A stop in Crieff on the way to Skye
TL;DR: In summer 2020, in the brief period it was possible to travel, Gianluigi’s parents came to Scotland. We decided to go visit the Isle of Skye, with a quick stopover in Crieff. A nice visit at Glenturret distillery, just before their complete range revamp.
(Another pandemic story…Sorry, it will be the last one!)
It was 2020, summer. After the first wave, the daily macabre count of cases/hospitalised/deaths from the dreadful virus slowed down. As a consequence, for a brief couple of months, borders reopened, some flights were restored and it looked like life was going back to normal (fun fact: the day pubs reopened, we went to Diggers to have a couple of drams and not think about the pandemic, just to find out that Gianluigi’s boss was on BBC talking about it, ah-ah!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case: by early autumn pubs closed again, and we entered another long lockdown. Thanks, science, for vaccines!
However, between lockdowns, we managed to book a flight for Gianluigi’s parents to come to Scotland for a week-long visit in the middle of August. It goes without saying, we involved them in a couple of whisky activities during those days. First of all, we booked one of Justine’s tours (a slightly different version of her current Edinburgh Whisky Trail): from the silent Cameronbridge Distillery, behind Haymarket train station, to the lovely Stockbridge neighbourhood passing along some closed distilleries (like the Dean), former DCL offices, and some other historical landmarks. The day was sunny and the walk very nice. It ended at the Whisky Forager restaurant (now closed, but Colin is now running the Tipsy Midgie bar near Holyrood) for a great meal and some fantastic drams. Not sure how much Gianluigi’s parents grasped (their English is not that…proficient), but they enjoyed the day out anyway.
But it was already their fourth time in Auld Reekie, so we decided to drove them to the Highlands, destination: the magnificent Isle of Skye! Of course, depending on the route, there are a number of distilleries available to visit. To bag a new one, choosing among the ones opened at the time (not many), we opted for Glenturret. Back then we were not very acquainted with this whisky, we had only tried one or two of their core range expressions (which at the time included the Triple Wood, Peated, Sherry Cask and a discontinued 10 years old, all bottled at 43%) and some excellent bottlings from the SMWS, mostly peated whisky in re-charred casks. We didn’t know that they were about to revamp their entire core range, which only a few months later came out with different expressions: a non-age statement Triple Cask (similar to the previous one), a peated 10y, a sherried 12y and a high-abv 15y. Oh well, we’ll go back sometimes.
The drive from Edinburgh to Crieff was quite nice. We left the main road in Crieff and took a very nice wee one passing through a wood, it was almost like driving to the Shire. We finally got to the distillery well ahead the first tour at 10am. Owned by a joint venture led by The Lalique Group since 2019, Glenturret is allegedly the oldest working distillery in Scotland (earliest record dating 1763). Definitely not a big one (around 340,000 lpa), the distillery used to be home of the Famous Grouse.
The distillery tour was socially distanced, with markers where we needed to stand, and only 6 people: the four of us and a couple. The guide kindly agreed to leave us some time after her explanations to translate for Gianluigi’s parents (which, truth to be said, took away some of the enjoyment from the whole experience). We couldn’t take pictures inside the production, but we were generally surprised by how manual everything was, from mashing to distilling.
At the end of the tour, near the filling room, we got our dram: a taste of their Triple Wood, but at the shop we also got two tiny samples of their Peated and Sherry expressions. Both solid, but not mind-blowing: we now totally understand why they felt the need to revamp their range – at the time it was OK but a bit dull. After the visit, we stopped for a coffee and a bite at their café (now there is also a Michelin starred restaurant) before hitting the road again.
The drive through Bridge of Orchy and Glencoe was amazing as usual (we stopped a few times to let Gianluigi’s mum take a gazillion pics), and we managed to stop to Ben Nevis distillery to pick up a great (now unfortunately discontinued) bottle of Glencoe 8y blended malt. We had not been on Skye before, and thanks to that visit we now understand all the frenzy about it: it is truly incredible.
The landscape is amazing, and something incredible at every turn. Some not-so-great stuff as well, like the difficulty of finding a place to eat in Portree without a reservation (although a late dinner at Dulse and Brose was worth the wait), and being almost eaten alive by midges at the Fairy Pools. The day we visited the Fairy Pools was also the day Talisker distillery reopened: the website reported that you could either call or send an email. We tried to call all morning to see if we could get in, but no reply. We got there anyway (it was only a 10 minutes drive), where we found a queue and another Italian couple explaining us that we should have sent an email…Still wondering why they wrote “call” on the website, but hey ho.
We left Skye driving along the north coast through Applecross, Torridon and Ullapool, then heading south from Elphin to Tain, where we booked a last minute B&B. The evening program was to take a cab and go to have dinner and drams at the Dornoch Castle Hotel, a 10-minute drive away. Unfortunately, Gianluigi’s dad injured his eye in the hotel (something very minor, turned out), so we spent the night at Inverness ER instead: bummer. The final day we managed to visit Cawdor Castle and its nice gardens, and we crossed the Cairngorms (always a great view) before driving through Peth, Fife and finally getting to Edinburgh. Another distillery bagged, while exploring another bit of this incredible country.
Until next time, slainte!
* No summary because everything changed dramatically since then