A tale of two spirits…or three
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.
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!
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!
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!
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
Watt Whisky Tasting*
*Since this was a bespoke tasting, we won’t make a summary card.