of Glaswegians we met the day before at the Warehouse tasting. The s***-show was actually behind us: a couple trying to jump the queue with the excuse that they had to go (and also insisting with the gentleman at the counter to sell them the bottles before 10am, which is forbidden in Scotland) and other people coming in group to grab as many one-per-person bottles as possible. Not nice.

The tasting was nice, three different takes on gin (botanical, pink gin and navy strength), both straight and with a paired tonic water; many of the botanicals come from the Kintyre peninsula. We also got to try a rum from the Dominican Republic, bottled by Torrisdale Castle Estate, 11y of age and over 60% abv: a bomb of herbal, sweet and savoury notes, really delicious!

Kintyre gin tasting.

Right before lunch, we endeavoured in a quest: go to the Glen Scotia distillery shop with Justine, and decide with her which bottle to purchase for the Sunday tasting, what an honour! This because, despite contrasting news, the Glen Scotia distillery was still officially closed to the public. Therefore, Justine decided to organise another tasting at the Ardshiel hotel, with the master distiller Ian McAlister joining us: pretty cool, this definitely made up for not being able to see the warehouse! At the distillery shop we first had a look at all their core range, including the very new entry: a 10y bottled at 40% (don’t be too put off by this, wait for the next post for a full comment about it…). Since the Edinburgh whisky Group had already had a Glen Scotia core range tasting, we decided to pick only the new one. To complete the tasting, we picked three (quite expensive, we have to say) distillery exclusive bottles, priced £100 or more (again, more on it in the next post).

This reminded us one of the good parts of doing tastings – being able to try, at a reasonable price, interesting drams, otherwise a bit north of what we would spend for bottles “blindly”. Moving on to the afternoon, after a quick bite, we had a tasting we were particularly looking forward to: a Watt Whisky tasting with Mark Watt! This was our third tasting with them. In the first one (organized by Justine with the Edinburgh Whisky Group) we had 6 drams (5 whiskies and one rum) from their first release back in November 2020, including a Cly…ehm, a Highland which was great. Second time, in May 2021, another of their releases, including an 8y Arran and a 16y undisclosed Highlands (someone said “giraffe”?) among the best drams. Mark is a great presenter, and he was nice and welcoming. This was the very first in-person Watt Whisky tasting, while his wife Kate would have done the second one a few hours later at the Whisky Show in London…making history here! As a comic relief, two members of the group showed up dressed as Jack and Victor from one of our favourite tv-shows, Still Game!

A Still Game moment (thanks Mike for the photo!).

The 5 drams line-up purchased by Justine and tasted at the Ardshiel hotel included some exclusive bottling or past releases*. These are: a 12y Macduff from the Electric Coo range (single sheerry butt, 55.1%…sh-sh-sh-sherry bomb!), a 20y Port Dundas (57.1%, very elegant and oily), a 13y Linkwood (59.3%), a 10y Undisclosed Highland reserved for the Taiwanese market (58.3%, honey and peaches a go-go…and some people swore they noticed a highland tiger while drinking it), and a 9y Ardmore (57.9%). As it happened for other tastings during this trip, we were very undecided on which dram to buy, but we picked the Macduff sherry butt, also for the crazy and funny label (well, more importantly the whisky was actually delicious!). Overall, we were pleased to realise that among all Watt’s releases, there were zero drams we wouldn’t buy!

Watt whisky tasting.

The day ended with a dinner at the Harbourview Grille restaurant of the Royal Hotel, with very abundant portions which again reminded Gianluigi of his time living in the US. However, that night no doggy-bags for us: everything was eaten to soak up all the usual drams at the Ardshiel Hotel before sleeping time!

Hall’s of Campbeltown Gin tasting

Price: £10.00 pp (October 2021)

Tasting: 3 gins (paired with 3 different tonic waters) – Kintyre Botanical Gin, Kintyre Pink Gin, Kintyre Tarbert Legbiter Navy Strength Gin

Target: gin lovers and curious

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the relaxed atmosphere

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.kintyregin.com/

Watt Whisky Tasting*

*Since this was a bespoke tasting, we won’t make a summary card.

Link: https://wattwhisky.com/

#3.1 Campbeltown Loch: I wish you were whisky!

A warehouse at the end of the road (day 1)


Billie Joe Armstrong wrote: “Wake me up, when September ends”, but he forgot to add: “because we’ll be in Campbeltown!”

(Jump to Day 2 or Day 3 and 4)

Since our last trip to Speyside and Highlands almost two months have gone by. In the meantime, we: worked, got covid, recovered from covid, ran, got our smell and taste back, worked a bit more, a couple of tastings, some tenth phone calls to British Gas, worked again. The usual.

