#8 Dramming at home

Whisky in the time of coronavirus


For a few doors closing, a number of tasting packs opened. 

Our last story was about how we stumbled into whisk(e)y during a road-trip in the USA in 2016, and our trip back to Kentucky a few months later. Fast forward a few years, we now live in Edinburgh, and we (slowly) started visiting distilleries across Scotland, with trips to Campbeltown, the West Highlands, Arran and Speyside (all stories for future posts, don’t worry!). It was precisely on our way back from Keith that we decided to start sharing our whisky adventures on a blog. That was December 2019, and what we did not know was that as we were on that train, happy and with our fair share of bottles in the bag, a few strange pneumonia cases were emerging in some areas of China.

In early 2020, we started preparing for the launch (domain, social media, learning WordPress, first drafts), planned for mid-March. That was because we wanted to start with a bang: an imminent 12-day trip to Islay and Jura! We had carefully planned everything: campervan, ferries, 11 distilleries (8 on Islay, Caol Ila was and is still closed, Jura, two on the way). But then…you know how the story ends, don’t you?

Instead of preparing our trip to Islay, we spent weeks frantically calling off all reservations. But the lockdown prompted us to open a few bottles we had bought previously, and to start doing some “homemade” whisky tastings, including comparing different cask finishes or Old-Fashioned cocktails made with different whiskies (Bourbon, Rye, Auchentoshan American Oak, and a blended scotch…the Rye won).

Homemade tasting nr. 1 (cask finishes madness).
Homemade tasting nr. 2 (Old Fashioned extravaganza).

We soon realised that this wasn’t enough, but then online tastings came to save us. We had never done one before, but the format was very simple: you order your tasting pack, which arrives at home by mail, and you just show up on this (at the time) new platform: Zoom! Easy-peasy!

Our very first online tasting was towards the end of April, and was organised by Frederick of East Coast Whisky: it included a few quite old and delicious drams from his awesome collection and was very very interesting!

The first of many online tastings: East Coast Whisky.

However, we thought it was a bit too advanced for novices like us, in our mind it floated the question: “is our palate developed enough to fully appreciate a 29-year old Clynelish?” At the same time, we realised there was a plethora of possibilities, so we decided to go back to basics.

It is around this time that we joined the Edinburgh Whisky Group (EWG, on Facebook) and met Justine of Kask Whisky. We became regulars of the EWG tastings, organised about every other week. Although less frequently, these events are still going on today. The first tastings were provided by the guys at Jeffrey St Whisky, and included some Douglas Laing, Lady of the Glen, AD Rattray and an Octomore! Thanks to Justine’s contacts, in the coming months we did Boutique-y tastings, Dram Mor, Dramfool, Glen Scotia vertical, and many more!

One of the maaany EWG tastings.

Over time, this became so much more than a tasting group – we’re now a fun bunch of whisky friends! In late 2020 we even purchased a cask from Holyrood, and after we were able to finally meet in person, we organised a quite successful (not according to our livers) trip to Campbeltown in October 2021 (you can read about it here, here, and here). From this, it also branched out one of Justine’s projects, the Quarter Gill Club. This is subscription-based, you pay a fee but the amount of advantages is ludicrous, including a monthly hybrid (online and in person) whisky tasting which is based on a theme: Single Grain, Blended Malt, Sauternes finished/matured, new releases, new distilleries, etc.

Quarter Gill Club tasting: exploring blended malts!

With the EWG we organised two tastings ourselves. The first, in April 2021, was a comparison between three basic blended scotch whiskies with the counterparts from the 70s we’d bought at auction: Antiquary, Teacher’s Highland Cream and Bell’s (all non-age statements except the 70’s Bell’s which was an 8y, the modern ones all 40%, while the 70’s Bell’s and Teacher’s were 43%). It was a very interesting comparison, and we concluded that the current versions are definitely younger and, very likely, the amount of grain whisky in the blend increased. In the modern Teacher’s the peat was way more prominent, probably to satisfy the palate of modern whisky drinkers since peat has become more fashionable in recent times. And talking about peat…there were a bonus couple of drams in this tasting, kindly donated by one of the EWG members. This was a Laphroaig 10, both current and 70’s version (the latter bottled at 43%) – the icing on the cake!

“Now and Then” tasting.

The second tasting we organised was just a few weeks ago: a vertical Kilkerran tasting! We collected a few bottles during the pandemic (12y, 16y first release in 2020, 8y cask strength sherry, and the heavily peated batch 4) that, except for the 12y, were still unopened in mid-2021. So we thought that it might have been great to use them for a tasting. We got the 5th bottle during our Campbeltown trip (the bottle-your-own, which is a marriage of different casks in a big jar they have at the visitor centre) and an EWG friend kindly donated the 6th one: the Virtual Open Day 2020, 14y, triple distilled and matured 100% in refill ex-bourbon cask (which was quite spectacular). It was really good to share all these excellent drams with friends instead of keeping the bottles to ourselves (and taking ages to drink them all).

