#11.3 Birthday in the Borderlands

Crossing the borders for the Lakes (Day 3)

First distillery visit in England, in the gorgeous Lakes District

(missed Day 2 or Day 1?)

We woke up after a resting night in our hotel in Workington. The night before we had had the chance to explore the town, but after the restaurant and a pint we decided to head back to the hotel. At that point face masks weren’t mandatory anymore in England, in spite of the high Covid rates, and this wasn’t making us very comfortable.

Our hotel was only half-hour away from the distillery, but we decided to take the long road and drive through the Lakes region. The road was not the easiest, long chunks of single tracks (which we got acquainted with during our trips in the Highlands) and even some very steep ones, which Cliff took like a champion! This choice, however, rewarded us, as the landscape was truly beautiful!

Snooping around the Lakes District.

While driving through the posh village of Kenswick we also understood why we couldn’t find any decently priced accommodation for the night in the area. As we left the hills behind us, we entered in a very flat and smooth valley along Bassenwaite lake.

Cliff, you made it!

We were a bit ahead of schedule, so the fact that Gianluigi missed the turn (twice) for the distillery gave us the chance to explore the area even more! However, the third time is the charm (as someone would say…don’t know exactly whom though) and we finally arrived at the Lakes Distillery.

We learned about them a few years ago and we were both very curious about it. We had reserved the Lakes Whisky Tour at noon (hours are different now, every day at 11.30 and some days at 3.30pm), which is whisky focused. The regular tour instead includes vodka and gin production, which could be a solution if you are accompanied by non-whisky drinkers. Other options are the whisky and chocolate pairing (all Wednesdays and Saturdays at 3.30p), and the “pet the alpacas” experience.

Happy in the wind.

The whole site was clearly designed with visitors in mind, so while waiting for the tour to start, we had a coffee at their restaurant (which is a proper one!). We barely made it, because it was fully booked for lunch. This is something that surprised us, but considering the restrictions easing and that the distillery sits in a very touristic region, we could have expected it (so, if you want to have a meal there, booking is strongly suggested!). Our guide was Sonja, and she started the tour explaining how it took a while for the funders to find the right spot, which they found in the Victorian farmhouse where the distillery is built. The distillery opened in 2014, and they’ve been expanding their production by repurposing some of the buildings previously used for cask storage.

Yes, this used to be a farm.

We moved to a dark room where we watched a (spectacular but a bit too long) drone video following the water source of the distillery, the river Derwent, from the Sprinkling Tarn in the Lakes district to the Irish Sea in Workington (ah!). We moved to the production (where pics were not allowed), which is tightly fit in the old farm barn buildings. Here we could see something very peculiar: the spirit still has two condensers – a usual copper one and a stainless steel one. Sonja told us that it is there for experiments, it should produce a heavier new make because of the missing interaction with the copper. She also told us that none of the whisky released so far went through this condenser. The final part in the tour was in another dark room (not a warehouse, unfortunately), where we were talked through the effect of different types of wood on the whisky maturation.

Maturating whisky, maturing colour.

Afterwards Sonja led us to a different building, a beautiful house just on a wee hill behind the distillery, with the alpaca farm on the back: tasting time! After a wee pause for restroom, the tasting started with the newmake, followed by a 1 year-old dram aged in a sherry cask. This is very important to them, as the Lakes whisky style is generally very sherry/European oak forward. We moved on to a couple of their One, the line of their blended whisky, including other malts and grain whiskies from Scotland. We had the sherry and port finishes, both very drinkable (someone would say “drams for drinking, not for thinking”), displaying again the ability to play with different woods. Finally, we got a dram of their last (at the time) release, the Mosaic single malt. This very rich and aromatic dram would have been clearly the highlight of the tasting, but Sonja decided to give us an extra dram: the Whiskymaker Reserve N 4, which was truly great (and sold-out, ouch).

Tasting time!

After the tasting we had a wee meal at their restaurant, but just before that we went back to the shop for a wee taste of two other Ones: the Moscatel and the Orange Wine cask finishes. While the first was more balanced, the latter had a very particular note that we haven’t found anywhere else, so we went for that one. Finally, we got into the car and headed back to Leith, crossing the South of Scotland and some unexpected but amazing landscapes around Moffat and Biggar. Tipsy Teresa (she necked all of her drams, of course!) was definitely very happy for her birthday celebrations…while Gianluigi was already thinking about how to top this next year!

The house of the raising drams!