We are very excited for this trip: it is the first time we are going to do a “whisky holiday” as part of a big group, and not just the two of us or with a couple of friends. We went as part of the Facebook-based Edinburgh Whisky Group, managed by the tireless Justine from Kask Whisky. Since the first lockdown this group has grown substantially (guess not much else to do, uh?) and we did a good number of tastings, often directed by brand ambassadors or distillers. We had planned this weekend for a while, and we decided that Campbeltown was the perfect destination for a group of whisky aficionados: 3 distilleries, 2 independent bottlers, a long whisky related history and heritage, enough pubs and restaurants, and everything at walking distance. What else?

For the two of us it is the second time we land in this hidden gem of a place. The first time was exactly 3 years before, at the end of September 2018, when our whisky journey was still in its infancy. That was also the first time we visited a scotch whisky distillery together (Glen Scotia, specifically), and the Warehouse tasting we took at the time was quite a surprise.

Group A is in town!

Back to the trip, being a large group, we had to take part to some tastings separately because of Covid-related safety issues. We were in the first group (group A), which meant we needed to be in Campbeltown in the early afternoon, which in turn meant we had to leave Leith in the early morning. Justine came to pick as up at 9.30, sharp as razor, with her glorious car Clifford (Cliff for friends). The ride was smooth (not according to some squirrels, apparently) and quick, not too much traffic in Glasgow, and no queue for gasoline (at that time the biggest news on the British press was the gasoline shortage, which thankfully didn’t affect us). We stopped in Inveraray for a quick lunch: in line with our Italian culture, we prepared food at home. Less in line with that, we prepared Spanish tortilla sandwiches, which are always lovely. Back in the car, the second leg was even smoother than the first one. So around 3pm, we finally arrived at our destination! So excited!

We parked the car at the Ardshiel Hotel, but instead of doing the check-in we immediately went to the Cadenhead’s shop, just to look around on what was there (we felt like kids in a candy store after months of diet). We resisted to the temptation to buy anything rght away (HOLD!) and we moved on to the site of our first activity: the Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting! Those sweet 7 words every person wants to hear the most: “Please, follow me down to the warehouse”!

Casks pyramids outside Springbank, always a nice view.

The first time we attended this tasting was in 2018, and we remember that we had at least 7 or 8 drams in a very informal setting, with the guide drawing the liquid directly from the casks. This time the set up is a bit more structured (everyone has a well-distanced barrel holding a glass and a bottle of water in front of them), and Jenna McIntosh, usually their sales manager, is going to guide us through the 6 drams for this one. First off, a delicious Glen Elgin, 12 years of age in a first fill ex-bourbon cask, and a 9y Glen Garioch, with 3 years spent in a Tawny port cask, betrayed by a pink-ish colour common to other drams matured in similar casks. Moving on, a grain: Cameronbridge distilled and casked in 1989 and a 18y Glenfarclas, coca-cola coloured because of a 2y finish in an ex-PX sherry cask. Finally, the two peated drams: one just lightmy peated, a 12y “Orkney”, the other quite peated 9y Caol Ila, both in ex-bourbon casks.

Cadenhead’s tasting aka best way to start a whisky trip.

While the Glen Elgin (very clean dram, crispy with vanilla and coconut notes from the bourbon cask very prominent) and the Caol Ila were both delicious, they were somehow “known” to us (we have a SMWS 13y Glen Elgin in our cabinet and a 10y Thompson Brothers Caol Ila, both very similar in taste), the Glen Garioch and the “Orkney” were something new to us, which we quite appreciated: fruity and spiritely the first, farmyard-y and smoky the latter. The grain was delicious too, as many grains of that age, while the Glenfarclas was a bit disappointing for a dram that old: thin and not very flavourful.

A full cage…so rare!

After the tasting, we could grab a couple of bottles at the Springbank shop, one from the cage (a friend’s request) and the 12y cask strength batch 23 released the week before (and, of course, sold out online), before getting the tasting’s bottles at the Cadenhead’s shop. We had dinner at the Argyll Arms pub (coincidentally, the hotel where we stayed on our first trip in 2018) and a couple of drams back at the Ardshiel Hotel. For a first day on holiday, that was plenty, and we called it a night!

Cadenhead’s Warehouse tasting

Price: £35.00 pp
(September 2021)

Tasting: 6 cask strength drams. This time ours were: 12y Glen Elgin, 9y Glen Garioch, 32y Cameronbridge, 18y Glenfarclas, 12y “Orkney” and 9y Caol Ila, plus a “perfect dram” glass (similar to the Whisky Exchange ones).