Kilkerran tasting with Friends.

Going back to 2020, in spring it was already impossible to keep up with all the online tastings from shops, distilleries, indy bottlers, or other outlets. However, this was not enough to satisfy our eagerness of whisky knowledge. Prompted by an article on the SMWS magazine Unfiltered, we learned about the whisky-tube: Roy, Ralfy and all the other youtubers and reviewers (including the newly released Dramface website, a great information source). We’re far from being experts, but we definitely know way more about whisky now than in early 2020, and thanks to the tastings we have developed our taste buds (we are almost ashamed about our early tasting notes or comments…), making it easier to spot aromas and flavours not only in whisky, but also more generally in other drinks and food.

Overall, in spite of the abnormal times we lived through (and still living in), we found a great community of people with the passion of whisky, thanks to online outlets. This made our journey more enjoyable and fulfilling, even when the furthest we could travel was to the couch. Slainte!

Useful Links

The Quarter Gill Club

YouTube channels (some)
Malt Box
The Liquid Antiquarian

Shops/others organising (more or less) regular tastings
East Coast Whisky
Inverurie Whisky Shop
Jeffrey St. Whisky and Tobacco
The Spirits Embassy
Royal Mile Whiskies
The Grail
The Ensign Ewart

Some websites and blogs
Kask Whisky
Islay Whisky Academy

#7.2 Dramming around begins

Back to Kentucky


A weekend to complete our Bourbon Trail passport!

(missed the first episode?)

When we stop and think about it, it’s incredible how this all started, almost by chance. Someone would say “serendipity”. Roy Aquavitae centered one of his vPubs around this concept, telling the story of how he stumbled upon whisky (scotch in his case) at some point in his life, almost by chance. We are no different.

Back in August 2016, we had picked up the Bourbon Trail Passport at Heaven Hill, the first whisky distillery we ever visited. At the time, to complete the passport, there were only 9 distilleries to visit. Just to give you an idea on how quickly things are changing in the world of whisk(e)y, now there are 18 (and, on top of that, there is also an alternative Craft Bourbon Trail). Had there been that many at the time, we probably wouldn’t have completed it. However, with only 6 to go after our roadtrip in the South, we thought it was doable in a weekend, so there we go!

March 2017, Teresa was back in Illinois to visit. We were coming out of a quite cold winter, at least for our standards – earlier in January the temperature wouldn’t have gone above -10C for an entire week, with peaks (well, drops) at around -23C. One Friday, we rented a car and drove straight to Louisville, where we had our hotel booked.

The Saturday was particularly challenging, with four distilleries visits planned. This is still the maximum number of distilleries we visited in a single day, and to be honest, we wouldn’t do that again, but rather take an extra day. The driver of the day was Gianluigi, and that meant he only took a sniff from the samples and a few tiny sips, planning to fully enjoy the stuff later at the hotel.

First off, Maker’s Mark, joining the first tour of the day. The distillery is in a very nice location, with rolling green hills (like many places in Kentucky), wood, and black and red buildings.

Beautiful morning at Maker’s Mark.

As for Jim Beam earlier in August, in the tasting at the end of the tour we appreciated the range of flavours a single distillery could produce, and although their flagship product was not our favourite, some of the other drams were truly excellent (we wish we could remember what they were…).

After we were done with the Maker’s Mark and their very generous tasting, we headed North-East towards Woodford Reserve. There, we only did a tasting, a couple of drams paired with chocolate for about 10 dollars.

Wee tasting at Woodford Reserve.

As the previous distillery, it looked quite nicely immersed in the rural landscape. A bit of a change would have come later, at Wild Turkey. Compared to the other ones, the Campari-owned distillery looked more like an industrial plant (or maybe the other ones are just better at hiding this, considering they all produce a huge amount of spirit). This not to say we did not like it, on the contrary we loved it! Also, the tasting room was in a very scenic spot, overlooking an old rail bridge. Here they gave us four drams, including a delicious Rye whiskey and a less so honey liquor (some things you just can’t unlearn…definitely not a drink for us). The other stuff was great however, and Wild Turkey is now one of our “never without at least a bottle in the cabinet” (at the moment: the 101 and the Rare Breed).

Wild Turkey tasting (yes, they gave us the glasses!) and…
…the view from the tasting room.

We moved on to the last distillery of the day: Town Branch. Located in downtown Lexington, it marked the move from the rural landscape of the early part of the day, to a nice and vibrant urban atmosphere. We picked the distillery tour only, skipping the brewery part, which brought us into the whiskey making plant. Particularly notable was the still room with the two long-necked copper stills, and a big window overlooking the landscape.

What a still room they have at Town Branch!