So, our first visit to an English whisky distillery happened, and it was good one indeedy! Thanks to the visit, we could see how their (former, apparently) whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi gave a very clear direction to their whisky. While definitely sherry-oriented, the drams we had were not “sherry bombs”, and the influence was more nuanced and balanced – we both thought Dhavall is an amazing blender. For us, some whiskies to keep an eye on and, unsurprisingly, we’ll likely return to visit!

The Lakes Distillery Whisky Tour

Price: £35.00 pp (March 2022)

Tasting: Lakes new make spirit, 1y malt spirit (ex-sherry cask), The One Port & Sherry finish blended whiskies (both 46.6%, NAS, NC, NCF), the Mosaic Single Malt (46.6%, NAS, NC, NCF)

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: Good

Highlights: the distillery is very beautiful and in a great spot

Link: https://www.lakesdistillery.com/

#11.2 Birthday in the Borderlands

Tripping in the South of Scotland to Annandale
(Day 2)


The second day in Dumfries & Galloway, driving from Portpatrick to the lovely Annandale distillery! 

(missed Day 1? Or go to Day 3)

The morning wasn’t too cold as we went to a nearby hotel for a big breakfast. We went for a short walk on the cliff around Portpatrick, the view of the village was pretty spectacular, but the clouds prevented us to spot Ireland…hopefully next time!

Quiet, cloudy morning in Portpatrick.

First stop in the morning, Newton Stewart. It looked as a nice, quiet village. Here we met up with Tom, a Gianluigi’s former colleague and his family for coffee and cake. It was great catching up with him, since Gianluigi and Tom hadn’t met in person since March 2020, despite spending a big chunk of the pandemic working together building a Covid model for Scotland.

The road between Newton Stewart and Annan was a quite different landscape compared to others in Scotland. A rug of intense green rolling hills, punctuated by cattle and sheep quietly grazing. We stopped by a smokehouse just past Creetown, on the main road, to get some of their delicious goodies. Past Dumfries, instead keeping on the main road, we drove straight south to Caerlaverock Castle. The visitor centre and the castle were closed, but it was possible to park nearby and, thanks to a sunny day, take a walk in the park. The castle looks like a proper medieval fort, including a catapult “parked” in front of it as a reminder of those walls purpose. As we will learn from the Wikipedia page, this has been under siege many times, until it was abandoned in 1640.

Beautiful castle behind an even more beautiful catapult!

It took just a short half-hour drive to arrive to Annandale from the castle. As we left the car in the wide parking lot, we could admire the awesome restorations of the distillery buildings. It sits in a nice spot as well, close to a stream and surrounded by fields and woods, almost like a postcard! We checked-in at the visitor centre’s shop (where we got our very first whisky lanyard!) and while waiting for the tour to start, we had a coffee at the Maltings, their cafè.

Checking in at Annandale.

Other than the basic tour there are other three options available, which is possible to enquire about from the website: one focused on the buildings restoration, one about the new owners journey and project, and a technical one about whisky production. Gianluigi enquired about the latter, but that week the person in charge was on annual leave, so he chose the basic tour (prices of the alternative ones are not specified on the website).

Our guide led us to the room where the tour started. While she was explaining the history of the distillery, which dates back to 1836, she gave us a first dram of a blended scotch whisky prototype (not on sale yet), a blend of North British grain whisky with their peated expression (Man O’Sword), diluted at 40%: despite the thin mouthfeel, not bad at all! The distillery was bought by the Walker family in 1893 as a source of peated single malt for their blends: their kiln used peat from local bogs, making it a pretty unique malt. Compared to other peated malts, it was also easier to transport it to Kilmarnock. The distillery was closed and dismantled in 1924, and prior to their acquisition by David Thomson and Teresa Church in the late 2000s, it was abandoned. When the renovation happened, all the equipment was new, making it another (almost) 200 years old “new distillery”, similarly to Bladnoch. In the middle of the courtyard we could admire the old stillhouse building’s base, with the two circular structures that used to host the stills.

A piece of whisky history.

The historical ties of these distillery don’t end here, as they decided to name their single malts after two very important characters tied with the local and Scottish history: while their unpeated whisky is named “Man O’Words” in honor of Robert Burns, their peated one is the “Man O’Sword”, after Robert The Bruce (and the peat doesn’t come from the area anymore, but it’s sourced by the Simpson maltsters).

As we moved to the production area, we spotted the similarities with other distilleries influenced by the late Dr Jim Swan (Lindores Abbey). In particular, they have a mashtun closed by a copper lid, and three stills: one wash still and two twins, slightly smaller, spirit stills.