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the drams

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.cadenhead.scot/

#2.7 A very Scottish summer holiday

A trip to Orkney Speyside et al.
(day 10)


The hard climb of Ben Lomond, and our final reward: the Auchentoshan distillery visit.

(Back to Days 7-8-9 / Days 5-6 / Day 4 / Day 3 / Day 2 / Day 1)

The last day of our holidays started early, around 6.30, because we had a great plan for the morning: climb Ben Lomond! So, after a quick breakfast at the van, we put our boots on and took the trail to the summit. The sky was very grey, and we hoped it would clear up a bit later. Spoiler alert: it did not. Actually, after the first couple of km, we got “inside” the clouds, so not only it was cold but also very wet. We took the less steep trail (“less steep” so to speak, because it’s still over 900m of ascent in less than 7k, compared to the other one which is about a km shorter). Despite the harsh climb and the terrible weather, we got to the summit, just to admire the whitest of the view: it looked like we were on Solaris!

The very rewarding view from the top of Ben Lomond.

The descent was a bit more enjoyable because of the view on the lake, which we could finally see after a km past the summit. We arrived at the campervan very very wet, but very very satisfied as well! A quick change of clothing, and a soup at the Clansman, and we were on the road again to go grab our prize for the morning climb, direction: the Auchentoshan distillery in Glasgow!

Finally, the lake!

The distillery was reachable directly from the highway, so after a stop for a coffee and a detour because of roadworks, we arrived there fairly easily. Being a bit early, we had plenty of time for a deep inspection of the distillery shop. A couple of tips: they have an expression of their malt finished in Chardonnay casks (NAS and bottled at 47%), and we also found the cheapest glencairn holders made of cask wood! We were fortunate to get in in time to avoid an almost tropical storm (did someone say “climate change”?), which considering we were at the end of our holidays and that we had already had a change of clothes earlier in the morning, would have been not so great.

That very short moment of no rain…

The other two guys joining us were not so lucky, and they started the tasting a bit wet. The tasting we had chosen was the Auchentoshan Masterclass. A particularity of this distillery is that, unlike many others in the Highlands which used to dry their barley with peat before the train lines were built, Auchentoshan never did that. Of course, this is because they are in Glasgow, which granted access to coal much earlier. We were very curious about this distillery, of which we already had a couple of bottles. Although the American Oak expression is fair for the money you pay for it at some grocery store, the Three Woods one already shows a bit of character (maybe for the 43% abv instead of 40%?). The tasting was guided by Douglas, which definitely knew his drams! During the tasting we found out that he’s from the same village as the other two guys (and we will find out later that one of the guys’ sisters works in the same institute as Gianluigi, although they never met…the whisky world is smaller and smaller!).

A very generous tasting.

We started with a sample of new make spirit, which is something that we really appreciated as it is a fundamental piece to understand the character of what will become single malt. It did not disappoint: fruity and very light. The second dram was an 18y matured completely in ex-bourbon casks, which they can source directly from Jim Beam and Makers Marks, being part of the same company. A nice dram, a bit underwhelming probably due to the 40% and the chill-filtering (doesn’t look like it’s artificially coloured though, it’s very pale!). By contrast, the next it’s the already known Three Woods (with these being American Oak, ex-Sherry casks and ex-PX casks). A sherry bomb, not bad for being a non-age statement. But the real deal is coming with the last two drams, coming from their distillery casks: a vintage 2010, full maturation in an ex-bordeaux red wine cask, and a vintage 2006 from an ex-oloroso sherry cask, both cask strength (and natural colour and non-chill filtered). Both drams were absolutely delicious, but while in the second the sherry cask had definitely a big impact, in the former the soft spirit character was definitely still alive and kicking, mixing all the red fruits and grapes notes from the wine. So, we had our confirmation that Auchentoshan can have a mouthfeel, and it is quite impressive too!

One for our pals of the Edinburgh Whisky Group!

Coming out of the distillery we gave a ride to our whisky pals, to avoid them getting soaked again. And then, we finally drove towards Leith, which took a couple of hours (one of which just to exit Glasgow’s traffic jam) under an incessant rain.  Once again, we were so happy that despite the initial setback, we had managed to take this trip anyway. All the midges and the rain in the world cannot beat this: amazing landscapes, great people and incredible whiskies. Sometimes we can’t believe how lucky we have that life brought us here. Until next time, slainte!

Auchentoshan Masterclass

Price: £30.00 pp (August 2021)

Tasting: 5 drams: new make spirit, Auchentoshan 18y, Three Woods, two distillery exclusive single cask 2010 ex-bordeaux cask finish and 2006 ex-oloroso cask

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the drams

Things we did not like: nothing

Link: https://www.auchentoshan.com/