We enjoyed the view while enjoying the tasting at the end of the tour. We drove back to Louisville for dinner, which we had at the Feast BBQ…guess what we had? We’ll just say that the beef brisket was spectacular.

Sunday started slowly, taking advantage of the hotel’s facilities, including a (first) light breakfast. We drove towards downtown Louisville to have a (second) bigger breakfast, which we had in a local restaurant called Wild Eggs: holy molly that quesadilla (yes, Gianluigi does still remember…)! We then moved to the first of the two distilleries of the day: the Evan Williams experience, in the middle of the city. Although the main Evan Williams production is at Jim Beam’s, here they have a little experimental distillery with a capacity of one barrel per week. We chose the tasting experience, which was organised as a tour in a speak-easy bar, with the guide dressed as a bartender of the 1920s-30s. The drams here were pretty awesome, we still fondly remember a 12y/o (which we hugely regret not buying…what newbies!) and a 22y/o bourbon that blowed our socks off! Unfortunately for Teresa, she was the designated driver for the day, but she eagerly packeted the samples for later.

We proceeded to the last distillery of the trip where we’d have (finally!) our Bourbon Trail Passport completed: Bulleit!

No longer newbies (well…), Bourbon Trail done!

To this day this is still one of our favourite bourbons, probably also because of the high rye content of the mashbill. Their Rye whiskey is also a favourite of ours, and we’re not the only ones: months later the bottle of Bulleit Rye that Gianluigi had gifted to his parents evaporated in mysterious circumstances (a dinner party, apparently…or maybe angel share?).

Our trip was over, and we finally headed back to Illinois, tired but happy to have done something special (including the fact that in all tours we were the only non-Americans). Thinking back to this experience today, it seems like ages ago. Maybe it’s because of the pandemic, or maybe the years have really gone by, or maybe it’s just that so many ‘whisk(e)y things’ have happend afterwards.

Today whysk(e)y is not just our hobby, it’s our gateway to a world of flavour and experiences. Visiting distilleries is by far our favourite holiday-type, we love getting to know whisk(e)y and the people making it. Every distillery has its own story and is embedded in its own unique atmosphere, which cannot be replicated anywhere else. We are never tired of learning, and with 50 and counting distilleries visited now, we still feel there is not enough time to learn and see all the things we would like to! And all started with a “why not”….serendipity?

Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries – Links


[Again, no summary box. We visited these distilleries 5 years ago, our feedback would be too out of date!]

#7.1 Dramming around begins

Road-trippin in the US

How a bad weather day throwed us into the world of whisk(e)y!

So, how did a couple of Italians, whose families’ drink of choice has been wine for (probably) generations, get caught into the fabulous world of whisky? Well, thanks to a road trip in the United States South and to a very nice host. But let’s not go ahead of ourselves and proceed in order.

Before 2016, we did not have much idea about what whisk(e)y was nor how it was made. In 2015 Gianluigi moved to Illinois, right in the middle of mid-west. One evening, a friend poured him something that he never forgot, something new: a Laphroaig. That prompted him to purchase a couple of scotch bottles (two because he first bought a Glenfiddich 12y, thinking that it would have been the same…how dare him!). Besides that, not much…whisk(e)y was just another spirit. Teresa was a bit more experienced (so to speak), as from time to time she would end an evening with friends with peated whisky instead of amaro.

Comes 2016, Teresa arrived to Illinois for the summer holidays. We had decided to take a road-trip, our favourite style of vacation. This time, a really big one: the mighty South! From Illinois down to Kentucky (through Indiana), Nashville, the Appalachian Mountains, Charleston SC, Savannah GA, then straight West to New Orleans, up to Memphis, St. Louis, and back to Illinois.

First stop: Louisville, Kentucky (KY)…you probably already see where this is going. At the time we were still using AirBnB (later we decided to stop because of the increasing cost of living that this and other short-term rent companies are causing to locals, who struggle to find affordable flats, in particular in cities like Edinburgh) and we stayed in a typical American suburbia house, hosted by a very nice couple. While having a relaxed chat in the evening, he poured us some bourbon and suggested us to take the exit 112 from the Interstate 65, because there were a few open distilleries just 10 to 15 minutes away. We looked at each other and thought: “why not”?

The day after came, and the weather was not exactly a delight. So, a further reason to take a few hours for the “bourbon detour”. First, we tried the farthest from the highway, the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, in Bardstown. We were unlucky there, as the tour had just left, but a tasting would have started soon enough. In the meantime, we could admire the huge rickhouses on the rolling hills outside the visitor centre.

Rickhouses at Heaven Hill.

The tasting was very informative, covering the history of the distillery and all the brands they had acquired, in particular after the prohibition era. The line-up was made of four drams, the first one (a rye) promptly necked by Teresa despite the guide telling us to take a wee sip… of course Gianluigi shared his afterwards. There was also an Elijah Craig bourbon, while the final dram was a very “woody” example of how, sometimes, too long maturation can go wrong. At the visitor centre, we spotted the Kentucky Bourbon passport, which we both took and put the Heaven Hill stamp on.