All in one room: mashtun, washbacks and…

In the filling room, a poster of Doddie Wair, which filled their first peated cask. The dunnage warehouse is on two levels, and here is where we had a wee taste of their products (well, not Gianluigi as he was driving). We tasted their peated and unpeated Rascally Liquor (newmake spirit bottled at 63.5%), and their young Man O’Words and Man O’Sword from bourbon casks (unchillfiltered, natural color and cask strength). Back in the shop, we realised that all their bottling were £80-85 or over, depending on the cask type, so we opted for a tasting set of 6x5cl drams: peated and unpeated single malts in ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and STR casks, a good compromise (we still have to taste them however…). For what we could taste on that day (but also in another Kask Whisky tasting, when we had a dram of their sherry cask matured Man O’Words… and a real sherry cask, not a seasoned one) the whisky is very promising, and we are excited to see what is in their plans in the years to come!

Dunnage warehouses.

As we left the distillery Teresa wasn’t aware of the next stop, and she was really clueless until we crossed the border with (cracks in the sky noise) England!!! The distillery for the next day was, of course, the Lakes distillery, but Gianluigi decided to spend the night in a town on the coast, Workington. We stayed in the very clean and tidy Hall Park Hotel, which has a bar as well, so before dinner we could watch the second half of the England-Ireland 6 Nations game from a comfy couch in our room with a pint! Sublime!

So another distillery in the sack, this time the beauty of Annandale really made the difference. We will definitely go back for another tour (hopefully the technical one), maybe in a few years when more expressions of this whisky will be available.

Annandale Distillery Tour and Tasting

Price: £20.00 pp (February 2022…But there was a discount at the time, we paid £10pp)

Tasting: Blended scotch (a blend of North British grain and their peated single malt, 40%), Rascal spirit (new make), Man O’Word & Man O’Sword (unpeated and peated, NC, NCF, CS)…and wee glass and laynard to take home

Target: everyone

Value for money: Good

Highlights: The beautiful site

Distillery Exclusive: Man O’Words and Man O’Sword single cask bottle your own vintage 2015 (CS, NCF, NC, ~£60 for a 375ml bottle)

Things we did not like: Feeling like broken records, but the bottling prices were a bit steep again

Link: https://annandaledistillery.com/

#11.1 Birthday in the Borderlands

Away to Galloway: Bladnoch Distillery (Day 1)


Another trip to discover distilleries in the Lowlands on a special occasion: Teresa’s birthday

(Want to read the whole story? Go to Day 2 or Day 3)

There was one trip we aimed to do back in 2020, but because of you know what, we postponed it: Dumfries and Galloway. We heard this is a lovely region and, very important for us, home of two single malt distilleries, Annandale and Bladnoch.

This year, Gianluigi decided to catch up with this trip, and the perfect occasion was Teresa’s birthday, in March. He organized the trip as a surprise, so on that Friday morning when we ignited Cliff’s rowdy motor (thanks again Justine!), Teresa had no idea where we were going. As we left the city and didn’t take the Fifth of Forth bridge, Teresa recognized the landscape of the M8 towards Glasgow, so she narrowed down her guesses to two: Arran or Galloway. As we turned south towards Ayrshire, she got the correct guess. Smart lady! The distillery visit of the day was at Bladnoch. Their 1817 Tour is only available on Wednesdays and Fridays at 11.30, and because Gianluigi wanted to drive on the Ayrshire coast (which is a bit longer route), we had an early start.  

Ayrshire itself is now home of at least three whisky distilleries in two production sites. One is the huge Girvan complex, owned by Willian Grant & Sons (the same company owning Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie, in Speyside) and including the Girvan grain distillery and Ailsa Bay (and for gin lovers, this is the place where Hendrick’s is produced). We briefly stopped to take a picture and snoop around the site.

Nosing around Girvan…in the wind.

The third one is a new small farm distillery called Lochlea, who released their first whisky in early 2022. They don’t have a visitor centre, but in some interviews on podcasts and on an article on the Whisky Magazine, they seemed to suggest they could welcome small groups of visitors, if contacted by time. That was very far from the reply they sent to Gianluigi’s email, which was polite but categorical in saying that, because it is a farm distillery, there is zero chance of welcoming guests (to be honest, that was not the case when a few weeks ago it was showed on social media that they actually had bloggers/podcasters, but hey ho!). Along the coast we also drove past Cairnryan, where the ferries to Northern Ireland leave, and the nice town of Stranraer, which we pictured much smaller.