A new challenge ahead: getting all the distillery stamps!

We tried our luck at the next distillery: Four Roses (actually, the warehouse and bottling plant in Cox’s Creek). Again, no luck, the tour had just started, so we did the tasting, again. We had their three main bourbons for the (ridiculous) price of $5.00: the Four Roses Bourbon, Small Batch and Single Barrel. While Teresa loved the latter, Gianluigi preferred the middle one, but overall we were surprised by how good it was (Gianluigi in particular, as he remembered a drunken night of over a decade earlier fuelled by an unpleasant Four Roses bourbon).

Back in the car, we headed towards the third and last distillery (for now), Jim Beam. Here we were finally able to take the tour (hurray!).

Our very first distillery tour!

It was a great experience, the guide was very funny and prepared, a great start for newbies like us. We could understand how whiskey is made, and walk inside one of these huge rickhouses we kept seeing around, and all the rules of bourbon and rye (>50% corn/rye, new oak barrels, etc). At the end we could choose two or three drams in their huge product range (great favourites, Baker’s and Knob Creek).

What we could choose from.

Here, by trying several expressions next to each other, we could fully appreciate how bourbons (and whisky in general) can be very different despite being produced on the same site. And in this moment, folks, the seed of our curiosity towards whisk(e)y was first planted in our mind, taste buds, and heart, paving the way to what would have happened next.

[If you are only interested in our whisk(e)y journey, you can skip the rest and go to the second episode. Otherwise keep reading about our road trip]

The trip continued not as smoothly as we would have liked. Nashville was great, although the Music Broadway was a bit too fake for us (in three out of four bars we entered the band played “Sweet Home Alabama”, in all four “Take me Home, Country Roads”). That was compensated by an early morning visit to Jack White’s Third Man Records store and a delicious fried chicken lunch!

Happy guy at Third Man Records.

The Appalachians and the Smokey Mountains were also great. After driving through Chattanooga and before the Blue Ridge Highway, we stayed near Sylva (NC) where our friend Matt (if you want to know all the coolest things about plant ecology, he is the guy! here his website and podcast) brought us to taste delicious beers at the local Innovation Brewing.

After a detour to Charlotte (NC) to pick up two Pearl Jam tickets and before visiting the stunning Charlestone (SC), we had our first setback: bed bugs! We left the motel (clearly too randomly picked) in the middle of the night to avoid being eaten alive (fortunately we had not opened our luggage to avoid our clothes smelling like cigarette…not sure about calling that luck). But the real issue happened the day after: 10 minutes before reaching our (more carefully picked) motel right outside Savannah (GA), we got rear-ended by a distracted lady on the highway! We were intact, the car not so much, and we had to spend half of the next day trying to get another one from the closest open (it was Saturday…) car rental branch. Thankfully this didn’t translate into a huge financial issue, as we were covered by the roadside assistance insurance. Since then we have always included it in our rentals!

That was the last bad thing happened to us during the trip (hurray!).

Teresa hugging the King in Nashville!

Savannah was truly gorgeous, a shame we could not stay more. At one point we were having a beer on the river side, and a guy asked Gianluigi if he could take a picture him and his gilrfriend. “Of course”, the prompt reply. The phone was filming a video, however, and when Gianluigi was about to tell the guy, he realized that the guy was proposing to his (soon) fiancé. Gianluigi could not hold back a loud “holy s**t!”, ruining the proposal video forever. Teresa laughed at the idea of the two showing it at the wedding.

After driving through the Florida Panhandle (if for any reason you happen to be in Fernandina Beach, close to Jacksonville, get a sandwich at the Hola! Cuban Cafè: OMG!!!), we finally arrived at the most awaited stop-over: New Orleans.

Amazing live music in NOLA!

We both fell in love with the city, its atmosphere and the music which seems to permeate every bit of life. Even Gianluigi, contrary to Teresa not a big jazz fan, couldn’t stop speaking of how great that was, in particular after a concert at the Preservation Hall. Following NOLA, another music city: Memphis, one of the cradles of Blues, with a capital “B” (and the best pulled-pork we have ever had!).

Spectacular Missisipi river side in Memphis!

Final stop: St. Louis, once an important industrial centre, now a tale of two sides: it is staggering, and frankly very sad, the difference of livelihood between neighbourhoods, sign of deep inequalities (to be fair, that was a constant of all cities we visited during this and other trips in the US).

What about the other KY distilleries? Well, you’ll have to wait until next week. Stay tuned and sláinte!

Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries – Links

[No summary box this time. We visited these distilleries almost 6 years ago, so we figured it’d have been too out of date.]