Since the day was cloudy but not rainy (yet…), we decided to park the car in Wigtown and reach the distillery on foot. Wigtown is a very cute village and the Scottish capital of books. The place is in fact full of bookshops where you can find both new and second-hand books. In the afternoon, after the distillery visit and lunch, we took advantage of it to enlarge our collection of Ian Rankin novels and whisky books. The walk from the village main square to the distillery was about 20 minutes long on a very quiet road through a rural landscape which we’ll find very characteristic of the area.

Tour and tasting…we’re coming!

As we crossed Bladnoch’s doors we realised how new the visitor centre, shop, restaurant are, and we checked in right away with our tour guide, James. He used to work as a chef, until he decided to join the Bladnoch team part time as a guide for their tour and, occasionally, to prepare meals for business visitors. When the tour started he told us how everything changed when the distillery was bought by Richard Prior in 2015, in particular the distilling plant (stills, washbacks, etc.). So, it is basically a new 200 years old distillery! We moved to the mill room, where he showed us how the shuttle box is used with a scale to check that the mill grinded husk, flour and grist at the correct ratio. We made a brief stop at the closed steel mash-tun, and moved to the room with 6 wooden (Douglas Fir) washbacks. James and the operator showed us how to measure the alcohol content of the wash, before and after fermentation (very similar to what we did in our timid attempts to brew beer at home, actually).

Very sophistcated equipment…

We moved to the still room, where four shiny copper stills (two wash stills and two spirit stills) were actually working! It was very nice to see the liquid been distilled through the wash still’s little window.

What a beautiful still room!

Once in the courtyard, we could admire the old distillery building including the malting floors, that are now used as offices. James also showed us the water source, just behind the old buildings. We spent a while inside the dunnage warehouse (where we couldn’t take pictures, except from outside the door). The new make spirit is maturing in a variety of casks: quarters, lot of sherry hogsheads, lot of wine barriques, bourbon, etc.

Birthday girl and the old malting floors.
Casks, casks, and…more casks.

We finally got to the tasting room, adjacent to the shop, where 5 drams were waiting for us: the new make spirit (nice surprise!), and four of their core range expressions (see summary below). Because most of the whisky they are currently bottling comes from the previous owners, at this point in their journey they want to showcase what they can do with the range of casks available. In our opinion all the four drams were all very cask-forward and enjoyable, although not mind-blowing. The two stand-out were the 14 y/o matured in ex-oloroso sherry casks, and the 19 y/o matured in ex-PX casks, of which James gave us a wee taste at the bar. A shame the price of both was a bit too steep. After the tour we stayed for a quick meal at their nice café: a plate of smoked duck and salmon, very good!

A (not so) wee taste of Bladnoch.

On the way back to Wigtown it started raining (sad trombone sound), so as we got into the village we sought refuge in another café (that was Gianluigi’s excuse to get another cake…). After leaving Wigtown (with a few more books in the trunk) and driving around a bit we directed ourselves towards our place for the night: the Waterfront Hotel in Portpatrick. This is a quite spectacular village on the Rhinns of Galloway peninsula, right in front of Ireland (which we couldn’t see because of the clouds). Our room was very ‘cosy’ (not to say tiny), but the staff was nice enough to give us one with a spectacular sea view. We had a delicious meal at the Connor’s restaurant, where we could also taste a couple of discontinued Bladnoch expressions: the 10 y/o (which Ralfy talked a lot about…and in fairness, it was one of the best we tried) and the 17 y/o.

Despite not bringing any bottle with us, we were very happy to have visited Bladnoch distillery. This experience was an example how the guide’s enthusiasm and knowledge can really “make the tour”, which otherwise could have been a very ‘standard’ one. So, to James, Sláinte!

Bladnoch 1817 Tour & Tasting

Price: £50.00 pp + £5 per transaction (March 2022)

Tasting: Bladnoch new make spirit (63.5%), 11y/o (46.7% , NCF, NC, ex-bourbon casks), Samsara (46.7%, NAS, NCF, NC, California wine and ex-bourbon casks), 14y/o (46.7% , NCF, NC, oloroso sherry casks), Alinta (peated, 47% , NAS, NCF, NC, 1st fill ex-bourbon and 1st fill ex-sherry casks)…and the glencairn to take home

Target: whisky enthusiasts and geeks

Value for money: a bit pricey but the in-depth tour made up for it

Highlights: the very enthusiastic guide James and the possibility of tasting extra drams

Distillery Exclusive: single cask 2007 vintage (55.9%, ex-port pipe, NC, NCF, £170) and 2002 vintage (48.4%, ex-sherry butt, NC, NCF, £400)

Link: https://bladnoch.com/